She goes by Sister Jean and she, along with the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, captured America’s heart last March during their Cinderella Final Four run in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, you won’t be seeing much of her this season. Don’t worry, she’s not dead. At least I don’t think she is…can we get a wellness check on her? You won’t be seeing her because the Ramblers won’t be in the spotlight this year, unless they make another run in the tourney. Why? Because no one wants to play them. Nobody that matters anyway.
Coach Porter Moser aired his frustrations with scheduling the 2018/2019 non-conference season with Matt Norlender of CBS Sports. With the run they had in the Tournament last, Moser believed his team earned the right to play the bigger/better schools during non-conference play. He quickly found out that wasn’t the case. Moser reached out to 20 teams from the ACC, Big East, SEC, Big 12, and Pac-12 and all but one, Maryland, declined to play Loyola.
Here’s what he was able to come up with…
Nov. 6: vs. UMKCCourtesy of Matt Norlander, CBS SPORTS
Nov. 9: vs. Furman
Nov. 14: vs. Niagara
Nov. 16: vs. Grambling State
Nov. 19: vs. Richmond [Fort Myers Tip-Off]
Nov. 21: vs. Boston College or Wyoming [Fort Myers]
Nov. 27: vs. Nevada
Dec. 1: at UIC
Dec. 5: vs. Ball State
Dec. 8: vs. Maryland [in Baltimore]
Dec. 16: vs. Norfolk State
Dec. 19: vs. Benedictine
Dec. 22: at Saint Joseph’s
Outside of Maryland, only Nevada pops out as a potential 2019 NCAA Tournament team. But it wasn’t because Porter asked them to play, it was mandated. The game is part of the Missouri Valley/Mountain West Challenge, which is its last year. And the Maryland game, is a neutral site game, which doesn’t bare as much weight as a road game, something Porter was desperately looking for this upcoming season. Maryland also wouldn’t commit to a home-and-home series, so it’s unlikely these two will meet again any time soon.
So why can’t the Cinderella team from Chicago get the big schools to bite and play them? Why don’t mid-majors, who make a name for themselves in March Madness, get the challenging schedule they want the next season?
They’re all scared…
Well the main reason is the big schools don’t want to lose in non-conference play. Many of the Power Five schools have mandated games against other Power Five schools, whether it be a regular season tournament, like the Maui Invitational, or a challenge, like the Champions Classic or the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Adding a good mid-major to the schedule doesn’t make sense for a Power Five school. They actually have more to lose than to gain if they schedule a team like Loyola-Chicago, or say a 2010/11 Butler team. That potential additional lose could cause them be on the outside looking in come March.
Conference play also has poised a challenge for mid-majors. Many of the Power Five conferences either have, or will have, a 20-game conference schedule. This decreases the amount of non-conference games available to schedule It also furthers the point that Power Five schools don’t want to lose. Due to the intensity of conference play, where more seems to be at stake, the idea of adding a harder non-conference game isn’t very enticing. Outside of it’s mandated games, this coming season Duke plays Army, Eastern Michigan, Stetson, and Hartford. All cupcakes and expected to be blow outs. But because they play Kentucky and Indiana, before a tough ACC schedule, there’s no incentive to play a Loyola-Chicago or another good mid-major.
And it’s too bad. Those previously mentioned cupcake games aren’t as exciting as a potential matchup against a Loyola-Chicago. I can’t imagine they do anything to make a powerful Duke team any better either, other than maybe boosting their ego.
Help them out!
Mid-majors need good competition too. Playing a weak non-conference schedule ends up hurting them at the end of the season, when the committee picks the 34 at-large bids. Don’t believe me? Had Loyola-Chicago not won their conference tournament, we would have been watching them play in the NIT. If anyone actually watches that tournament anymore.
But when a mid-major actively seeks out tougher competition, and they get told no thank you, that shouldn’t hurt them come March. They shouldn’t be handcuffed by their previous success. That Final Four run should earn the Ramblers the right to play any team they want. It should give them the right to make their non-conference play as challenging as they want. Yet, because no one wants to play them, they are just one loss in the MVC tourney away from not dancing in March Mad
This really sucks!
Their run was an amazing story. People love watching the underdogs win. Give me all the upsets you can throw at me, except against Duke. But even that furthers my point. Where is VCU or Mercer? They were unable to use the momentum they gained in the tourney the next year, because no one wanted to play them. This hurts recruiting. Recruiting is already difficult for mid-majors. They are competing against big schools for good basketball players. In this one and done era, players want to be seen, on national television. Which won’t happen if you can’t schedule those juicy match-ups against a Power Five school.
Butler realized this and so instead of fighting them, they joined the Big East. The only mid-major that has been consistently good, and the closest thing to being a Power Five school without playing in a Power Five conference, is Gonzaga. But they are basically guaranteed a spot in the tourney every year because the WCC is such a weak conference. They also get more national exposure than any other mid-major in the country.
What can be done?
So how do we fix this? How do we help Loyola-Chicago, or another mid-major, continue its success from the season before? How can we make non-conference play a little bit juicier, which in turn will make March Madness even more exciting? Reags over at Barstool Sports suggested bringing back Bracket Busters, which once pitted mid-majors against other mid-majors of similar status. This would give these teams an opportunity of picking up a quality win, which the tournament committee drools over, and takes scheduling woes out of mid-major coaches hands.
Another way is by enticing Power Five schools. Give them a reason to play these mid-majors. One idea is to give more weight to those bubble teams that choose a good mid-major to play as oppose to a cupcake team. A team that loses a close, hard fought game to a Loyola-Chicago in December, should be considered over a team that blows out Evansville. Reward those teams that have a riskier non-conference schedule.
The only other option, is force them. Create a committee that schedules all non-conference games. Don’t let the schools choose for themselves. This will never happen though, due to the number of schools in the nation and the amount of money that’s thrown around between schools at scheduling non-conference games.
It really is unfortunate Loyola-Chicago will be absent from the eye of America this upcoming season. They deserve to prove themselves in front of the country this year. And everyone in America could use more of this smile.