STEPS TO TAKE IF YOU WANT TO ENJOY SPORTS
Game Time: 8:00pm CT
Location: CHICO, Omaha, NE
TICKETS: Ticket Master (lots available, especially in the lower bowl)
Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: 1620AM the Zone & 101.9 the Keg in Omaha
A FEW WORDS ABOUT HISTORY
Creighton University, one of the nation’s top rated private universities, left the Missouri Valley conference to join the BIG EAST a handful of moons ago. It was a move that left everyone on this side of the Missouri River absolutely thrilled. To finally be out of the brutally bruising and bombastically bizarre Valley to join up with a bunch of other powerhouse Catholic institutions (...and Butler) seemed like a dream come true. They’ve flourished in their new digs, never finishing lower than 9th, and never finishing higher than 2nd.
The Missouri Valley then had to find a replacement. They searched far and wide, considering programs like Duke University, DeVry University, Doane College, and Dynasty Mode On NCAA Football 2009. They weighed their options. They looked at the geographical footprint that aligned with all of their member schools. They sought and then settled on the University of Loyola-Chicago.
Since that time, Loyola eclipsed the heights they’d once soared to in the early 60’s when they won their first national title in 1963 over the Cincinnati Bearcats. They reached the Sweet 16 in 1985 only to run into Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas. Then, as you’re probably aware, they made a magnificent run to the Final Four last season only to be upended by Michigan.
The two programs have enjoyed varying amounts of success, perhaps the Bluejays enjoying more regular trips to the big dance while once in a while Loyola climbs to the top of the mountain and then disappears back into irrelevance until their climb begins again.
The current head guy for the Ramblers is Porter Moser. Moser played for Creighton for four years in the late 80’s as a 6’2 guard for Tony Barone’s Bluejay squad. Moser, from just outside of Chicago in Naperville, played sparing minutes his first couple of years and then proceeded to start in 21 games as a junior. He averaged 22 minutes on the court as a senior but started in just six games, becoming a useful sixth man as he scored 6PPG and dished out nearly 3 assists per game.
Moser became a grad assistant at Creighton. He’d claim three more assistant coaching jobs at Texas A&M and Milwaukee before getting an assistant job at Arkansas-Little Rock. That position eventually led to a head coaching position at the university in 2000.
In 2003 he’d return to Normal as the head coach of Illinois State. Though his defensive stylings were respected throughout the conference, he was never able to get above 17 wins, and was ousted after a 15-16 campaign in 06-07.
Embattled and listless, Moser joined Rick Majerus as an assistant at SLU. Coach McDermott noted a difference in his coaching style after spending four years learning from the legendary Majerus. After the 2010-2011 season, Moser was offered the vacant Loyola-Chicago job, and the rest is history.
Creighton and Loyola last met in the 2015-16 season. Fans of the Bluejays were coming to terms with a team teeming with potential, welcoming Maurice Watson Jr., Khyri Thomas, Ronnie Harrell Jr., and Martin Krampelj in their inaugural seasons. They’d just come off of a heartwrenching, last second collapse in Omaha by the hands of Arizona State and had to travel to Chicago to complete a Valley days, bracketbuster return game against the Ramblers. It had TRAP written all over it, and sure enough, the Jays fell to Moser’s squad 68-65. The eventual NIT-bound Bluejays trailed the entire game and damn near sent it into overtime in the waning moments, but failed to do so. Khyri Thomas shined, scoring 22 points in the affair.
The pace, the defensive pressures, and the thoughtful care of Moser’s Ramblers gave the Bluejays fits, something that will likely be reciprocated tonight in Omaha.
Verbs de Ludis
There are a bunch of rule changes in the NIT this year. A lot of them are weird. Some of them are taken straight from FIBA rules.
Here’s a brief rundown on what you’re going to be seeing and how it’s going to be different:
- 3-point line extended one foot and eight inches, same as FIBA competition.
- Free throw blocks are expanded from 12 feet to 16 feet, same as NBA.
- Shot clock reset to 20 seconds on offensive boards.
