Loyola showed it is no Cinderella with latest March Madness statement
21st March 2021

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The seeding was a lie, of course, and anyone with a functioning set of eyes and a rudimentary understanding of basketball could see that. Loyola was an 8 seed, and to the members of the NCAA Tournament selection committee — which treats mid-major programs with barely camouflaged contempt — that probably seemed like a gift.

Loyola? Out of the Missouri Valley Conference?

An 8 seed?

Be grateful and be quiet.

“We knew,” Brad Underwood said, “just how good they are.”

Underwood is the coach of Illinois. Sunday morning, the Illini were considered one of the more likely teams in these brackets to cruise to the Final Four. They were Big 10 Tournament champs. They were 24-6. They had won 15 of their previous 16 games. It was a season worthy of deep respect, and that’s the irony:

The committee’s disrespect for Loyola — which comes naturally — wound up showing even greater disrespect for Illinois, one of its own, a Power 6 team for whom every break is usually given in this tournament. Just not now.

Loyola toyed with Illinois all day. The Ramblers won, 71-58. And it was impossible to watch any portion of this game and not realize not only how grotesquely under-seeded Loyola was, but that in this battle for bragging rights in the Land of Lincoln, it was a no-contest.

The Ramblers are better.

And it is the Ramblers who will stick around Indianapolis for at least another six days, qualifying for their second Sweet 16 in four years.

Mid-majors of the world rejoice.

“We’re the 17th-ranked team in the country,” Loyola’s terrific center, Cameron Krutwig, said. “And we got an 8 seed. That was the hand we were dealt.”

And that was about as harsh a critique as you were going to hear from any member of the Ramblers. They understand the rules of the tournament, both written and implied. They delighted in making the tour from an 11 seed to the Final Four three years ago, then giving Power 6 poster-boys Michigan a serious run in San Antonio.

Complaining about respect is easy, and perfectly useless.

Earning respect — and then demanding it, based on performance? That’s harder. But much more satisfying. Krutwig is one of two players who were part of the 2018 run, and he was excellent Sunday — 19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, all while checking Illinois’ massive Kofi Cockburn, a Darryl Dawkins doppelganger who was one of the few Illini who came to play Sunday, with 21 points and nine rebounds.

“I always use the term ‘confident respect,’ ” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “We had much respect for Illinois. But you have to also be confident that you can beat them.”

They beat them and it wasn’t especially close, a nine-point halftime lead that never once dipped below six the rest of the way. Nothing flukey about that. Nothing lucky. The better team played better. The better team won. Going away.

“The guys believed,” Moser said, “and it’s amazing what you get when you have a group of young men who believe.”

And they expect to win games like this — so much so that their coach had to coax them to fully enjoy the moment. At game’s end most of the Ramblers headed straight to the locker room to shake off the win and get ready for what’s next. Moser called them back onto the floor. He and Krutwig would both do TV interviews; he wanted the team behind them when they turned the lights on.

“We’re all a part of this thing,” he said. “You should enjoy this. Our fans were here and they were loud and we haven’t had fans all year. You have to enjoy the moment.”

They would, but almost reluctantly. You know who makes sure to maximize moments like these? Cinderellas for whom this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. All due respect: The Ramblers are many things. At this point, Cinderella isn’t one of them.

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