SAN ANTONIO — Loyola coach Porter Moser knows how close the Ramblers’ NCAA Tournament run was to not happening. One tweaked ankle in practice or one loss in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, and Loyola might not have been a part of March Madness.
Moser hopes what his team accomplished — managing four upsets on neutral courts to reach the Final Four — is a wake-up call for the selection committee.
“I hope our run sparks some conversation on trying to continue to find the best way [to give deserving mid-major teams at-large bids],” said Moser, who added he understands how hard the selection committee’s job is. “I don’t think we’re at that point yet. I think we need to continue to find the best way because, according to everybody, we weren’t going to get in.”
At the same time, Moser knows why teams like his are often pushed to the side. Mid-major programs are constantly criticized for their strength of schedule.
In 2017, Illinois State, which shared the Missouri Valley regular-season title with Wichita State, was a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament after the Redbirds lost to the Shockers in the conference tournament title game. The selection committee passed over Illinois State because the Redbirds didn’t have enough “quality wins.”
“You’re blamed for not having a tough schedule,” Moser said. “We’re trying [to schedule harder opponents].”
Moser doesn’t want to be in Illinois State coach Dan Muller’s position. Moser said his staff has been working around the clock and making “a hundred calls” to schools trying to schedule home-and-home series. The problem is most of those calls are either ignored or unsuccessful.
One school Loyola would love to play is just a few miles south on the Red Line. Moser said he “absolutely” wants to play DePaul and admitted they’ve “talked many times.”
But Loyola hasn’t played DePaul since 2012, when the Ramblers beat the Blue Demons 69-61 on the road.
As Loyola gets better, it’ll be more difficult for the Ramblers to find Power Five opponents who are willing to play them. Moser found that out firsthand this season when North Carolina State bought out of a game this year to avoid playing Loyola.
Michigan coach John Beilein said it’s unfortunate teams like Loyola are at a disadvantage because of their scheduling.
“They don’t get the opportunity to play home games against schools like Michigan. And they probably never will,” Beilein said. “And so as a result, they’re good, but people don’t know how good they are until you see them out there.”
So after playing Loyola in the Final Four, would Michigan schedule a home-and-home series with the Ramblers? Beilein said it’s more complicated than one would think because of money.
“There’s a lot of implications. And that money, Michigan, every power conference needs,” Beilein said. “So as a result, that’s something that we’ve always done and we’ve been very aggressive at looking to play good road games. But I would always consider that. If Sister Jean asks me, I might even have a better chance of it happening.”