As a photographer, my focus is often on whatever doesn’t show up on the stat sheets. Let’s be real — so much of basketball, specifically at Loyola — is told through the intangibles.
So join me at my seat under the net and see what I think will make an impact during Loyola’s 2022 March Madness run.
When graduate forward Aher Uguak has a big slam dunk, more often than not it signals the beginning of a Loyola offensive run. It may not secure the game, but the vibe of the court changes.
The crowd explodes and the team almost always noticeably picks up its pace. There’s no way to denote this on a box score but the feeling is electric for me as a neutral bystander, so I can only imagine how it feels for the players on the court with thousands of people rallying behind them.
On the other end of this, Loyola gives up the least amount of offensive runs of any other team in the tournament, conceding just 0.13 runs per game. I know I said I’d stick to intangibles, but Loyola’s defensive capabilities in breaking up consistent offenses was too good to pass up.
Taking a broader look at things, the Ramblers are in their fifth straight season with more than 20 wins. There’s been a lot of talk surrounding expectations for the team and first-year head coach Drew Valentine, and this momentum — stemming back to the 2018 Final Four run — just might help carry them through.
There’s a reason Valentine continues to thank the Loyola community for its support at games — they really make a difference.
We’ve written about this before. Fans returned to Arch Madness this year and Loyola absolutely dominated their final matches in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). Coincidence? I think not.
Jokes aside, the crowd does make an impact and Loyola’s fans travel well. Anecdotally speaking, the roar of the crowd after an Uguak dunk or a Norris three-pointer is enough to rile anyone up.
What can be seen in the statistics is how many people show up when the team plays. The only games with attendance below 2,193 — the team’s Jan. 11 game against Valparaiso — were its Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis games in the Bahamas more than 1,300 miles from Rogers Park.
This run marks graduate guard Lucas Williamson’s third time at the Big Dance and the second trip for a large portion of the team. Aside from first-years and transfers, who are experienced in their own right from this season, the graduate and other upperclassmen players are veterans in every sense of the word.
It goes beyond just having played in big games, though.
Of the 430 seniors in the NCAA who chose to return for a fifth year, only 30 chose to stay with the same team. Four of those were Loyola players. That doesn’t happen in programs where the players don’t believe in what’s ahead.
Valentine said it himself during a March 17 press conference before the team’s pre-NCAA Tournament practice — Williamson could’ve gone anywhere he wanted to after last year, yet he stayed.
It shows in the way the team plays and the way it’s able to rebound from deficits, going 8-5 this season when trailing at the half. It also shows in the way the players communicate on the court, with Valentine even citing it as a core tenet of what he taught this year’s first-year players when they came to practice over the summer.
There’s an argument to be made for following the stat lines, but if that were always the case, more than 20 million brackets wouldn’t have busted after half of the tournament’s first round.