Rozner: Loyola picked right year to believe

 
 
Updated 3/20/2018 7:47 PM
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  • The bench celebrates after Loyola-Chicago guard Bruno Skokna scored on a 3-point basket against Tennessee in the second half of a second-round game at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Dallas, Saturday, March 17, 2018.

    The bench celebrates after Loyola-Chicago guard Bruno Skokna scored on a 3-point basket against Tennessee in the second half of a second-round game at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Dallas, Saturday, March 17, 2018.

  • Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, left, greets Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser after the team's 63-62 win over Tennessee in a second-round game at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Dallas, Saturday, March 17, 2018.

    Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, left, greets Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser after the team's 63-62 win over Tennessee in a second-round game at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Dallas, Saturday, March 17, 2018.

  • Loyola-Chicago head coach Porter Moser instructs his team in the first half of a first-round game against Miami at the NCAA college basketball tournament in Dallas, Thursday, March 15, 2018.

    Loyola-Chicago head coach Porter Moser instructs his team in the first half of a first-round game against Miami at the NCAA college basketball tournament in Dallas, Thursday, March 15, 2018.

Some might call it luck.

Others would point to parity, but sometimes parity is just a polite way to say it's bad.

That's your current NCAA Tournament, where pretty much every game is up for grabs and any team remaining has a chance to win it all.

And, yes, that includes everyone's darling, Loyola.

"It's just," said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, "what they call March Madness."

It's a place where 20-point leads in the second half aren't safe, and 10-point leads with less than five minutes to go are meaningless, even for a No. 1 seed.

Madness, indeed.

"I think what you see happening in college basketball, it's almost like a revolution," Hamilton said. "What happens is you start categorizing people by the reputation that their players get going into college.

"But, in reality, kids are playing basketball all over the country and teams are getting better. Just because they might not be in one particular conference, or maybe they're not considered to be one of the more traditional rich schools, people are playing basketball."

Florida State took down top-seeded Xavier on Sunday, erasing a 12-point deficit inside of 10 minutes, after 16th seed Maryland-Baltimore County crushed No. 1 Virginia by 20 -- as a 20-point dog -- Friday night.

The Sweet Sixteen field offers only two No. 1 seeds for the fourth time since 1979 and only seven top-four seeds will play this week, tying for the fewest ever after two rounds.

In the first game Thursday night (6:07 p.m.) in Atlanta, No. 11-seed Loyola (30-5), will face No. 7-seed Nevada (29-7), which was down 22 in the second half against No. 2 Cincinnati before a 32-8 run to finish the last 12 minutes.

"We've looked at next opponent all along. Only what's in front of us. Nevada is the next opponent," said Loyola coach Porter Moser. "You don't even look at the seeds. I hope people look at our seed, but I know they won't.

"It's not about the seed. They have 2 great wins. We have 2 great wins. It's about two teams coming in here looking at their next opponent. That's what our focus is."

Nevada opened as a 2.5-point favorite, but that line has dropped to 1.5 and should move closer to a pick. Then again, the Virginia line was wrong by 40 points.

"People talked about all the upsets in our region," said Loyola senior guard Ben Richardson. "They say, 'Things look easy for you.' Are you kidding? Have you seen what happened? You think it's going to be easier after seeing what happened?

"Everyone is playing for their lives every night."

No games are easy, but what Loyola fans are telling Richardson is that the top four seeds are gone from the South, and if the Ramblers can squeeze past Nevada they get the winner of Kentucky (5) vs. Kansas State (9) for a trip to the Final Four in San Antonio.

It's the first Sweet Sixteen region without a top-four seed. Ever.

It explains why Loyola is only 5-1 to win their region now and still as much as 125-1 in some casinos to win the entire bracket, tied with Midwest No. 11 Syracuse -- the last team to get in the field -- for the highest remaining odds.

But nothing seems out of the realm anymore, not after Virginia's historic loss to UMBC and West No. 2 North Carolina -- the defending champs -- getting crushed by No. 7 Texas A&M.

Nothing, really, can be dismissed as ridiculous.

Impossible, you say? Impossible for this relatively unknown Chicago school to make a serious run at a national championship with big names like Kansas, Villanova, Purdue and Duke still in the hunt?

In the 2018 NCAA Tournament, there is no such thing as impossible.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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