Men's Basketball 2019 Post-Season
When asked to describe the mood in the locker room following his team’s premature semifinal exit from the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) men’s basketball tournament, this past March, Loyola University Chicago then-sophomore Lucas Williamson minced no words. “It was bad, man. It was painful.”
Twelve months removed from their other-worldly NCAA tournament run, and a week after claiming a share of the MVC regular season title for the second consecutive season, the Ramblers expected more. They certainly thought they'd shoot better than they did against Bradley, a 53-51 upset that knocked Loyola out of NCAA tournament consideration. In the immediate aftermath, tears were shed and prayers were exchanged. The players tried, but mostly failed, to process the defeat over dinner at their St. Louis hotel. When they returned to Chicago, head coach Porter Moser gave everyone a few days to collect themselves. The season was not over, he reminded them; they’d earned an automatic berth in the 32-team National Invitation Tournament (NIT), something of a consolation prize but still an important stepping-stone for a mid-major program gaining national prominence. And the future of Loyola basketball—regardless of how the 2019 season concluded—looked indisputably bright.
Moser was right to pause and celebrate this sustained run of success, the best multiyear stretch Loyola witnessed in a generation or more. The Ramblers won 20 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1985. When they traveled to Omaha to battle second-seeded Creighton last March, they were returning to NIT action for the first time since 1980. Combined with their Final Four run in 2018, it marked the first time since 1964 that Loyola has qualified for postseason play in back-to-back seasons. They did all of this despite ranking 209 out of 353 Division 1 programs in “experience,” per the advanced statistics website KenPom.com. Unlikely powerhouses like Duke and Gonzaga and Butler, much like Rome, weren’t built in a day. “We’re going to make the most out of [the NIT],” Williamson said, a few days removed from the acute MVC disappointment. “We’re in an elite tournament. We can hang a banner. We can win rings.”