There really is only one way for Loyola to approach Selection Sunday: Brace for the decent chance that your NCAA Tournament seeding is not going to be to your liking and enjoy the hell out of whatever happens anyway.
It’s been a strange, challenging season for every college basketball team, a season of COVID-19 testing and tracing, of doubts and accomplishments, of fun and (canceled) games. To make it to the tournament is an achievement, given that tomorrow is promised to no one, thanks to the pandemic. That’s because today, the day before or the day before that included a nasal swab that might end the season for a team.
So if Loyola, the Missouri Valley Conference tournament champion, gets a No. 10 seed, a No. 12 seed or a No. 15 seed on Sunday, does it really matter? In the context of everything that has gone on the past year, no, it doesn’t. And, as a purely practical matter, with the entire tournament being played in Indianapolis, the Ramblers don’t have to worry about flying across the country to face an opponent. There’s a bus for the ride across state lines. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a whiff of a home-court advantage.
“Happy to Be Here’’ should be the theme for every team in the tournament this season. So much is up in the air – droplets of virus, for one thing – that seeds don’t seem like that big a deal. I know that won’t stop the caterwauling from irate college fans who are sure their teams have been wronged by the selection committee, a travesty the likes of which hasn’t been seen since last year’s travesty, whatever it was.
But Loyola coach Porter Moser has it right: You deal with what you’re given in the tournament. He would know. Three years ago, his 11th-seeded Ramblers made it to the Final Four, stunning everyone who was not wearing a maroon-and-gold scarf. OK, they stunned many of their most fervid scarf-wearing fans, too.
Kind of hard to feel dissed when you know what a No. 11 seed can do for you.
This year, Moser’s mid-major team is 24-4 and ranked 18th in the country, making it a prime candidate to feel the dismissive eye of the selection committee on Sunday.
“Everyone is asking me about where I’m going to be seeded – is a No. 1 seed looming (as an opponent)?’’ he said. “I’m like, Wait, wait, wait. I told our guys: All we’re doing is finding who we play Day 1, and our focus is going to be on that opponent. I’m not getting into talking and answering questions on, ‘Oh, you’ve got a No. 1 seed waiting for you there or you’ve got someone there.’
“We never got ahead of ourselves (in 2018). It was always about Miami (in the first round). It was about Tennessee (in the second). It wasn’t getting to the Sweet 16, getting to the Final Four. It was about what was right in front of us. You’ve got to win Game 1. You’ve got to win Game 1. You’re not going to Game 2 if you don’t.’’
Moser has a not-so-secret weapon. The Ramblers have one of the best defenses in the country, holding teams to 55.8 points a game and 41.1% shooting. They can squeeze the life out of a more-talented team. I’d say teams, plural, but that would suggest more than one game for Loyola in the tournament, and Moser would tell me I’m getting ahead of myself.
Also, there are bigger worries.
Virginia, Duke and Kansas have dropped out of their conference tournaments because of positive COVID-19 tests.
The virus is the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Everything else is a hope and a prayer.
“It’s scary,’’ Loyola senior Cameron Krutwig said. “I’m not going to lie. ... It definitely is scary that your whole season is kind of riding on a little nose swab.’’
Where you’re seeded does matter, of course. It’s just that it doesn’t matter quite as much, not this season, not with a virus that has brought a country to its knees. You shouldn’t get bent out of shape Sunday about a seed that would seem to imply you’re not as great as you thought you were. Some people will, but they shouldn’t.
Win or lose, Loyola is going to make the best of this. Three years ago, they proved that seeds don’t always come with deep meaning. Sometimes, they’re just what they look like: a number.