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Porter Moser says Loyola focused on improvement, not Final Four encore: 'Let's not skip this part of the process'

A year after Butler’s stunning run to the 2021 NCAA championship game, the Bulldogs returned to the national title game the next season.

Last season’s Northwestern team, coming off the first NCAA tournament appearance in school history and returning six of its top seven scorers, finished a disappointing 15-17.

Loyola coach Porter Moser believes both types of scenarios can serve as lessons for his team as the Ramblers seek to follow up their historic Final Four season.

Moser said he has talked to Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who guided Butler to those back-to-back NCAA runner-up finishes, and plans to meet with him again this week. He also spoke during the offseason with coaches who followed up successful seasons with disappointing ones, hoping to learn how to keep the Ramblers from going from a peak to a valley.

The bottom line of their messages: Focus on improving, not on the Final Four.

“That’s been our message all summer long: We’ve got to get better,” Moser said Monday at the annual Chicago college basketball tipoff luncheon.

“I told (my players) a story: I talked to coaching friends of mine in the profession with breakout years in the program that were followed by not-so-good (seasons). Sometimes guys wanted to skip the process. They wanted to get to March. … Let’s not skip this part of the process. Let’s not skip what’s happening now. We got to March because of what we did in the summer and the fall.”

What the Ramblers did once they got to March has raised expectations to another level for the encore.

After winning the Missouri Valley’s regular-season title by four games, Loyola swept through the conference tournament in St. Louis to lock up the school’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1985. Then the fun really started.

A buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Donte Ingram upended Miami in the first round. A one-point upset of Tennessee sent the 11th-seeded Ramblers to the Sweet 16. Victories over Nevada and Kansas State in Atlanta made Loyola the South Region champion and a Final Four team for the first time since the 1963 national championship.

While the run ended in San Antonio with a 12-point loss to Michigan — and key players such as Ingram, Ben Richardson and Aundre Jackson have moved on — Loyola returns a significant part of its core: Missouri Valley player of the year Clayton Custer, conference freshman of the year Cameron Krutwig, No. 2 scorer Marques Townes and skilled sophomore guard Lucas Williamson.

“We’re going to go game by game, practice by practice,” Townes said Monday. “We have a lot of younger guys we have to bring along. … We’re learning a lot. The young guys are learning a lot. But we’re not there yet.”

One offseason frustration for Moser has been trying to beef up the nonconference schedule. When a moderator asked him about the topic Monday, he said he was “about to throw up talking about scheduling.”

Power-conference programs often have little interest in scheduling a dangerous mid-major such as the Ramblers, though they do have a Dec. 8 date with Maryland in Baltimore and could face Boston College in the Fort Myers Tip-Off tournament in November.

The highlight of the nonconference schedule is a rematch with Nevada, a likely top-10 team in the preseason rankings, on Nov. 27 at Gentile Arena.

Before the luncheon, Moser told reporters he thinks the Missouri Valley is strong enough this season to receive multiple NCAA tournament bids.

“I think the Valley is going to have four or five teams that are going to be in the top 75, Quadrant 1,” he said.

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