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After Final Four run, Loyola struggles to find competitive opponents

Loyola head coach Porter Moser answers questions after a practice session for the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Thursday, March 29, 2018, in San Antonio. | David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Loyola’s run to the Final Four last season represented a blessing and a curse for the Ramblers.

The international attention Loyola received blessed the university with millions of dollars of free publicity. But the Ramblers’ deep postseason run has also blossomed into a scheduling nightmare for coach Porter Moser, who said it’s “almost impossible” to get Power Five teams to even consider playing Loyola in a home-and-home series.

“That’s what bothered me the most in this NCAA run is I was getting blamed for not having a super hard schedule,” Moser said, “and I’m trying my tail off to have a hard schedule.”

There’s only one game certain for Loyola’s non-conference schedule — a rematch against March Madness opponent Nevada, which is predicted to rank in the top 10. But the only reason that game is guaranteed is because of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge.

The Ramblers are reportedly in the final stages of signing contracts with two teams that will likely boost their strength of schedule.

Loyola is close to deals with fellow Jesuit school and Atlantic 10 Conference member St. Joseph’s and Big Ten member Maryland, a source told the Sun-Times. Both teams are expected to let Loyola play them on the road, but it’s unlikely that they’ll return the favor and play the Ramblers at Gentile Arena, the source said.

With that, Moser is stuck trying to find at least two more competitive opponents for his non-conference schedule, which is expected to be released next month.

“It’s been a struggle,” Moser said. “We just don’t get those opportunities. And I’m trying, and it’s impossible to get anybody to say, ‘I’ll come back.’ So therefore, that leaves me going on to play a buy game, which I’ll go on the road for a dollar amount and that’s a one-game deal. And it’s very hard to build your schedule with buy games.

“It’s just I can’t play five buy games where I go on the road five times and not have anyone come back to Gentile.”

Loyola’s newfound fame is also making it increasingly more difficult to schedule just one game with a tier-one program, especially after the Ramblers upset then-No. 5 Florida, which paid Loyola $95,000 to play the Gators in Gainesville, Florida, last season, Moser said.

So during the NCAA Tournament, Moser took advantage of the media coverage and said repeatedly that he was willing to take his team anywhere or play any team. And he’s stayed just as persistent this offseason, posting requests on message boards and calling an “astronomical” amount of teams.

So why is it so difficult for Loyola to schedule these home-and-home series? Mainly because teams don’t have an obligation to the Ramblers.

“People look at [us] and they’ll say, ‘Porter, we don’t have to. Why would I want to come back to Chicago, Loyola?'” said Moser, who signed a five-year contract extension in April that will lock him in through 2025-26 season. “Three or four years ago, it would be considered a bad loss [against Loyola]. But if we’re in the top 50 — if we’re in the top 25, it shouldn’t be considered a bad loss anymore.”

Asked if Loyola had contacted Northwestern or DePaul for a home-and-home series, Moser said: “We just floated out that blanket statement and we haven’t had any recent talks, and I haven’t had any luck.”

Moser previously said he “absolutely” wants Loyola to play DePaul, a team the Ramblers haven’t faced since 2012. Loyola hasn’t played Northwestern in more than two decades.