Florida. Miami. Tennessee. Nevada. Kansas State. Georgia Tech. And now, No. 1 seed Illinois. Those are the programs that the Loyola Ramblers have knocked off since 2017, during the regular season, or in the NCAA Tournament.
Porter Moser is the reason for Loyola’s success, not Sister Jean.
A week before Palm Sunday, it’s understandable why Sister Jean is the talk of the tournament once again, as the No. 8 Ramblers look like they could be destined for another Final Four run after upsetting No. 1 Illinois 71-58 in the first game of the Second Round on Sunday afternoon.
“As we play the Fighting Illini, we ask for special help to overcome this team and get a great win,” said the 101-year-old chaplain to the team before the game. “We hope to score early and make our opponents nervous. We have a great opportunity to convert rebounds as this team makes about 50% of layups and 30% of its 3 points. Our defense can take care of that.”
But, as much as this feels like divine intervention, it would be blasphemous to not give Moser his credit, as he’s the architect behind these March miracles, not Sister Jean. It was Moser that decided to go small against Nevada during the 2018 Sweet 16 when Cameron Krutwig was a defensive liability.
“I thought we’d go small, and really push the tempo. It was a great suggestion by my assistant Bryan Mullins. He was there. We haven’t done that all year, Moser explained after the Ramblers defeated the Wolfpack 69-68. “So, we went with it, and it really paid off in terms of the tempo that we created getting stops. Our defense created the offense for sure.”
Two days later, it was Moser’s defensive strategy that held Kansas State to only 34.8 percent shooting from the field and a dismal 6-of-26 from three, as they knocked off the Wildcats in the Elite Eight to punch their tickets to the Final Four.
“This group of guys is an unbelievable group and the journey with them has been unbelievable,” Moser said. “It’s amazing when you believe. I just want to stare at them and celebrate. It’s not one person, it’s the accumulation of the group and their resilience. It’s amazing how much these kids have invested in this program. I’m pretty happy with the kids we have and the way we play.”
Back in 2013, Loyola gave Moser a contract extension through the 2017-18 season, as they were 22-39 in two seasons under Moser then. And in 2018, Loyola gave Moser a contract extension through the 2025-26 season that would put him at the top of the Missouri Valley Conference when it comes to salaries.
“You can be rich without the dollar signs,” Moser told the Chicago Tribune in 2019 after turning down an eight-year deal from St. John’s worth a reported $17 million to stay in Chicago.
“Their AD was great, a Duke guy. It’s the Big East and Madison Square Garden and all that.”
“But when you step back and look … I’ve put so much blood, sweat, and tears into this program. We have a new practice facility. I got two commitments Sunday morning, and the moms were hugging me. And then I’m calling three days later to tell them (I’m leaving)? I can’t do that.”
Moser has also turned down UNLV.
In Sunday’s win against Illinois, Lucas Williamson played 36 minutes and scored 14 points. He’s one of only two members on this Loyola squad that made it to the Final Four. Back then, Williamson was a freshman that was all but ignored during locker room media sessions at the tournament. Now, he’s a co-captain that’s in the middle of another March Madness run, and Porter Moser is the reason why.