Road Woes

Loyola’s men’s basketball team is working on a 20-game road losing streak entering their game with UT-San Antonio on Tue., Nov. 25.  Their last win in a true road game was at Cleveland State on January 23, 2013. Oddly enough, the last Ramblers road win was their second road victory in a row, and at the time gave Loyola an admirable 6-4 road record in the 2012-13 season—including wins over DePaul and Horizon champ Valparaiso.  But the Ramblers lost their remaining five road games in 2012-13 to begin their second-longest road losing streak in school history.

What makes the Ramblers’ road woes even more confounding is the fact that Loyola has had a sometimes sizeable second-half lead in many of the games in the streak.  Loyola has won two of their four games at neutral sites since the last road win.

Loyola’s 20-game road losing streak, game by game:

  1. February 4, 2013 at Wright State, 62-59. Led by 13 with 6:34 left to play.
  2. February 7, 2013 at Youngstown State, 60-59. Led by 2 with :10 left to play.
  3. February 12, 2013 at Milwaukee, 72-53. Led by 7 early in 2nd
  4. February 26, 2013 at Detroit, 76-75. Led by 3 with 2:18 to play.
  5. March 5, 2013 at Youngstown State, 62-60. Led by 6 with 15:57 to play; tied with :13 left.
  6. November 12, 2013 at Tennessee Tech, 74-69. Led by 12 with 15:26 left.
  7. November 15, 2013 at Tulane, 65-59. Led by 19 with 17:25 left; led by 10 with 6:41 left.
  8. November 22, 2013 at Portland State, 67-63. Led by 17 early in 2nd half; led by 10 with 12:18 left.
  9. December 1, 2013 at Mississippi State, 65-64 (OT). Tied with :28 left (two missed FT); led by 4 with 3:30 left in OT.
  10. December 23, 2013 at Fordham, 83-69. Led by 11 late in 1st half; led by 6 with 17:49 left.
  11. January 1, 2014 at Indiana State, 70-58. Held lead 4 times in 1st half; tied with 2:35 left in 1st.
  12. January 11, 2014 at Illinois State, 59-50. Scored first 6 points; tied at halftime.
  13. January 18, 2014 at Evansville, 53-48. Led by 9 late in 1st half; tied with 1:55 left to play.
  14. January 28, 2014 at Wichita State, 57-45. Never led.
  15. February 1, 2014 at Southern Illinois, 81-76 (OT). Led by 5 at halftime; led by 2 (with missed FT) at :16 left in regulation.
  16. February 12, 2014 at Northern Iowa, 80-58. Led by 6 midway through 1st before wheels came off.
  17. February 15, 2014 at Drake, 70-62. Scored first 3 points; cut 16-point 2nd half deficit to 3 with 1:04 remaining.
  18. February 22, 2014 at Bradley, 55-38. Led by 2 early; trailed by 2 at halftime.
  19. February 25, 2014 at Missouri State, 72-56. Never led; tied with 11:26 left in 1st.
  20. November 21, 2014 at Michigan State, 82-57. Never led.

Loyola’s longest road losing streak was 25 games, from November 30, 1999 to December 15, 2001.

2014-15 Loyola Men’s Basketball Preview

Loyola’s 2014-15 men’s basketball season begins Friday, November 14, 2014 under perhaps the most pessimism and uncertainty in decades.  Not since Ken Burmeister’s first season in 1994-95 has there been as much off season chaos, disappointment, and skepticism surrounding a new basketball season at Loyola—and that’s saying a lot, considering the number of dismal and/or excruciating seasons since.

Despite hopes and some predictions for much better in 2013-14, the Ramblers finished last in the MVC in their inaugural season—even with the pleasant surprise of having the MVC’s Freshman and Newcomer of the Year in Milton Doyle.  But since a stirring, last-second win in the first round of last year’s MVC tournament, the news about this season’s Ramblers has been mostly bad:

  • Four frontcourt players (Nick Osborne, Matt O’Leary, Cody Johnson, and Jeremy King)– representing 27% of all rebounding, 18% of all points, 43% of all blocks, and 21% of the minutes played last year– transferred out of the program immediately following the dismal 22-loss season.
  • In addition to the four big men, freshman point guard Jordan Pickett also left the program, along with graduating players Tony Nixon, Bill Clark, and Derrick Boone.
  • A highly-touted replacement for the four departing frontcourt players– 6’9” power forward Marlon Jones– failed to qualify for enrolling before the fall semester.
  • Star player Milton Doyle was announced to have a torn labrum injury in October, and his prognosis for playing the full 2014-15 season is still highly uncertain.
  • Loyola released what is probably the worst non-conference schedule in memory, with two non-D1 games to start the season, three games against teams with RPIs at 297 or worse last year, and one game against a team playing its first season in D1. The “highlight” of the home schedule is a Wednesday night game against Tulane, and the most intriguing matchup away from home is either the suicide mission to East Lansing or the possible Vegas tournament matchup with Boise State.
  • Point guard Jeff White underwent an arthroscopic procedure shortly before the beginning of the season, and may not be available or fully recovered for the first few weeks of the season.

