UMKC Preview — 11/16/2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017 7:00 p.m.
Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City, Mo.

The UMKC Kangaroos are coming off one of their best seasons in their 29 years in Division I, having won a game in the first round of the CBI over UW-Green Bay. Loyola has faced UMKC four times in the past, with the Ramblers winning three of four. Perhaps the key game in the two teams’ history was in Dec. 2003, when freshman Majak Kou scored 19 points in his second game as a Rambler to help Loyola to an 83-75 overtime win at Municipal Auditorium.

The streamline, art deco home of the UMKC basketball is also one of the most historic buildings in college hoops, hosting three of the first four NCAA Final Fours, has hosted the NAIA championships for many years, and has hosted the 2nd most NCAA tournament games of any venue. It was home court for the Kansas City Kings of the NBA for two and a half years.

Coach Kareem Richardson, an Evansville alum, lost his three top scorers from last year’s team but has restocked with some promising young players. Freshman Brandon McKissic is a three-start shooting guard who chose UMKC over Missouri State and DePaul. The core of the re-tooled ‘Roos team is built around young, super-quick guards with lots of athleticism.

UMKC was beaten badly at Wichita State in their season opener, 109-57, then returned home to similarly thrash Haskell, a primarily American Indian college, 110-59. On Tuesday night the ‘Roos put in a respectable performance at Kansas State, losing 72-51.

The ‘Roos are likely to start three guards and two forwards. Xavier Bishop is a 5’8” sophomore point guard out of Springfield, Illinois and leads a backcourt that includes 6’1” senior Broderick Robinson and 6’4” sophomore Isaiah Ross. Ross is the leading scorer at 11.3 points per game, and does most of his damage from behind the arc (8-of-19 on threes for the season). The starting forwards are 6’7” Jordan Giles and 6’9” junior Aleer Leek. Giles is the 2nd leading scorer at 10.3 ppg, and gets most of his points driving to the basket—he’s also 12 of 13 from the line on the season. The top players off the bench include 7’2” junior center Mo Ahmed 6’3” freshman guard Brandon McKissic, and 6’5” freshman guard/forward Tony Jackson.

There’s a lot of speed and quick hands on this UMKC team, but the execution and experience are lacking. Ross and Jackson are good shooters from distance, and Bishop and Giles are deadly free throw shooters (a combined 22 of 23). Other than those departments, scoring is a problem for the young ‘Roos. Defensively, the big men Leek, Ahmed, and Giles have combined for only three blocks and four steals on the season while committing 19 turnovers between them. The UMKC guards are adequate defending the three, holding opponents to 38.5% on the season and keeping Kansas State to only 30% last outing. It should be a good game for Krutwig, with his footwork and mobility and ability to pass from the paint, and someone on the perimeter should be able to find a comfortable seam to shoot threes.

The Ramblers have looked pretty good on offense, but a little shaky on defense in their two games. Loyola has allowed the opposition to shoot a staggering 42.9% on threes, and that’s with both games at home and one game against a Division III team. Hopefully, the 19 turnovers Loyola committed against Wright State will be a season high that can be attributed to first game jitters; the eight turnovers committed against Eureka was considerably better. Several times the Ramblers have looked ready to make an emphatic run, but an opponent’s three pointer or a player just getting into a groove needs to take a breather. A game on the road against a team with some young players might be enough to re-focus the mind and get into a different rhythm.

LINKS

Loyola vs. Wright State Preview — 11/10/2017

Friday, November 10, 2017 7:00 p.m.
Gentile Arena, Chicago, Ill.

Loyola played Wright State on Dec. 7 last season at Gentile Arena, winning 77-64. The Ramblers got the victory largely by keeping the Horizon League’s third leading scorer, Mark Alstork, far below his season average on 4 of 15 shooting from the field. Alstork left Wright State as a grad transfer, landing at Illinois. The Raiders went on to finish the 2016-17 season at 20-12 overall, with an 11-7 mark in the Horizon.

