Fame has been fleeting for Loyola, but maybe — just maybe — it’s that time again
It’s clear the only way Porter Moser, Cameron Krutwig and the Ramblers are going to experience it again is to scream for our attention with another glorious March.
Cameron Krutwig was on top of the world.
All the Loyola Ramblers were — from Sister Jean to coach Porter Moser to every Joe Blow in Rogers Park with a maroon and gold scarf.
But there was something about Krutwig in particular that symbolized everything unlikely and magical about Loyola’s run to the Final Four in 2018.
He wasn’t quite the eyeful that the big men from all those bigger schools in Loyola’s path were. Other guys were taller, jumped higher, ran faster, looked better getting off the bus. But Krutwig — only a freshman — more than held his own. He was charming and boyish but also tough as hell and completely unafraid of the moment. And when he made a big play, he expressed enthusiasm and joy in a manner that was truly infectious.
We loved the kid for it, didn’t we?
But two years later, many of us have pretty much forgotten all about Krutwig and the Ramblers. What happened?
“I guess it’s just how it goes,” he said Wednesday as his team prepared to leave for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis.
Sports fans — and reporters — are fickle. Fame can be fleeting, and it’s clear the only way the Ramblers are going to experience it again is to scream for our attention with another glorious March.
“That keeps you grounded, for sure,” Krutwig said. “I was at the height of it all my freshman year. It was super fun, but you’ve got to come back to reality. You’ve got to keep it real to yourself. It’s not always going to be like that. You’re not going to be in the limelight all the time. It’s something you have to keep working for.”
It’s especially true at Loyola, one of those places where you’d better win your conference tournament or else you can forget about going to the Big Dance.
The Valley is a good league, and Arch Madness — an annual riot of a tournament — never fails to put that on display, but the NCAA selection committee wouldn’t seem to know it or care. Only regular-season champ Northern Iowa, with its sparkling 25-5 record, has any shot whatsoever at an at-large bid, and even the Panthers’ prospects are cloudy.
Loyola, 21-10 overall, 13-5 in the MVC and seeded second behind UNI, needs a 3-0 weekend starting Friday against No. 7 seed Valparaiso.
“The reality of where we’re at in our league is that you have to win these three games,” Moser said. “That’s always tough, but this is what it’s about. I love this time of year. For everybody, you want to get back [to the NCAA Tournament]. You saw how much Chicago embraced us.”
The Ramblers were regular-season champs in 2019 before losing a nail-biter in St. Louis and being relegated to the NIT. What they’ve done over the last three seasons — winning 40 of 56 games in the Valley after going 27-45 their first four years in the league — has been some outstanding stuff.
Not that the typical basketball fan in this town who perks up for the college game in March has really noticed.
“I wanted this program to be relevant,” Moser said. “I want them to be thinking NCAA Tournament every year. That’s what I want. That means we’re relevant. That means we’re good. That means we’re in the run.”
Time for a 3-0 weekend, then.
It’s a lot harder than it sounds.
Let the record show that Brad Underwood is under .500 in three seasons as coach at Illinois.
Illini supporters are ready to throw the man a parade anyway.
One good season — after two terrible ones — has changed everything for Underwood, who this week received a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season, when his salary will reach $4 million.
“Illinois is truly a special place,” he said.
Especially when nobody’s cursing your very existence.
• So, who’s the real Big Ten coach of the year? Is it Underwood? Wisconsin’s Greg Gard? Maryland’s Mark Turgeon? Penn State’s Pat Chambers?
Gard has a heck of a case after steering the Badgers to the top of the conference despite the midseason departure of Kobe King, the team’s most talented offensive player.
My vote — wait, I don’t have one — goes to Underwood. His team’s effort level has been at full blast for two months. His lift has been the heaviest.
• Speaking of extensions, how about the nice, long, $200 million-plus one the Brewers gave outfielder Christian Yelich?
And has anyone informed the Cubs that digging deep to keep a young superstar is, apparently, within the rules?
• No, we didn’t forget about Yoan Moncada’s reported extension with the White Sox. If this is part of a conspiracy to make the, ahem, cash-strapped Cubs look bad, it’s totally working.
• The rest of the Bulls’ season vs. the rest of the Blackhawks’ season: You can ignore only one of them. Discuss.