Get to a Postseason Tournament—Any Postseason Tournament

party 1985

As crazy as it might seem, Loyola’s last appearance in a postseason tournament was in 1985.

On March 21, 1985 #14 Loyola—riding a 19-game winning streak—faced off against Patrick Ewing and defending National Champions Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.  Despite carrying a two point lead into the locker room at halftime, the Ramblers lost the game 65-53 as Ewing asserted control down the stretch.  It remains Loyola’s last postseason tournament game.

True, there have been several close brushes with postseason appearances for the Ramblers since then.

In 1987, Loyola won a share of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference regular season title, but was eliminated in the second round of the conference tournament by eventual champion Xavier.

In 2002, the Ramblers reached the Horizon League championship game as a five seed.  With characteristic heartbreak, Loyola lost by one point in overtime as a half-court shot skipped off the rim.  Almost immediately following that game, the Horizon League made draconian changes to the conference tournament format with the aim of preventing lower seeded teams from winning the auto bid.

And in 2007, Loyola lost a conference tournament semifinal overtime game to #18 Butler by one point as yet another last second shot failed to drop.  Finishing that season at 21-11 with an RPI of 101—a year before the creation of the CIT and CBI—the Ramblers were yet again a basket or two away from an NIT bid, and out of luck for a postseason spot.

Now Loyola is in a different conference—thanks perhaps in some part to lingering resentment over rule changes in the Horizon that many perceived as specifically targeting Loyola for disadvantage.  Would Loyola have left the Horizon League—as the last remaining founding member—if the rules hadn’t been changed in reaction to their brush with a postseason bid, and if there hadn’t been a decade-long perceived bias toward promoting all things Butler?  Probably– and especially so after Butler departed a year before Loyola had the opportunity to jump.  But if the HL had conducted itself fairly, the searing desire to escape the Horizon might not have been there, and the Horizon might have been a more comfortable and successful conference for all concerned.

One of the many superior aspects of the Missouri Valley Conference is its highly equitable conference tournament format.  Held at a neutral site, with one bye for the top six teams, it’s a format that promotes strength across the board instead of reinforcing dominance of elite programs.  The conduct of the league promotes equity in a way that benefits all league members in a way that puts the shame of the cynical Horizon League policies in stark contrast.  As a result, eight of the 11 schools that have been members of the MVC over the past three years have reached some sort of postseason tournament, the only three exceptions being Loyola, Southern Illinois, and Bradley (see chart below).

As the newest member of the MVC, building for the long term is the goal for Loyola.  At last, the Ramblers are in a league with a philosophy that promotes development rather than preventing it through “protecting” the already favored.  Many teams build their programs by getting into lesser postseason play, getting experience competing at that level, and using that experience to improve their tournament bids the following year.  Achieving the incremental benchmarks also helps sustain or build fan interest over time.

Wichita State didn’t just get to the NCAA Final Four suddenly in 2013; they won a game in the 2009 CBI tournament, reached the 2010 NIT, won the 2011 NIT, and lost a close game in the 2012 NCAA while building toward that Final Four run.  Loyola didn’t just suddenly win the NCAA Tournament in 1963; they first gained important experience by winning the third place game in the 1962 NIT with a sophomore-heavy team, after losing in the semi-finals to the eventual champion.

What does it take to get to postseason play?  Here are a few MVC team season profiles (at the conclusion of Arch Madness) that have reached postseason play:

Conf. RPI Rank: 11   NCAA Team: Wichita State (auto)

2013-14 Indiana State  NIT    Record:  23-10 (12-6) RPI: 71

2013-14 Missouri State  CIT   Record: 20-12 (9-9) RPI: 85

2013-14 Illinois State   CBI   Record: 16-15 (9-9)  RPI: 134

Conf. RPI Rank: 8  NCAA Teams: Creighton (auto), Wichita State (at large)

2012-13 Indiana State  NIT  Record: 18-14 (9-9)  RPI:  72

2012-13 Northern Iowa  CIT  Record: 18-14 (11-7) RPI:  83

2012-13 Evansville  CIT  Record:  18-14 (10-8)   RPI: 106

Conf. RPI Rank: 8   NCAA Teams: Creighton (auto), Wichita State (at large)