One of the most noticeable facets of this year’s WSU team is their size. The Raiders’ probable starters are 6’11” junior Parker Ernsthausen at forward, 6’9” redshirt freshman Loudon Love at center, and 6’4” Justin Mitchell, 6’4” Mark Hughes, and 6’3” Alan Vest at guard.

Ernsthausen played in the game at Loyola last year, scoring four points and somehow failing to rebound once in 17 minutes off the bench. Love, out of Geneva, is the same height as Loyola’s Cameron Krutwig, but at 275 outweighs Krutwig by 15 pounds. The guard trio of Mitchell, Hughes, and Vest all played against Loyola last season, combining for 18 points. Justin Mitchell is a capable scorer, but he does all the other things for the Raiders; at only 6’4”, he finished 2nd in the Horizon with 8.3 rebounds per game, led the team in assists, and finished second on the team in steals.

Senior guard Grant Benzinger is a team leader and the top three-point shooter from last year’s team, but he missed WSU’s exhibition game due to hernia surgery and is likely to miss the opener against Loyola. Another player expected to be a key bench contributor this season, 6’7” forward Ryan Custer, was injured in a horrific off-campus pool accident in April. Only two other Raiders are likely to get significant minutes, freshman Jaylon Hall (a 6’5” guard) and Everett Winchester, a 6’6” guard/forward.

Coach Scott Nagy’s new focus on size and inside play as opposed to last year’s four guard, one forward lineup is a product of opportunity and necessity. The Raiders lost 60% of their made three pointers, 53% of their team scoring and 30% of their rebounds with the departure of Alstork, forward Steven Davis, and guard Mike La Tulip.

Wright State was picked to finish fifth in the Horizon League men’s basketball preseason poll. Shorthanded and in a transition to playing a different style, the Raiders still have some talent, good coaching, and some impressive size. They played tight second half defense en route to a 73-58 win over Division II Wayne State College on Nov. 3, but all five of their starters played 27 minutes or more including three logging more than 30 minutes. Loudon Love had an impressive debut in a Wright State uniform with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and an assist in 29 minutes.

Loyola’s starting lineup is projected to be seniors Donte Ingram, Aundre Jackson, and Ben Richardson, with juniors Clayton Custer and Marques Townes. However, given the size of the Wright State frontcourt, expect to see quite a bit of time from Cameron Krutwig and possibly Carson Shanks. It is unclear when Loyola freshman forward Christian Negron might be ready to play—he has practiced in a protective knee brace, but did not dress for the exhibition game two weeks ago.

Last season Loyola broke a 7-game losing streak against Wright State with relative ease, leading by as many as 18 points early in the 2nd before coasting to a 77-64 win. Custer (19), Richardson (13) and Jackson (11) each scored in double figures last year against Wright State in one of the three games Donte Ingram missed with an injury. Wright State owns a 24-16 advantage over the Ramblers in the all-time series, so they are no strangers to beating the Ramblers in Chicago. Last year’s Raiders didn’t match up well at all against Loyola—their loss here was one of just 12 losses they suffered on the season, and they beat Southern Illinois on the road (a team that swept the Ramblers), they beat Oakland (an NIT team and co-champion in the Horizon) by 21 points at home, and they won at Kent State (the MAC’s NCAA representative).

To win, Loyola needs to contain the Raiders’ two inside players, play tough one-on-one defense (Wright State is prone to turnovers), and take care of the ball. Loyola would also be wise to put the game away quickly, because Wright State is a pesky, well-coached team that could surprise or stun anyone that lets them stay in striking distance.

ODDS AND ENDS

2017-18 MVC Men’s Basketball Preview

The departure of Wichita State leaves the MVC with a void for a front-running men’s basketball program. The first few years of this wide-open, up-for-grabs opportunity will likely go a long way toward creating a new hierarchy in the conference. Most Loyola fans have been following the progress of the program rising toward the top half of the conference. Loyola has a chance to step up and seize the opportunity be a leader. Fortunately, the Ramblers are poised to do just that– with some highly-skilled and experienced returning players and two of the best recruiting classes in a decade or more.