Yet not all of the news is bad.  Some of the incoming talent for 2014-15 has real potential.  Donte Ingram, a 6’6” wing from Simeon high school, has an excellent basketball pedigree to go with demonstrated scoring and rebounding ability.  Montel James is a 6’7” juco forward from Coffeyville Community College who averaged 13.4 points and 4.9 rebounds as a sophomore and earned first team all conference honors with even higher numbers as a freshman.   Jay Knuth is yet another wing at 6’6” who promises to add some depth.  The first team all state player averaged 19.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game as a senior.  Freshman forward Julius Rajala, out of Finland, will be the tallest Rambler at 6’9”.

In the backcourt, Earl Peterson is another Coffeyville juco who earned first team all-conference honors.  The 6’3” shooting guard led the team with 16.7 ppg, 58 made three-pointers, and 173 trips to the line.  Ben Richardson is a solid 6’3” guard known for defending as well as scoring.  He comes to the Ramblers from Overland Park, Kan., where his high school team that won 94 out of 100 games during his four seasons, including two state championships.

Even though there are several newcomers who have potential to be improvements in talent over individual players from the 2013-14 squad, it should be noted and underscored:  Entering the 2014-15 season, Loyola will have seven newcomers on the roster, and only six players who have ever played a single minute of Division I basketball.  One of those six experienced players is a former walk-on, and another has started only six games in two years.

There will be only one player taller than 6’7”, and zero players over 6’5” with any prior D1 experience.  Beyond height, the Ramblers do not have any players on the roster weighing more than 220 pounds– in a league where every other team has between 4-6 players weighing 220 pounds or more.  Remember, this is a team that finished last in the league in rebounding even with the four frontcourt players who left en masse.

Heading up this inexperienced and undersized crew is a coach who desperately needs to show the ability to adapt to his new personnel just as a new athletic director arrives on campus.  Entering his fourth season at Loyola, Porter Moser is 10-42 in conference games and 32-61 overall in his three seasons at Loyola.  He has a 22-64 lifetime record in MVC conference games over five seasons of coaching at two different MVC schools.  The Ramblers also come into 2014-15 having lost 19 consecutive road games dating back to January 2013, including several losses in which they had double-digit second-half leads.

The MVC, thoroughly dominated last season by the 35-1 Wichita State Shockers, will see a lot of new faces in 2014-15.  Notably absent are Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early, now playing with the New York Knicks, and Jake Odom from MVC runner-up Indiana State.   Gone are the top scorers from Southern Illinois, Bradley, Drake, and Missouri State; the top rebounders from Bradley, Drake, Missouri State, and Southern Illinois have also moved on from college.

Northern Iowa and Evansville both return five starters with another year of experience, which could vault them to just below consensus favorite Wichita State.  Missouri State returns seven players who each averaged 14 minutes or more per game—including four starters– from a team that won 20 games last year.   Illinois State returns four starters as well, including big sophomore center Reggie Lynch, who led the league with 96 blocks.

As a whole, the MVC should be much more competitive in the middle of the standings (third place through seventh place), with Wichita State followed by Northern Iowa at the top.  Eighth place through 10th should be pretty dismal, perhaps much worse than last year.

As for the Ramblers, the newcomers are very promising and should develop into very good players over the next several years.  But for this year, the lack of size and experience in the frontcourt, the doubts about Milton Doyle’s health, and the sheer number of players without Division I experience will likely doom the Ramblers to another last place finish.

Attitude and execution were certainly part of Loyola’s woes in 2013-14, but it could also be argued that the returning players (Christian Thomas, Jeff White, Joe Crisman, and Milton Doyle– plus sixth man Devon Turk) played close to the very top of their potential and expectations.  Some marginal improvement due to additional experience might be possible, mostly through better decision-making and reduced errors.  The coaching staff will also need to adjust strategy and improve game planning to maximize advantages and minimize some glaring deficiencies.

Loyola finished last in the league in 2013-14 largely because of turnovers and weak interior defense.  The Ramblers had the most number of turnovers in the league (averaging nearly one per game more than the next worst team), the worst turnover margin in the league (by far– twice as bad as the 9th worst in the league), the lowest number of rebounds (by far), half as many blocked shots as the league leader (8th in the league), and the worst field goal percentage defense in the league (by far).  What makes those numbers even worse was the fact that a large part of Loyola’s strategy last season was trying to control the tempo of the game, taking more time to look for the higher percentage shot, and lowering the opposition’s number of possessions.  Simply bringing in several talented but undersized newcomers to replace a larger, more experienced (yet admittedly deficient) frontcourt isn’t likely to change things very much for the better.

