March Madness

A Story Well-Changed: The Ramblers’ Comeback From 2020 MVC Quarterfinal Loss

Courtesy of the MVCMembers of the Loyola men's basketball team celebrate during the Arch Madness Championship game.

As the 2021 Arch Madness tournament came to a close March 7, the Loyola men’s basketball team was relishing its second Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament title in four years. It was also a major change from the team’s quarterfinal loss to Valparaiso University just one year prior.

The Ramblers were able to change their story in 2021, and it became a major talking point for both players and head coach Porter Moser in the post-championship press conference.

Throughout the regular season, Rambler players have been mentioning how this year’s team is different — whether it be through skill or sheer experience. Now, headed to its first NCAA Tournament since the 2018 Cinderella run after being ranked in the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 during the regular season for the first time since 1985, this team has proven to be one to watch.

“We really just refocused,” senior center Cameron Krutwig said of the team’s 2020 quarterfinals elimination. “Coach [Moser] has been big on us just trying to not forget … Keep telling the story so you can change the story.”

After the MVC championship game March 7, Krutwig mentioned a TED Talk that he and the team had watched the previous summer about telling and changing stories. Krutwig said he thinks the team succeeded in changing its own story through the championship win.

Redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris said when he and the team sat down to make their goals for this year, they were to win the regular season and tournament titles. He said the “change the story” idea had been a theme for the team all year.

“Obviously it’s important in every year,” Norris said. “But for us to bounce back from last year, we changed our story and got the championship.”

In the 2019-20 season, the Ramblers finished the season in second place — their only season out of the last four in which they didn’t take home the regular season title. It was also the only season since 2016-17 that the team was knocked out of Arch Madness in the quarterfinals. 

However, that season came to an abrupt end soon after the MVC Tournament. The NCAA announced the cancellation of the 2020 March Madness tournament March 12, 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Moser said he and the team spent the 2020 offseason talking on Zoom about how the quarterfinal loss “didn’t have to be [Loyola’s] story.” Moser said this theme also appeared in his own life, specifically after his firing from Illinois State University in 2007 that eventually led him to Loyola in 2011. 

“If you handle adversity right, it can take you to a better place,” Moser said. “These guys talked about that, [the 2020 loss] wasn’t going to be our story.” 

Krutwig said he feels it’s all come “full circle” considering he gets to go back to the NCAA Tournament his senior year after going to the Final Four as a first-year. He said it’s felt good to have a team that can work hard and find success multiple times.

“We want to sustain success,” Krutwig said. “I’ve said it every year, win, lose or draw: The faces change but the expectations don’t, and that’s just what this program’s been about.”

Krutwig said he doesn’t think the team’s previous Final Four run adds any extra pressure to this year’s trip to the tournament. He said he and the team feel like there is “so much more to go,” and if anything it just makes the players more hungry for another big run.

This year’s Ramblers have proven different from the 2020 team in more ways than one. Not only were they ranked AP Top 25 for four consecutive weeks — most recently in the No. 17 spot in the final AP poll before March Madness — but they also boast the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, holding opponents to an average of 55.5 points per game. 

The 2021 squad also stacks up well in individual stats compared to the 2018 Final Four team. Director of Player Development and former Rambler Clayton Custer said he thinks this team is even capable of playing better than his own 2018 squad due to its depth.

The Ramblers will be put to the test in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament when they face off against the Georgia Institute of Technology March 19. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT and the game will be broadcast on TBS.

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