2011-12 Illinois State NIT  Record: 20-13 (9-9)   RPI: 100

2011-12 Northern Iowa  NIT  Record: 19-13 (9-9)   RPI: 73

2011-12 Drake  CIT  Record:  17-15 (9-9)   RPI: 134

2011-12 Evansville CBI  Record:  16-15 (9-9) RPI: 131

2011-12 Indiana State CIT  Record: 18-14 (8-10) RPI: 129

This season the MVC is ranked 10th in Conference RPI, and barring spectacular collapses both Wichita State and Northern Iowa will receive NCAA bids.

At this writing– with six games remaining in conference play before Arch Madness– Loyola is in danger of squandering its best start in decades and missing out on a postseason birth.  In order to make a case for a postseason spot, the Ramblers will need to win four of the remaining six, or win multiple games in St. Louis.  There is a favorable schedule in which to do it—four out of the six remaining games are against teams with losing records.

The entire Rambler community–  players, coaches, fans, administration, students, band members, family members, neighborhood residents, and casual observers—need to band together to erase this shameful and dismal streak.  We all need to do our parts to get the monkey of this three decade postseason drought out of the way this year—not only to build for a better, healthier, and more vibrant season next year, but to reverse the inertia that keeps us from moving forward.  A postseason appearance– at any level– will help innoculate the team from adversity next year, and bury a mental stumbling block that haunts fans, players, and the entire Rambler community.

Super Team Play Sparks Turnaround

With great team play and a new attitude, Loyola men’s basketball finishes successful non-conference schedule for a great start to 2014-15 season.

Contrary to just about every prediction (including here), the Loyola’s men’s basketball team is off to a phenomenal start.  The Ramblers finished the non-conference portion of their season with an improbable 10-2 record, capped by winning the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic with wins on consecutive nights over Texas Tech and Boise State.  Loyola’s impressive turnaround from last season has been stunning and unexpected, and the team appears to be gaining confidence with each game.

Winning away from Home

The Ramblers entered the 2014-15 season burdened by a 19-game road losing streak dating back to January 2013, and a 2-21 record away from home in that span.  After a dismal performance at Michigan State in the first road contest, the Ramblers debuted a super-energetic help defense at Texas-San Antonio, where they came out on top 71-57.  The first road win in a year and a half was followed by another great performance at Kent State just four nights later, where the poise and teamwork of the young and undersized team was refined a bit more.

After another road win at UIC, followed by the two gutsy performances in Las Vegas, the Ramblers are 3-1 in road games and 5-1 in games away from Gentile Arena in the 2014-15 season.   More important, many of the games on the road losing streak last year were the result of blown second-half leads.  That hasn’t been the case in 2014-15; the Ramblers beat Boise State after trailing early in the second half by eight points, and have successfully weathered furious home team comeback attempts at Kent State and UIC.

Smothering Team Defense

After the departure of four frontcourt players from last year’s squad, the 2014-15 Ramblers were left woefully understaffed and undersized in the frontcourt.  Just one player on the starting lineup stood taller than 6’5”, which presented an enormous challenge for the coaching staff—how to compensate when going up against much larger teams night in and day out.  The answer has been three-fold:  creating a really unselfish and hard-working team concept; controlling the tempo of games to advantage; and exploiting the gaps between frontcourt and backcourt defense through ball movement, shot selection, and athleticism.

The three-pronged strategy is paying off, and the team is buying in.  Through Loyola’s 10 games against D-1 competition this season, the Ramblers’ rebounding margin has been -17, -2, +4, -15, -11, 0, +25, +9, +10, and +6.  Notice a trend?  It’s all the more phenomenal considering the height deficit the Ramblers are working with.

Meanwhile, the Ramblers have the second best field goal percentage and third best field goal defense in the MVC.  Loyola leads the MVC in 3 point field goal percentage (39.8%), and are tops in 3 point field goal defense, holding the opposition to under 30%.  Over the last two games– against Big 12 and Mountain West teams– the Ramblers held the opposition to a combined 6-for-51 (11.8%) three-point field goal shooting.

