Loyola one win away from postseason championship
Ramblers and Warhawks meeting for first time
Ramblers look for berth in championship series
Loyola looks to topple former conference mate to earn semifinal berth
Ramblers making first postseason appearance since 1985
Entering his fourth season at the helm, Porter Moser has the Loyola University Chicago men's basketball program positioned to make a move up the standings as it enters its second season in the Missouri Valley Conference. A native of Naperville, Ill., and a graduate of Benet Academy, Moser most recently served as the associate head coach at Saint Louis University under the late, great head coach Rick Majerus. Known as a tireless recruiter and a master game tactician, Moser has coached numerous all-conference players in his coaching career.
Moser and the Ramblers are starting to see the results of his recruiting efforts, as Loyola enters the 2014-15 with one of the Valley's most exciting and youthful rosters. The leader of that group is Milton Doyle, who last season became just the seventh player in Missouri Valley history - and first since Doug McDermott - to win both the MVC Newcomer and Freshman of the Year awards. Doyle was just one of three underclassmen who were big contributors last season, with Jeff White establishing himself at the point guard position and Devon Turk continuing to provide shooting and scoring off the bench, with the sixth man earning a spot on the MVC All-Bench Team. In addition, Christian Thomas continued his improvement, putting together another terrific campaign while adding new elements to his game. As a result, Thomas was one of just three MVC players to rank in the top 10 in the league in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage, joining Wichita State's Cleanthony Early and UNI's Seth Tuttle.
While the transition to the Valley was certainly an adjustment, Moser's Ramblers showed that they fit in very well to one of America's best basketball conferences. Loyola announced its presence with a 32-point home win over Missouri State for its first MVC win and endured a stretch in which five of its first seven losses were by single digits, with its most lopsided defeat being a 12-point setback at national power Wichita State.
Loyola then provided one of Championship Week's top moments in its first-ever game at Arch Madness, with Doyle knocking in a long, contested three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Ramblers a 74-72 win over Bradley.
Off the court, Moser's troops continued to excel, with Joe Crisman earning MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Week four different times and the Munster, Ind. native also was the only LU student-athlete selected for the school's prestigious Maroon and Gold Society.
After successfully laying the foundation for the program in 2011-12, his first season in Rogers Park, Moser steered the Ramblers to an eight-game improvement in the win column in 2012-13, the best improvement in Loyola history by a coach from his first year to his second. The eight-game improvement was also the best by a Loyola squad since the 2001-02 team won 10 more contests than the previous outfit.
During the 2012-13 season, Moser piloted Loyola to victories over a pair of BCS conference foes, giving the Ramblers multiple wins over power conference opponents for the first time since 1991-92. Loyola's 69-61 victory at DePaul was the program's first over its city rival since 1989, and a 59-51 win against Mississippi State was Loyola's first over a Southeastern Conference opponent since 2008.
Despite missing a handful of games due to injury, senior Ben Averkamp was named Second Team All-Horizon League for the second straight year and off the court, the forward became the program's first-ever Capital One Academic All-American when he earned second team recognition. Averkamp wrapped up his career as one of only 19 players in Loyola annals to accumulate over 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in his career.
Moser's tutelage also helped guard Devon Turk establish a Loyola single-season record for three-point field goals by a freshman (65), while along the way, the sharpshooter led the Horizon League in three-point field goal percentage (.633). One of Moser's greatest transformations in 2012-13 however, was the meteoric rise of forward Christian Thomas, who averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds over the final 22 contests after putting up 4.6 ppg and 4.0 rpg over the first nine outings of the year.
A firm believer in building a program and not a team, Moser, in his first season at Loyola, made huge strides in laying a foundation for future success. In 2011-12, the undermanned Ramblers suffered 11 losses by 10 points or less, including eight by seven points or less. Moser used his recruiting acumen to land a well-thought-of crop that includes Nick Osborne, Jeff White, Matt O'Leary, Devon Turk, Jeremy King, and Tanner Williams, Loyola's first Chicago Public League player since 2008, Milton Doyle.
