Loyola-Chicago in Final Four? Indeed and They Belong!

Loyola Final Four MM

Doug Upstone

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 3:37 PM UTC

Tuesday, Mar. 27, 2018 3:37 PM UTC

College basketball will have a new champion in a few days. They will be celebrated and honored but this tournament will be remembered for a 16th seed winning and Loyola-Chicago making the Final Four.

With Wichita State leaving the Missouri Valley Conference after Creighton had a few years prior, The Valley was again expected to slip even further in national importance. In the preseason magazines, Loyola of Chicago was picked anywhere from second to fourth this upcoming season.

A 10-1 start was highlighted by a stunning 65-59 win at Florida as 17-point underdogs. But on Jan. 4th, Loyola has just lost for the third time in four games and was 1-2 in MVC and nobody noticed. Since then the Ramblers have been on a major roll as winners of 21 of 22, including current 14-game winning streak with the only loss at Bradley by two on January 31st.

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Loyola Is No Fluke

The Ramblers are making their sixth NCAA appearance and first since 1985. Their 1963 team won the national championship, led by All-American Jerry Harkness and they were the first team to start four black players in the title game. Loyola made three other appearances in the NCAA tournament in the 1960's and that 1962-63 team was inducted into the college basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

By late January, the Ramblers had everyone's attention in the MVC and those following the college basketball odds had taken notice that Loyola was not only winning but covering spreads. Loyola arrives in San Antonio with an outstanding 32-5 record, and their 24-9 ATS mark is the best in the country. (Min. 10 games)

How The Ramblers Reached This Point (and almost did not)

Loyola only scores 72 points a game, but they are extremely efficient, shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the arc. Like every team in this year's Final Four, the Ramblers pass the ball with precision and coach Porter Moser instructs his team to average 100 passes per half to find the best possible shot, which they usually do.

After being fired at Illinois State, Moser joined noted basketball coach and junkie Rick Majerus in St. Louis for four seasons, where he grew as a coach and learned about offensive player movement and scouting opponents. He credits Majerus for making him a better and more prepared head coach.

Moser was able to have this team buy-in which is why they so good defensively in holding opponents to 62.4 PPG. On offense, it is not just passing, but the players paying attention and cutting to basket at just the right time and having passes delivered for layups.

Because the NCAA tournament committee rules favor the larger conferences, the Missouri Valley is a one-bid league today. Loyola trailed Northern Iowa with seven minutes remaining in the MVC quarterfinals until guard Ben Richardson made a three-pointer to give his team the lead and they have not looked back since. If Loyola had lost, a 25-6 team would have gone to the NIT and what a waste that would have been.

Final Four Chances

Longshot bettors making college basketball picks will take Loyola for fun since they have the longest odds of the four combatants. The Ramblers are more talented than they are given credit for and the Sister Jean story has made people aware of the university.

Loyola lacks the athleticism of the other bluebloods still remaining but plays with great basketball agility and intelligence which has allowed them to defeat teams from the ACC and Big 12, plus regular season champs from the SEC and Mountain West during March Madness.

With a 9-0 and 8-1 ATS record in neutral site games and 7-2 and 8-1 ATS mark as an underdog, selling this Loyola-Chicago team short would be a mistake. Go Ramblers and keep that rosary handy.

Check out SBR’s college basketball odds page for updated lines. Also, head over to the March Madness Betting Headquarters for vital handicapping information, picks, and a list of the best sports books and live betting options for the tournament season.

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