Cinderella. A story we all know. An outsider who does not belong becomes the belle of the ball with her very own fairy godmother.
This year’s Loyola (Chi.) team fits that narrative to a T. They are outsiders. Non-Power Five. They have become the belle. Made the Final Four. They have a fairy godmother. Sister Jean.
There is one real problem with this narrative. They are no Cinderella. And they have been a top 10 program, the entire season.
The Ramblers belong in San Antonio.
Why They Belong
To fully examine Porter Moser’s squad, we must first look to another team. The number one overall seed, Virginia Cavaliers. I know that UVA is less idolized with the first-round loss to UMBC, but they were the best team in the regular season, for a reason.
That reason, the pack-line defense.
The pack-line is a man-to-man style defense designed to force shots from deep, eliminate the post, and stop drives to the basket. The defense revolves around the “pack-line” an imaginary line one foot inside the three-point line. Every defender not on the ball has to be in this area to stop penetration to the paint. The on-ball defender needs to apply pressure and this will be the team’s best defender.
When the ball is thrown to the post a double team is applied to force the ball out, and if the ball flows to the middle the ball needs to be packed in tight to force either a desperation shot or another kick out. Most importantly, help defense needs to be in position at all times, and need to move as the ball moves to not allow catch and shoot opportunities.
Objective number one is to deny the ball down low. This done by three quarter denying the ball on the wing and doing a full deny, in the lane.
Major drawbacks are if the opposing team gets the ball deep in the post for easy buckets, as well as, shooting lights out from three, which UMBC did against Virginia, going 12-24 from deep.
Let’s look at how Virginia plays the pack-line.
Loyola also runs the pack-line, and they have been so effective at it I could have sworn that Tony Bennett was on their bench.
The Ramblers for the season allowed 62.2 points per game during the regular season, and 63.5 points per game in the tournament. They allow opponents to shoot at 41% which was 31st in the country, and the best of the remaining teams.
The common critique people have been making of these statistics during the regular season was that Loyola plays in the Missouri Valley Conference and they will not be able to keep it up against elite competition. That their wins in the NCAA Tournament have been flukes, and they are a good story not a good team.
December 6, 2017. Gainesville, Florida. No. 5 Florida faces Loyola early in the season. Minus their best player in Clayton Custer for the second half. The result, a 65-59 win, against a team that was averaging 95 points per game, at the time.
How they did it. Pack-line.
When you think of the Loyola Ramblers, the pack-line defense needs to be the first thought when you hear their name.
And the pack-line is the reason they belong.
FanRag’s Jon Rothstein calls Virginia basketball “a thing of beauty.” Then no one can deny that after this magical run, Loyola “is a thing of beauty.”