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What’s a Big Dance without Loyola? MVC tourney performance shouldn’t dictate fate

Let’s just get it over with and rename Rogers Park “Ramblers Park,” OK? Loyola has too much going on these days to settle for anything less than big-time treatment.

Coach Porter Moser has a lot more confidence in his team’s postseason status heading to St. Louis this time around.
Coach Porter Moser has a lot more confidence in his team’s postseason status heading to St. Louis this time around.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

Let’s just get it over with and rename Rogers Park “Ramblers Park,” OK?

Loyola has too much going on these days to settle for anything less than big-time treatment.

The Ramblers are 21-4 and ranked 20th in the country heading into the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 games. They’re lugging around all the individual awards they can carry.

You think that 2018 Final Four run was special? Well, it was. But it was just a start.

“We’ve been able to sustain that,” senior big man Cameron Krutwig said. “And now when you hear Loyola, it’s kind of become a household name. Especially here in the Midwest, for sure.”

Look, I’m not going to argue with him. Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State — just scoot the heck over and make some room already, fellas.

As regular-season champs of their league, the Ramblers — whose NET ranking is an outstanding 16 — get the winner of eighth seed Bradley vs. ninth seed Southern Illinois in a Friday quarterfinal. From there, it could be on to a title matchup against Drake that would have the nation’s bracketologists on the edges of their seats, nervously fiddling with their pocket protectors and adjusting the tape holding their glasses together.

Do the Ramblers have to add an MVC postseason crown to their resume to get into the NCAA Tournament? The question itself seems unfair. This is a program that has finished first three times and second once in its league over the last four regular seasons. This is a program that has developed three of the last four MVC players of the year — first Clayton Custer, then Marques Townes and now Krutwig.

Really, should the Ramblers go to St. Louis worried about their bubble status at all? Maybe not. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them as a No. 8 seed — an at-large qualifier — in his latest projections. Fox Sports’ Mike DeCourcy has them on the 8 line, too.

Then again, CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm currently has them as a 12. That’s thin ice, folks.

“I don’t like their chances,” Palm said via text. “Gaudy record, but not much behind it. Split a road series with Drake. Lost to Richmond and Indiana State. I know metrics love them, but the resume doesn’t back it up.”

Coach Porter Moser is with Lunardi and DeCourcy on this one — not just because he likes their analysis better, either.

“I felt like in 2018, people were saying [Loyola had to win] going into the [MVC] tournament,” he said. “I don’t feel like people are saying that this year. I think the feedback I’m getting is really, really positive. …

“If something crazy did go south, and we have a NET like we do, then I think people would be like, ‘Man, it’s just really rigged away from the Valleys of the world. I don’t feel that. I feel like we’re in a good position.”

JUST SAYIN’

A day after being routed — and maybe outed — by Illinois, Michigan’s team gathered Wednesday to relive the 76-53 nightmare on video.

“A horror film,” Wolverines coach Juwan Howard called it.

Without Ayo Dosunmu — still in concussion protocol — the Illini leaned on 40 minutes of hell from a defense that, at its peak, might be the best in the country.

“We’re the hardest-playing team in the country,” senior guard Trent Frazier said. “That’s our statement. Even without our best players, we’ve got a lot of guys on this team. We’re loaded.”

The Illini could still easily lose their final regular-season game — with or without Dosunmu — at Ohio State on Saturday. I know it. You know it. Hopefully, they know it.

• Come to think of it, now that the Illini are better without Dosunmu and the Bulls are better without Lauri Markkanen, maybe those teams could swap players?

Oh, stop. It’s a joke, for crying out loud.

• Big Ten basketball has reached the point of the season when it’s a lot like football, only more physical and with far fewer whistles. It makes for intense viewing, and no doubt toughens up these teams, but it does the league a terrible disservice come NCAA Tournament time.

The tournament is — without fail — officiated more tightly than Big Ten teams are accustomed to. Illini center Kofi Cockburn, for example, has done a great job of staying out of foul trouble this season, but he put so much body on Michigan’s post players, he could’ve been in almost instant jeopardy.

Better watch out, guys. This is one of the biggest reasons your league hasn’t produced a national champion since Michigan State in 2000.