Among Loyola’s many maxims is a team rule — actually three rules in one: No complaining, no excuses, no entitlement. The last item is what coach Porter Moser looked for after the Ramblers’ stunning Final Four run.
Fortunately for Moser, his search came up empty.
“With the entitlement factor, they’re working as hard as ever,” Moser says. “We have this mentality about getting better. I want to be obsessed with the competitive edge, not be obsessed with getting back to the Final Four.”
Three NCAA Tournament heroes return: top scorers Clayton Custer and Marques Townes, and center Cameron Krutwig. While three other standouts depart, Loyola has the roster to maintain an effective style of high-percentage shooting and assertive defense.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Porter Moser
2017-18 RECORD (MVC): 32-6 (15-3)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: Lost to Michigan 69-57 in the Final Four
F Donte Ingram (11.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
F Aundre Jackson (11.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
G Ben Richardson (6.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.8 apg)
A young player with an old-school game, the 6'9" Krutwig is a rare back-to-the-basket center. He’ll have an even bigger role after earning MVC Freshman of the Year honors. He slimmed down after the Final Four, which Moser believes will help his movement on defense. After averaging 23.7 minutes in 34 starts, Krutwig will likely see his court time increase.
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Loyola must build depth, especially after losing Donte Ingram, its top rebounder and a player who provided “instant offense,” Moser says. Aher Uguak, a 6'7" transfer from New Mexico, is a strong passer and defender who could deliver Ingram-like versatility. “He’s a mismatch guy,” Moser says. “If you switch a small guy on him, he’s going to roll him in the post. He can take a bigger guy off the dribble.”
Sophomore forward Christian Negron adds length and athleticism if he can stay healthy. Freshman Franklin Agunanne is a big body who can defend and rebound, and he has a soft touch around the rim. “It helps us a lot to have another guy that size,” Moser says. “He’s going to learn a lot from Krutwig.”
Custer, the reigning MVC Player of the Year, and Townes — both fifth-year seniors — are the obvious leaders. They’re excellent passers (227 combined assists last season) and defenders (86 combined steals), and they both shot better than 50 percent from the field. The key is how they bring along others including sophomore Lucas Williamson, who averaged 20.2 minutes last year. Moser expects Williamson to fill the void left by Ben Richardson, the MVC Defensive Player of the Year last season.
“Lucas, by the end of the year, was like our second-best defender,” Moser says. “He’s stronger. He’s put on weight. His shot looks good. He wants more responsibility, so it’s a lot we’re going to ask of him.”
Junior Bruno Skokna has appeared in every game the past two seasons and could see a bigger role. Freshman Isaiah Bujdoso is a long body who can defend the perimeter, while fellow freshman Cooper Kaifes adds shooting to a roster that hit 50.7 percent of its field goals and 39.6 percent of its 3-pointers last season.
Moser likely will maintain a four-guard lineup this season. “I want them all to be able to come off ball screens. I want them all to be able to handle it,” he says.
After three decades of irrelevance, Loyola rose to national prominence in one magical month. Moser received an enhanced contract, and an $18.5 million practice facility is being built. Can the program sustain its momentum?
The Ramblers have the personnel to defend their Missouri Valley title, especially if the newcomers transition well. Moser wants to keep a nine-man rotation that shows the same traits featured during last year’s postseason run. “We were good for reasons, and those reasons are what we need to be obsessed with again,” he says. “We have a complete buy-in of what’s going on.”
Postseason Prediction: Two & Out
Missouri Valley Prediction: 1st