Here is the Ramblermania prediction:

  1. Wichita State
  2. Northern Iowa
  3. Missouri State
  4. Indiana State
  5. Evansville
  6. Illinois State
  7. Southern Illinois
  8. Bradley
  9. Drake
  10. Loyola

Comments and discussion are welcome on the Ramblermania message board.

2014-15 Women’s Basketball Preview

Loyola’s first season of women’s basketball in the Missouri Valley conference began with a lot of fanfare and high hopes.  Women’s basketball legend Sheryl Swoopes was hired as head coach in April, just days before Loyola was announced as a new member of the MVC.  The 2013-14 Ramblers had a solid crew of impressive and experienced players, and were coming off a 17-15 season in their final year in the Horizon League (their most wins since 1989) in which they reached the conference tournament final against #20 Green Bay.

Yet almost from the opening tip-off, key injuries started to pile up for the Ramblers.  Forward Simone Law, center Courtney Lindfors, and guards Taylor Johnson and Tiana Karopulos were all lost to injuries.  After starting the conference season with a 4-2 record, the ailing Ramblers finished out the conference slate with only two wins in their final 12 contests, including a seven-game losing streak.  Late in the 2013-14 conference season, Loyola had a brief stretch where only seven players were dressed for the game.   Nevertheless, the Ramblers reached the conference tournament seeded #8, and knocked off #9 seed Bradley in their first MVC tournament game.

The Ramblers enter 2014-15 having lost MVC 1st Team forward Troy Hambric to graduation and Cate Soane to transfer.  Ayrealle Beavers, who led the MVC in assists in 2013-14, is still at Loyola but no longer on the roster—she graduates in December.

Although Loyola’s 2014-15 team has a lot of promise, don’t expect the team to come roaring out of the gate.  Loyola has one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the MVC this year, playing all but two of their non-con games against teams that had an RPI better than 152 last season, including seven teams with RPIs at 107 or better.  The season begins at home against Georgia Tech (RPI of 41 last year), and other home non-con games include Michigan State (31) and DePaul (22).  Two key players coming off injuries last year– Molly Crosby and Tiana Karopulos–  were cleared to play just before the beginning of the season and may not be in top game shape for several weeks.  Taylor Manuel, a highly-touted 6’2” sophomore forward transfer from Purdue, won’t be eligible to play until after fall semester finals.

The Ramblers will eventually have one of the most impressive rosters in the MVC, including seven players listed at 6’0” or taller.  6’0” senior forward Simone Law was a Preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference player last season before missing all but six games to injury, and made the Horizon League First Team as a sophomore in 2012-13.  6’2” forward Molly Crosby is the MVC’s returning leader in blocks.  Sophomore point guard Taylor Johnson was the Horizon League Newcomer of the Year in 2012-13, and scored in double figures in her five games in 2013-14 before suffering a season-ending knee injury.  Freshman Ryaen Johnson, a 6’2” forward from Bolingbrook, is a rebounding machine who averaged 8.5 rebounds coming off the bench in Loyola’s two exhibition games.

Meanwhile, the MVC balance of power should show a lot more parity.  Last season’s champion Wichita State is expected to repeat under the leadership of Preseason Player of the Year Alex Harden.  Northern Iowa and Drake are also expected to compete in the top three; the two Iowa teams feature half the members of the MVC preseason team (Kyndal Clark and Lizzy Wendell from Drake, and Jen Keitel from UNI).  Evansville returns a solid inside-outside combination of sophomore Sara Dickey and senior Mallory Ladd.  Last year’s regular season co-champion Indiana State lost their top two scorers– Bilquis Abdul-Qaadir and Anna Munn– to graduation, and will compete with a new head coach.  Missouri State lost two starters from a 14-17 team, and Illinois State, Southern Illinois, and Bradley each lost key starters from lower-half finishing teams last year.

Assuming the Ramblers can stay healthy, Loyola promises to finish in the upper half of the league—possibly as high as third.  Second-year head coach Swoopes will have (finally) depth, experience, and superior height at nearly every position, and the very challenging schedule should help prepare the team well for a run at the top spots in the MVC.   Loyola’s scoring and rebounding should both be much more powerful and reliable this season, but the Ramblers will have to do a better job of taking care of the ball than they’ve shown in two early exhibition games (a combined 39 turnovers).

The first four games of the conference season—Drake and Northern Iowa at home, followed by road games at Evansville and Indiana State—should foreshadow the Ramblers 2014-15 fortunes somewhat clearly.  If the Ramblers can split (or better) in the first four games, it could be a very good season.  The Ramblers split the regular season last year against both Drake and Indiana State, and establishing themselves with early wins against those teams to start 2014-15 would build confidence toward taking care of business against teams expected to struggle.

Ramblermania prediction:

  1.  Wichita State
  2. Northern Iowa
  3. Drake
  4. Evansville
  5. Loyola
  6. Indiana State
  7. Missouri State
  8. Southern Illinois
  9. Illinois State
  10. Bradley