O'Donnell: Can Loyola return to Final Four? It doesn't look likely
Bouquets, brickbats and other pertinent scraps from a cluttered notebook, in tribute, thank you Gary Deeb:
ARCH MADNESS in St. Louis will begin March Madness for the Loyola Ramblers Friday (NBCSCH+, noon). They'll play struggling No. 9 seed Valparaiso - 4-11 since January 15 but a 77-55 winner over No. 8 Indiana State Thursday night.
The good news for Porter Moser and his after-midnight group is that Thursday winners are 0-38 on Friday in the new millennium at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
The bad news begins with the fact the Valley has been awful this season. The MVC co-champions -- the Ramblers and Drake -- both finished with six conference losses. That's the most for a titlist in the 112-year history of the league.
It also suggests the Valley's designation could be dropped from "mid-major" to "low mid-major" or "high low-major."
Loyola also needs a seven-game win streak to match last year's miracle blast to The Final Four. Moving into the 2018 MVC tourney, the Ramblers had three seven-game streaks during the regular season. This winter, they had none.
Even if Loyola wins it all -- which would include a Saturday semi (CBSSN, 2:30 p.m.) and Sunday's finale (CBS, 1 p.m.) -- some dismaying bracketology could await.
That's because credible NCAA tournament projectionists have LU as a No. 15 seed. One click lower could mean a play-in weeknight in Dayton, hopefully at least with double Marriott points.
And if Moser somehow coaxes a return to The Final Four, forget about renaming it The Gentile-Moser Arena in his honor.
The Pride of Naperville should simply be given Joe Gentile's old Chrysler dealership in Barrington.
BULLS DREAMERS WILL BE paying much more attention to Murray State's Ohio Valley Conference semifinal Friday (ESPNU, 9 p.m.). That hidden nugget will showcase Ja Morant, the 6-3 bounding blur who still could wind up in Chicago's range on NBA Draft Night in June.
Morant is an intriguing all-court player who is averaging 24.1 ppg along with 10.3 apg. He's on pace to become D-I's first 20/10 finisher since the assist became a continuing official stat in 1983.
Long, long ago -- way back in 2014 -- Morant also played on a modest AAU team in South Carolina with Zion Williamson that was coached by Sharonda Simpson, Williamson's mother.
His pro game still needs to be tightened. But proven analysts have him going anywhere from No. 1 to No. 4 June 20. And if the Bulls package their No. 1 along with Zach LaVine, who knows?
If the Racers win Friday, they return for the OVC championship and an automatic NCAA bid Saturday (ESPN2, 7 p.m.), most likely vs. fabled Belmont.
YOUNG MIKE DEFABO recently pulled off a remarkable feat in the 2019 Associated Press Sports Editors writing competition. Covering Purdue athletics for a 13-newspaper syndicate based out of the Anderson (Ind.) Herald Bulletin, DeFabo went a perfect 6-for-6 in Class C, capturing major honors in all primary word crafting categories.
DeFabo's already moved up to the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal. Meticulousness and flair must run in his family: sister Maria DeFabo-Akin is director of scenic paint and props at The Lyric Opera; brother-in-law Brad DeFabo-Akin is executive director of "Step Up Chicago Playwrights."
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