Under Moser's tutelage, Averkamp took the next step in his progression by emerging into one of the elite players in the Horizon League. Averkamp earned Second Team All-Horizon League accolades in 2011-12 to become Loyola's first all-league selection since Blake Schilb in 2006-07. Last winter, Averkamp was one of only two players to rank among the top five in the Horizon League in both scoring (15.4) and rebounding (7.1) and he enters his senior campaign needing only 11 points and 27 rebounds to become just the 19th player in school history to top 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in his career.
However, Averkamp wasn't the only Rambler to thrive under Moser's leadership, as Walt Gibler registered personal-best averages of 12.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest. He wrapped up his career as one of the most prolific scorers and rebounders ever to don the Maroon and Gold, and became the 18th player in Loyola annals to total 1,000 points and 500 boards, before signing a professional contract in August to play in Germany.
In addition to their accomplishments on the court, Averkamp and Gibler were also lauded for their excellence in the classroom, with each being named to the I-AAA Men's Basketball Scholar-Athlete Team, the Horizon League Men's Basketball All-Academic Team and the National Jesuit Men's Basketball All-Academic Team. Averkamp also picked up Capital One First Team Academic All-District V recognition and a total of three Ramblers were named to the Horizon League Spring Academic Honor Roll. Gibler was also recognized by the Horizon League by earning the most prestigious award it hands out each year, the Cecil N. Coleman Medal of Honor. Awarded to a male and female student-athlete in the conference who best exemplifies the high purpose and character of the league and its membership, the Coleman Award had previously been won by a Rambler men's basketball player just one other time, by Jason Telford in 2004, before Gibler garnered the hardware in 2012.
Named one of the top 50 assistant coaches in the country by Basketball Times in 2009, Moser was named associate head coach after spending one season as an assistant coach at Saint Louis. While with the Billikens, he helped SLU to a 69-61 overall record during his four years on the staff and the 2009-10 team posted a 23-13 overall record and reached the finals of the College Basketball Invitational before falling to Virginia Commonwealth University.
Prior to his stint at Saint Louis, Moser was the head coach at Illinois State for four years before leaving behind a championship caliber team. After the 2003-04 squad notched a 10-19 record, Moser engineered a seven-game improvement in the win column in his second season as head coach as the Redbirds went 17-13 in 2004-05 despite being picked to finish last in the league in the preseason poll. Moser's recruiting acumen helped land a talent-laden class in his final season at Illinois State, and that group was a critical component to three NIT berths in a three-year stretch from 2008-10.
At Illinois State, Moser coached three All-Missouri Valley Conference selections and produced one Academic All-America selection (Neil Plank in 2006).
Moser's first head coaching opportunity came at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, and in three short seasons there, he steered the Trojans to a 54-34 overall record. The architect of the greatest turnaround in Sun Belt Conference history, Moser turned a 4-24 team into an 18-11 outfit in just one year.
When Moser took over the reins of the UALR program, the Trojans ranked last in several defensive categories in the Sun Belt Conference, but after that first season, finished tops in the league in field goal percentage defense and three-point field goal percentage defense, and second in scoring defense.
He began his coaching career in 1990-91 as a graduate assistant coach at his alma mater, Creighton University, then spent four seasons as an assistant coach at Texas A&M University before moving to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for one season. While at A&M, Moser helped the Aggies reach the 1994 NIT for their first postseason appearance in seven years. After that brief stay at Milwaukee, Moser returned to Texas A&M for two more seasons on the Aggies' bench, then served as an assistant coach under both Wimp Sanderson and Sidney Moncrief at UALR for two years.
As a player at Creighton, Moser was a two-year starter and helped the Bluejays to the 1989 Missouri Valley Conference title. He graduated in 1990 with a degree in business management.
At Benet Academy, Moser was a three-year varsity starter and was named the conference player of the year as a senior. The all-state selection was also instrumental in Benet's state record 102-game home winning streak.