In the immediate aftermath of Lon Kruger’s retirement as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners men’s basketball team, I put together a short wish list of candidates to fill the opening. Porter Moser’s name was nowhere to be found.
Frankly, I assumed Moser would be gunning for an opening at a program higher up the food chain of college hoops. That, or he would put his roots down at Loyola Chicago for life. When it leaked out that Moser was considering OU athletic director Joe Castiglione’s pitch, I figured he was using the Sooners as leverage over the Ramblers – Loyola supposedly made him a solid offer to stay.
As such, I hadn’t given much consideration to how Moser would fit in Norman. With Moser now officially in charge, a few thoughts on the development...
OU has a more respected men’s hoops program than even its own fans realize
The University of Oklahoma is first and foremost a football school. That reality often translates into a perception that OU is a basketball backwater. Even supporters fall into the trap of thinking that OU’s name doesn’t carry much weight around the hoops scene.
Joe Henricksen’s inside story for the Chicago Sun-Times about Moser’s decision should help dispel that notion. The article makes the best case I’ve ever seen about why the OU job would be so desirable to a hot coaching prospect: the stability of the athletic department, the resources available to the program and even the upside of the school having a football monster to feed.
No, OU isn’t North Carolina or Duke or Kentucky when it comes to basketball. OU still makes the NCAA Tournament routinely. Three of the Sooners’ last four head coaches went to the Final Four. The one who didn’t took a team to the Elite Eight and produced a No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Moser recognized plenty of legitimate reasons to come to OU. That speaks well of the program’s equity and potential to raise its profile further.
Is Moser a good coach or a good candidate?
There’s an ocean of difference between a truly good coach and one who is deemed a hot name on the coaching circuit by pundits and media gossips. OU’s new head honcho feels more like the former than the latter.
Moser’s last four seasons tower above the rest of his 17-year track record as a head coach. The Ramblers had a combined record of 99-36 from 2018 to 2021. They made the Big Dance twice and had a shot at getting there again in the tournament-less 2020 season. The two appearances in the tournament ended at the Final Four and Sweet Sixteen.
Importantly, Loyola Chicago didn’t have squads that were just “Missouri Valley good” in that stretch. The Ramblers ranked 10th overall in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency margin this year, for instance. They beat highly regarded opponents in their March Madness runs, including a convincing win over a stellar Illinois team last month.
That is not the stuff of a flash in the pan.
To be fair, Moser’s teams produced more than enough uninspiring results in the other 13 campaigns to support doubts about his credentials. He took on big projects in each of his three stops, however: Arkansas Little Rock finished 4-24 the season before Moser became head coach; Illinois State was 8-21; Loyola was 16-15.
Moser also guided Loyola through a step up in competition as the program transitioned from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley Conference during the 2013-2014 season. The Ramblers actually thrived in the aftermath of the move.
Finally, the eye test awards high marks to Moser. Basketball junkies will note that he spent the four years between his time at Illinois State and Loyola serving as righthand man to hoops savant Rick Majerus at Saint Louis. Moser’s best teams at Loyola displayed the hallmarks of Majerus’ style – lockdown defense and offensive precision.
Final verdict: Moser’s no fraud.
OK, but is Moser the right coach for OU?
The more relevant question for our purposes.
First, there is no reason to believe Moser’s particular style won’t bring wins to Norman. You could generously call his preferred pace of play “methodical,” as the Ramblers ranked 342nd out of 357 teams in adjusted tempo. But so what? Fans may bristle at the Sooners playing murderball; they all survived the Kelvin Sampson years.
What about recruiting and roster building?
At Loyola, Moser had access to Chicago’s hoops hotbed. The ‘21 team, for example, showcased a star center from the Windy City suburbs in Cameron Krutwig and local product Lucas Williamson in the backcourt.
Moser boasts experience in some of OU’s traditional recruiting territory from seven seasons as an assistant at Texas A&M, but that all came more than 20 years ago. In a nod to the need to build up some ties in the Lone Star State, he has already added ex-Texas and SMU assistant K.T. Turner to the coaching staff.
Bear in mind that other key contributors on Moser’s Loyola teams hailed from all over the country – St. Louis, Georgia, Texas, Kansas City, Louisiana. He also landed impact transfers from junior colleges and far-flung D-I programs like New Mexico, Oakland (MI) and Fairleigh Dickinson.
The fact of that matter is that roster management in college basketball is becoming more art than science. Hoping to build up a program from local recruiting strongholds just doesn’t fly now. The transfer market alone is putting even more of a premium on scouting, evaluation and networking. Moser’s success with fewer resources and a lower profile at Loyola portends well for his future at OU.
Football butters Castiglione’s bread, but I’ve long believed hiring Kruger was the smartest move he has made in more than two decades as OU’s AD. Men’s hoops was staring into the abyss when Kruger was brought on board. The Sooners needed a high-floor, by-the-book coach who could rehab the program’s reputation. Castiglione delivered one.
Ten years later, the program is sitting on solid footing thanks to the easygoing Kruger. Moser appears ready to bring more of an edge that just isn’t part of his predecessor’s DNA. That kind of move that can elevate the team from consistently good to elite. The time is right for OU and Moser to take the next step.