But there are other programs in the conference that are going to challenge for the lead, and some rebuilding programs that may be on the cusp of success in 2017-18 or the near future. This is how we at Ramblermania see it shaking out for this season.

1. Missouri State

Even after losing several key members from last year’s team to graduation or transfer, the Bears are loaded with talent. Headlining the team is the versatile and athletic big man Alize Johnson. The 6’9” forward who was voted the MVC Preseason Player of the Year has shown he can do almost everything at a high level— shoot, rebound, drive, defend, hit threes, pass, and perform in crunch time. The only question marks are his passion and focus. Surrounding Johnson are talented juniors Obediah Church, Jarred Dixon, and Ryan Kreklow. Seniors Ronnie Rousseau and Jarrid Rhodes return, and will have a larger role than last season—Rhodes has been on fire from three point territory in exhibitions. Newcomers include juco forward Reggie Scurry, juco sophomore Grant Gelon, 7’2” grad transfer Tanveer Bhullar, redshirt freshman Greg Williams, and freshman point guard Mustafa Lawrence. Johnson missed the two exhibition games due to a knee injury, but should be ready to go for the first regular season game.

2. Loyola

Loyola has finished 10th, 6th, 8th, and 5th since joining the MVC in the 2013-14 season. But the Ramblers have never had the depth, experience or talent that they begin the season with in 2017-18.

See the Loyola Preview in full.

3. UNI

It’s a common assumption that Ben Jacobson is the best coach in the MVC since Wichita State left for the AAC. That premise will be tested this season as Northern Iowa adapts from losing two of their top three scorers who accounted for 32.9% of their total court minutes, 36.8% of their scoring, and 47.6% of their made three pointers. Senior forwards Bennet Koch and Klint Carlson will be the top returning players, and a lot of pressure will be on three sophomores to step up and excel: guards Spencer Haldeman and Juwan McCloud, and forward Luke McDonnell. Guard Wyatt Lohaus will be back from an ankle injury that caused him to miss all but six games last season, and freshman guard Tywhon Pickford may have a chance to make an immediate impact. The Panthers have a habit of unheralded players selected for their system rising to perform as well or better than their predecessors, and there’s reason to believe it will continue.

4. Southern Illinois

The Salukis have given the Ramblers fits under coach Barry Hinson (7-2 against Loyola join the MVC, 3-1 against LU in Chicago), and the new-look version for 2017-18 has a taller and more athletic look. Gone are point guard Mike Rodriguez and forward Sean O’Brien, the team’s two leading scorers last season. In are a group of promising returning players and some juco talent that quite likely will have the Salukis challenging for the top half of the league again. Senior forward Thik Bol was last year’s league leader in blocks and third in rebounds. He will likely be joined in the starting lineup by junior forward Sean Lloyd, shooting guard Armon Fletcher (in my opinion, one of the most underrated players in the league), and St. Louis transfer Marcus Bartley at point guard. Senior Tyler Smithpeters will be back to provide a long-range shooting threat after missing last season with an injury, and 6’10” juco center Kavion Pippen (yes– his nephew) will be another presence in the frontcourt.

5. Valparaiso

In their first year in the MVC, the Crusaders are supposedly rebuilding. They lost NBA draft pick Alec Peters and guard Shane Hammink, their two top scorers, from a 24-9 team that shared the Horizon League title. But the Crusaders have the highest average star rating in the MVC on VerbalCommits.com, thanks in large part to newcomer guard/forward Joe Burton (an Oklahoma State transfer), 7’2” center Derrik Smits (yes—his son), and 6’2” newcomer point guard Bakari Evelyn (a Nebraska transfer). Second-year head coach Matt Lottich will need to make some major adjustments to integrate new players, but the players in the program have experience and expectations of winning, and the raw talent is there. Look for them as a top contender for 2018-19.

