Tournament trip defines turnaround under Patsos
BALTIMORE | As the crowd at Reitz Arena cheered when Loyola predictably popped up on a big screen during the NCAA tournament selection show Sunday, coach Jimmy Patsos got to work.
He quickly scribbled a small chart. In one box was his Greyhounds’ meeting with Ohio State. In the other was the matchup between Gonzaga and West Virginia.
That’s the only concern for the Metro Atlantic champions, the lone team from the state of Maryland to earn a place in the field.
“It’s genius,” said Patsos, who said broadcaster Jay Bilas told him earlier this season it was the approach Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski takes to the tournament.
“Krzyzewski says to the players ‘This is all you have to worry about. The most things we can control in the next week are beating Ohio State and playing the winner of West Virginia-gonzaga.”
That’s easier said than done for the Greyhounds (24-8), who were a No. 15 seed in their only previous appearance in the tournament. Loyola will face the second-seeded Buckeyes (27-7) on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Elsewhere in the region:
Virginia landed in the field for the first time in three seasons under coach Tony Bennett. The Cavaliers (22-9) were beset by injuries down the stretch, yet they still collected a No. 10 seed, and will face Florida in Omaha, Neb., on Friday.
Joining the Cavaliers in the West Regional is Mid-eastern Athletic champ Norfolk State (25-9), which earned the No. 15 seed. The Spartans, who are making their first NCAA appearance, will face second-seeded Missouri on Friday.
Virginia Commonwealth, the Colonial Athletic Association champion and a Final Four team a year ago, earned a No. 12 seed in the South bracket and was shipped to Portland, Ore. The Rams (28-6) will face fifthseeded Wichita State, which won the Missouri Valley regular-season title, on Thursday.
Back at Loyola, the selection show was the culmination of perhaps the most satisfying week of Patsos’ tenure. He inherited a 1-27 team after a long stint as an assistant at Maryland and set about to rebuild a program in tatters.
It took eight years, but the Greyhounds clinched their berth with a 4844 victory over Fairfield in the MAAC title game. Then came a whirlwind week as the reality of hitting the big time set in.
“It’s been crazy,” junior guard Robert Olson said. “I’ve been trying to be a little subdued, because we’ve had four or five days off and we got so excited Monday when we won, we’ve just been trying to calm down and focus on practicing and getting ready for whoever we were going to play. Tonight was crazy. I was nervous at every selection. When we finally got introduced, I didn’t know what to think.”
Now, the Greyhounds can move along to preparing for their subregional. Loyola already is familiar with elite talent, having played at Kentucky earlier this season. And landing a game within driving distance is a boon for a school that’s gradually fostered more excitement for its basketball program under Patsos.
As for Ohio State and star center Jared Sullinger, he’s a big part of Loyola’s narrow concentration, though the Greyhounds don’t plan to be intimidated.
“I just see him as another player,” said senior Shane Walker, who began his career at Maryland. “You can’t go into a game scared. We’re going in to try to play and try and win the game. Every game we play, we try to win the game. This is no different for us.”