Loyola tries to stay focused on tall task at hand vs. Miami
Loyola will have some history on its side when it returns to the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, facing No. 6 seed Miami in Dallas.
The Missouri Valley Conference has a track record of success in the tourney. MVC teams have won their past nine opening games. Of course, the Valley is a little different now after Wichita State and Creighton left, but it's a streak Loyola can carry.
2017: No. 10 Wichita State 64, No. 7 Dayton 58
2016: No. 11 Wichita State 70, No. 11 Vanderbilt 50
2016: No. 11 Northern Iowa 75, No. 6 Texas 72
2015: No. 5 Northern Iowa 71, No. 12 Wyoming 54
2015: No. 7 Wichita State 81, No. 10 Indiana 76
2014: No. 1 Wichita State 64, Cal Poly 37
2013: No. 7 Creighton 67, No. 10 Cincinnati 63
2013: No. 9 Wichita State 73, No. 8 Pittsburgh 55
2012: No. 8 Creighton 58, No. 9 Alabama 57
Also, Thursday's game will take place on the 55th anniversary of the famous "Game of Change," a 1963 NCAA Tournament matchup between Loyola and Mississippi State.
Mississippi State had passed on playing in the NCAA Tournament so as not to play against diverse opponents. That year, the Mississippi State squad basically sneaked out of the state to defy the state's governor and play against Loyola, which started four black players.
Loyola won the game and went on to win the national championship.
Players from that 1963 squad (Jerry Harkness and John Egan) have been around to help enjoy Loyola's return to basketball prominence.
"I love that this run has brought that '63 team and what they meant to the country to light," Loyola coach Porter Moser said Wednesday in Dallas.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga wasted no time latching on to the fact that Loyola has been billed as one of this season's Cinderella teams, with plugs from several prominent analysts.
"They deserve the recognition they're getting, but I just think it shows a little bit of disrespect for us and the ACC that people must not think we're any good," Larranaga told reporters in Miami. "We're now the underdog. People are picking them. We need to embrace that."
One storyline for the Hurricanes is they lost 6-foot-5 sophomore Bruce Brown Jr. to a stress fracture in his foot in January. Larranaga said Brown has been cleared by doctors and will dress for Thursday's game but will not play.
Brown was one of Miami's top scorers at 11.4 points. His absence left more of the scoring load to 6-4 freshman Lonnie Walker IV (11.5 ppg) and 6-11 soph Dewan Huell (11.4).
"They're unbelievably athletic and long," Moser said. "They really space you. We just don't see length and athleticism to the level that Miami has. They're a combination of being able to strike you off the dribble … and they have some big-time shooters on the perimeter to go with that athleticism."
Loyola's trademarks this season have been balanced scoring, good ball movement and solid defense. Six-foot-9 freshman Cameron Krutwig of Algonquin gave the Ramblers an inside presence they've lacked. Loyola's top scorer is 6-1 junior Clayton Custer, the MVC player of the year.
The last time the Ramblers played an NCAA Tournament game, Patrick Ewing was on the floor. So it has been awhile, 33 years to be precise.
"Your vision is to get here," Moser said. "We've shown our team 'One Shining Moment.' We've had our own private selection show with our own team, with nobody there, saying, 'This has got to be us.'
"Obviously, the NCAA Tournament is another level of attention, spotlight, which is great for them. That's what they wanted. Their focus hasn't changed.
"This week of practice has been good and the blinders have to be strictly on Miami, what we have to do with ourselves and what we have to do with Miami, nothing further."