- Halves are essentially broken into quarters, with team fouls resetting at the 10 minute mark. After the fifth foul in each quarter the teams will shoot two freebies. The fouls will also reset going into halftime.
This is the perfect way for Creighton to round out their season. In the close games, the complete mental lapses late in games, the devastating fashion in which they choked away leads, the NIT is the perfect home for the 2018-19 Bluejays. It gives them an opportunity to play for a championship, on their home court for a while, with more practices, more reps, and relatively high stakes.
Mitch Ballock took a while to come into his own. To form the mold that he’d presented to Creighton fans down in Kansas City last year. He was gifted a particular weight of expectation and he wasn’t able to live up to it while getting a hefty portion of minutes. Some may call it a sophomore slump, but in reality it was a learning curve. He learned what failure was like against all odds. He learned how his abilities, when best utilized, could carry teams. He’s a swiss army knife with a gigantic spoon that has “THREE POINT SHOOTER” embossed on it.
Ty-Shon Alexander is in the same boat, yet features more of a scorer’s acumen. Sometimes he was hot, occasionally he got frustrated, and rarely he disappeared. It’s his consistency as a scorer that will carry the Bluejays into a year that features double twenties within it. The NIT gives him a new breath, a new look, a new way to dissect and pick apart perimeter defenses.
Marcus Zegarowski can gain the most for this postseason play. Before the star freshman point guard broke his pinky finger he was taking measured steps to fill the role of the “perfect point guard” in Greg McDermott’s system. Heady, careful, but with a wicked scoring touch. He portrays shades of Maurice Watson Jr., with a little more size and a little less quickness but all the abilities to get to the tin and score within the trees. There’s a general consensus that he’s going to be one of the greats but attaining some NIT love on a channel that the Bluejays are nearly never on - ESPN - against some wider spread fanbases, he’s going to gain a bit of a national following if the Jays can make a run.
Which they certainly can. Loyola is like Villanova in terms of pace. The Ramblers rank 348th in Kenpom in forcing their opposition to hold the ball. They take even more care of the ball offensively, ranking 315th in average time of possession.
Loyola-Chicago beat Darien DeVries’s Drake Bulldogs both times this season. They lost to mid-major bubble squad Furman early on in the year. They finished 12-6 in the Valley, good for a first place regular season finish.
Everything they do, they do to frustrate. They slow things down even when a fastbreak features numbers that favor them immensely. They whooped the ever loving shit out of Valpo in the Missouri Valley Tournament, then got blindsided and upset by the eventual champion Bradley.
That’s the tale of the tape for the Ramblers this season. For a split second one can believe that they’re the same world beaters that they’re purported to be, like when they took care of business against Illinois State, Valpo, and Indiana State in quick succession. Then, just four nights later down in Springfield, they got stomped to death by Missouri State, 70-35.
It’s a difficult team to gauge. They grind and grind, and when they’re put up against other grinders, they fight til’ their bloodied. Against St. Joe’s they scored only 16 points in the first half. They also allowed just 20. They ended up losing 45-42.
Seven of Loyola’s thirteen losses this season were a result of the opposing team scoring 65 or more points. When their opponents happened to score 65+ and the Ramblers came out with a win? It happened just four times. Three of those four wins happened to be coupled with a 9+ point margin of victory. The lone outlier is Indiana State, which was an 8-point victory for the Ramblers.
Thus, I’ve concluded using brain power and elementary math skills, the opposing team must score 65 points to keep Loyola from winning the game. In 27 of Creighton’s 32 games this season they eclipsed the 65 point mark. Three of those instances occurred when Marcus Zegarowski wasn’t present at the point guard position. The other two instances were early on in the season against Ohio State and the BIG EAST quarterfinal game against Xavier.
If Creighton can tilt the court into their favor and score often, they’re going to run away with this game and get into the next round, securing another home game, and giving fans more opportunity to see this youth build themselves into a force to be reckoned with.
If Creighton gets into a rockfight they’re going to be in trouble. That’s just about it. There’s nothing else to it.
Song of the Day - Heat Wave - Snail Mail