As coach Porter Moser’s Loyola Ramblers kept cranking up the heat on heavily favored Illinois in the NCAA Tournament second-round upset heard ’round the basketball world, a flashback popped into my head.
It was of a boyish-looking coach named Brad Stevens patrolling the sidelines in front of Butler’s benches during the 2010 and 2011 tournaments, one big-boy-league opponent after another — Syracuse, Kansas State, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Florida — falling before him. The Bulldogs, then of the Horizon League, made it to back-to-back Final Fours and became two-time national runners-up. They were sensations. Stevens entered name-your-job, name-your-price territory.
Stevens had multiple big-time suitors, including a highly alluring one in Oregon, after the first Final Four run. Instead, he signed a 12-year contract extension. But Illinois still came after him hard after firing Bruce Weber in 2012. UCLA later took a run at Stevens. Eventually — after leading Butler to the tournament for a fifth time in six seasons — he left the mid-major school for the NBA’s Celtics.
Stevens loved Butler just like Moser loves Loyola. He was Butler just like Moser is Loyola. What is Moser — who signed an extension through the 2025-26 season after the Ramblers’ 2018 Final Four run — going to do with the rest of his career? Will he stay in Rogers Park forever? Or will he dive into the deeper end of the basketball pool, sooner or later?
In a Monday appearance on Jim Rome’s radio show, Moser was asked essentially if he can build the sort of sustained, high-end success every coach wants right where he is or if he might have to go elsewhere to take his biggest shot.
“I think there’s a little bit of both,” he said. “I feel I can do it right where we are, but it doesn’t mean that I’ll never leave. …
“I am totally entrenched in this. I ask 110% of my players, and they’re getting 110% of Porter Moser. But [speculation] has been going crazy. But that means we’re doing well.”
I tweeted about Moser and Stevens during the Illinois game, and Ramblers fans were properly aghast. Of course they don’t want their coach to leave, not soon, not ever. Of course they believe he can remain happy at Loyola, because he can. Moser has said so many times.
But, sorry, it doesn’t mean he couldn’t be happy somewhere else, too. And wealthier. And not in a one-bid league like the Missouri Valley often is. Marquette — the birthplace of the career of Rick Majerus, Moser’s late mentor — is open. Indiana is open. Utah, another Majerus stop, is open, however unlikely it is that there would be mutual appeal.
And what about DePaul? No. Forget that one.
“I want him to stay because of what he could build in Chicago,” ex-Bulls guard Jay Williams said on ESPN Radio, “but eventually I think he will go because money talks.”
That’s just one take, but a common one.
Moser and Stevens are friends from their Horizon days. After Loyola made the Final Four in 2018, Moser went to Boston to visit Stevens and pick his brain about getting back for a second time. Moser told the story this week during an ESPN appearance.
“[Stevens] said it was so hard that [first] season, just the pressure and everything,” Moser said. “But once you got in, people recognized the name, they knew you could win, they knew you could advance, they knew you could upset them. And that became a factor, and your guys played more loose.”
Moser feels that with his own team right now. However far these Ramblers get, they’re his best team yet. They’re loose. Everyone knows how good they are. They just dominated a No. 1 seed. In a sense, Moser has it all going for him.
But there’s another level to which he can ascend if he wants to try. Don’t believe for a second he won’t be thinking about it.
If one play from the first two rounds of the tournament is going to stick with me, it’s one of the many made by Loyola center Cameron Krutwig against Illinois.
With Krutwig off to a hot start, guard Keith Clemons threw him a difficult pass a bit too high and a bit too deep into the post. Knowing he’d be pinned to the baseline by Illini 7-footer Kofi Cockburn if he caught it, Krutwig jumped, stretched high and tapped the ball right back to Clemons for an open jumper in the lane. Clemons canned the easy shot for a 19-9 lead.
It was a maneuver right out of Larry Bird‘s bag of tricks. Fitting for this season’s winner of the Bird Trophy as MVC player of the year.
o As expected, DePaul athletic director DeWayne Peevy is leaning on his deep Kentucky ties as he searches for Dave Leitao‘s replacement. An interesting thing about candidate Kenny Payne, the longtime assistant to John Calipari: After five years at Oregon and 10 with the Wildcats, he has spent this season on the staff of Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.
o Sweet 16 winners, but only because you’re practically begging me to tell you: Gonzaga, Oregon, Florida State, Alabama, Baylor, Arkansas, Syracuse and — what’s it called again? — Loyola.
And print it.