6. Illinois State

The Redbirds lost a whole lot after their conference co-title in 2016-17. In losing the services of MVC Player of the Year Paris Lee, Deontae Hawkins, Mikyle McIntosh, Tony Wills, and D.J. Clayton (66.1% of their total minutes and 73.2% of their total points last season), they’re going to have an entirely new personality as a team. Forward Phil Fayne and guard Keyshawn Evans will be back, and forward Malik Yarborough (a St. Louis transfer who averaged 9 ppg and 4.7 rpg with the Bilikens) will be available. But no one else will have more than 500 minutes of D1 game experience, and because of the late transfers, some of the juco replacements may be acquired from haste. Point guard Elijah Clarance and forward Tyler Bruninga are high-potential freshmen. Mueller is considered a plus coach, and there’s enough talent at key positions to field a contender, but it won’t be an easy ride this year.

7. Bradley

There is a lot of experience and some capable talent on Coach Wardle’s team, but as his highly touted first recruiting class enters their junior seasons, the wins haven’t started coming often enough. Whether that’s due to strategy and x’s and o’s or the need to reassess the talent will probably be decided this year. Bradley should be slated for 4th or 5th place team by this point in their rebuilding process, but the middle of the pack in the MVC has improved quite a bit over the past two years. One thing the Braves have a lot of is depth, with several bodies and many fouls to give. Look for sophomore point guard Darrell Brown and center Koch Bar to have breakout seasons. If other teams in the middle of the pack sustain an injury or two, Bradley could very easily move up into the 5th or 6th spot.

8. Indiana State

Just a couple years ago, it was thought that Indiana State had a chance to catch fire, with a fantastic coach who was able to get the most out of the program with the lowest budget in the league. Unfortunately, entering their fourth year after the departure of Jake Odum– who made average players very good in guiding the Sycamores to one NCAA, one NIT, and four consecutive seasons of being well above .500, the Trees are back to their pre-Odom norm. Senior guard Brenton Scott is a legit MVC first team pick who averaged 15.9 points per game last year while leading the league with 206 made threes (for comparison, 206 threes would rank 2nd for a career at Loyola). But ISUb’s second, third, and fourth top scorers and top and third-best rebounders are gone from a team that finished 11-20 overall and 5-13 in conference. The Sycamores get the nod for the best of the bottom three by virtue of having the best individual player among and perhaps the best coach, but they’re going to have to fill a lot of crunch time minutes with inexperienced or unproven newcomers.

9. Drake

Drake is on their fourth head coach in the past six years, Niko Medved, via Furman University. He inherits a team full of seniors who were highly regarded when they signed at Drake, but have not had the player development or opportunity to excel. There have been glimpses of impressive potential from a lot of these players, like Reed Timmer, CJ Rivers, De’Antae McMurray, and Ore Arogundade—all talented senior guards. Two serviceable big men– Korey Kuenstling and Casey Schlatter, both juniors standing over 6’10”—should provide enough pieces for an exceptional coach to fashion a team that can surprise a few middle-of-the-pack teams.

10. Evansville

The Aces lost Jaylon Brown, the league leader in minutes, points, points per game, field goals, free throws made, and free throw percentage. They also lost top rebounder David Howard, and versatile guard Christian Benson. That’s a lot to lose on an ordinary team, but talent development suffered when the Aces pushed for an NCAA bid and came up short in 2015-16. Six-three senior guard Duane Gibson, 6’5” senior guard Blake Simmons, and 6’6” junior guard/forward Ryan Taylor are the only three players on the Aces with more than 700 minutes of Division I experience. Juco newcomer Dainius Chatkevicius, a 6’9” 240 pound forward from Vincennes University might be able to make an impact, but no one appears able to replace the significant losses from last year’s 16-17 team that finished 8th in the MVC. Coach Marty Simmons has always relied heavily on his core starting five players, but this year he’ll have only four players with any experience or reasonable expectation of immediate impact. The rest will be a patchwork of previously seldom-used jucos, freshmen, and… who knows?

Agree? Disagree? Outrage? Peaceful sense of zen? Talk about it on the Ramblermania message board.