Through their 10 Division 1 opponents this season, the Ramblers have held five of them (including Loyola’s last three opponents) to their lowest scoring output of the season:  UTSA, Jackson State, Southern Utah, Texas Tech, and Boise State.  And three out of those five games were at road or neutral sites.

Loyola begins MVC play with a New Year’s Eve matinee against Bradley.  The Ramblers are getting some notice around the league for their new attitude, great teamwork and impressive start, so they won’t be “sneaking up” on MVC foes when the conference slate begins.  Nevertheless, the hard work and intelligent coaching in the early season has put Loyola in a position to potentially reach a postseason tournament for the first time since 1985 if the Ramblers can sustain their energy, teamwork, and confidence through the long grind of MVC play.

Road Woes

Loyola’s men’s basketball team is working on a 20-game road losing streak entering their game with UT-San Antonio on Tue., Nov. 25.  Their last win in a true road game was at Cleveland State on January 23, 2013. Oddly enough, the last Ramblers road win was their second road victory in a row, and at the time gave Loyola an admirable 6-4 road record in the 2012-13 season—including wins over DePaul and Horizon champ Valparaiso.  But the Ramblers lost their remaining five road games in 2012-13 to begin their second-longest road losing streak in school history.

What makes the Ramblers’ road woes even more confounding is the fact that Loyola has had a sometimes sizeable second-half lead in many of the games in the streak.  Loyola has won two of their four games at neutral sites since the last road win.

Loyola’s 20-game road losing streak, game by game:

  1. February 4, 2013 at Wright State, 62-59. Led by 13 with 6:34 left to play.
  2. February 7, 2013 at Youngstown State, 60-59. Led by 2 with :10 left to play.
  3. February 12, 2013 at Milwaukee, 72-53. Led by 7 early in 2nd
  4. February 26, 2013 at Detroit, 76-75. Led by 3 with 2:18 to play.
  5. March 5, 2013 at Youngstown State, 62-60. Led by 6 with 15:57 to play; tied with :13 left.
  6. November 12, 2013 at Tennessee Tech, 74-69. Led by 12 with 15:26 left.
  7. November 15, 2013 at Tulane, 65-59. Led by 19 with 17:25 left; led by 10 with 6:41 left.
  8. November 22, 2013 at Portland State, 67-63. Led by 17 early in 2nd half; led by 10 with 12:18 left.
  9. December 1, 2013 at Mississippi State, 65-64 (OT). Tied with :28 left (two missed FT); led by 4 with 3:30 left in OT.
  10. December 23, 2013 at Fordham, 83-69. Led by 11 late in 1st half; led by 6 with 17:49 left.
  11. January 1, 2014 at Indiana State, 70-58. Held lead 4 times in 1st half; tied with 2:35 left in 1st.
  12. January 11, 2014 at Illinois State, 59-50. Scored first 6 points; tied at halftime.
  13. January 18, 2014 at Evansville, 53-48. Led by 9 late in 1st half; tied with 1:55 left to play.
  14. January 28, 2014 at Wichita State, 57-45. Never led.
  15. February 1, 2014 at Southern Illinois, 81-76 (OT). Led by 5 at halftime; led by 2 (with missed FT) at :16 left in regulation.
  16. February 12, 2014 at Northern Iowa, 80-58. Led by 6 midway through 1st before wheels came off.
  17. February 15, 2014 at Drake, 70-62. Scored first 3 points; cut 16-point 2nd half deficit to 3 with 1:04 remaining.
  18. February 22, 2014 at Bradley, 55-38. Led by 2 early; trailed by 2 at halftime.
  19. February 25, 2014 at Missouri State, 72-56. Never led; tied with 11:26 left in 1st.
  20. November 21, 2014 at Michigan State, 82-57. Never led.

Loyola’s longest road losing streak was 25 games, from November 30, 1999 to December 15, 2001.