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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.

2017-18 Loyola Ramblers Men’s Basketball Preview

The 2017-18 Loyola Ramblers enter the season having addressed most of their pressing needs that were obvious during the 2016-17 season: depth, size, rim protection, inside/post-up offense. The Ramblers return three starters and the league’s sixth man of the year from a team that looked poised to finish in the top three last season before running out of gas late. As a result, most college basketball analysts and observers are picking the Ramblers to challenge for the league title this season.

Source

Led by MVC preseason first-teamers Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson in the frontcourt (both seniors) and the guard combo of lifetime friends Ben Richardson and Clayton Custer (a senior and a redshirt junior), Loyola will have one of the most experienced teams in the league.

Donte Ingram caught fire after an early-season injury last year, and closed out the 2016-17 season averaging 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game over his last 21 contests. His late season performance and clutch shots earned him all-MVC Third team recognition after his junior season and he is poised to enter Loyola’s 1000 points, 500 rebounds club midway through non-conference play. Ingram has improved each and every year and has added a new facet to his game each season. Last year, he became a deadly three-point shooter, and the new inside players for the Ramblers this year could allow him to do even more.

Source

Senior Ben Richardson has been a starter since midway into his freshman year, mostly based on the fact he has been the best—or at least hardest-working—defensive player on the team since he set foot on campus. The past two seasons, he’s also been one of the best three-point shooters in the MVC, and currently ranks as the 9th top three-point shooter in Loyola history with 118 made threes.

Last year Clayton Custer often traded off playmaking responsibilities with Milton Doyle. In his first year as a Rambler after limited time with Iowa State and a year sitting out, Custer played very well, averaging 11.6 points and 3.0 assists while cracking the league’s top ten in assists and made three pointers. More of the playmaking and a little less scoring is likely to be on Custer’s plate this season, in his redshirt junior year. Also look for Custer to be more active on defense. Curiously, in games against conference foes last year, Loyola was 2-9 in games where Custer scored in double figures and 6-2 in games where he scored less than 10.

Senior Aundre Jackson was tabbed as an MVC Preseason First Team performer in 2017-18 after averaging 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, and finishing 4th in the nation in field goal percentage last year. As a player, his efficiency is off the charts, and at only 6’5” he takes many opponents who haven’t seen him before by complete surprise. Despite only starting 8 of 32 games last season, Jackson will likely start the majority of games this year, and Coach Moser has touted Jackson’s conditioning in the off-season.

Shooting guards Bruno Skokna (3.4 ppg) and Cameron Satterwhite (3.0 ppg) are back for their sophomore seasons and are likely to play double digit minutes once again. Both showed great promise at times, but they need to make a jump in consistency and skills. Satterwhite has length, quickness, and long strides, but sometimes seems to lose focus and a competitive edge. Skokna has good instincts for rebounding, takes care of the ball and works hard, but needs to work on positioning to neutralize quicker players.

When it comes to correcting the needs of last year’s team, most of the difference comes in the person of 6’9” Cameron Krutwig out of Jacobs High School in Algonquin, one of the top area recruiting prizes for the Class of 2017, and the 18th best prospect at Center in the country according to VerbalCommits.com. He is going to be a top early candidate for MVC Freshman of the Year.

Cameron KrutwigWhere Krutwig probably makes the biggest difference is his maturity at the position. He played four years at Jacobs and ranked 4th on their all-time scoring chart and 1st in rebounds en route to a 93-29 record and three regional championships. He averaged 2 blocks and 2 assists per game over the entirety of his four-year career, showing versatility, footwork, and passing ability. Early reports are he has worked hard in preparation for this season, dropping excess pounds, improving conditioning, and hitting the weight room. He will likely be the most effective freshmen big men at Loyola since the best seasons by Ben Averkamp and Walt Gibler almost a decade ago.

Christian NegronHelping out Krutwig in Loyola’s new-look frontcourt is 6’7” forward Christian Negron from Larkin High School in Elgin. The super-athletic forward has a 3.5-star rating from VerbalCommits.com, but he is coming off a knee injury that caused him to miss his senior season in high school. As a junior, Negron put up 16.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 3.0 blocks and 2.2 steals while earning all-state recognition. If Negron is healthy and contributing from an early point in the season, the Ramblers have the potential to go beyond St. Louis.

Marques TownesThe biggest personnel loss for the Ramblers is obviously Milton Doyle, who earned Loyola’s first MVC first team honoree in 2016-17. Doyle’s role will be filled by 6’4” Marques Townes, a transfer who led his Fairleigh Dickenson team to the NCAA tournament in 2015-16. At 210 pounds, Townes’ game is driving to the basket for a layup or getting to the line—an important weapon the Ramblers haven’t had in a while. In the first two years of his college career, Townes has connected on 57.2% of his two-point field goal attempts, and averaged 10.5 points per game during his freshman and sophomore seasons. His quickness to the ball also earned him 210 rebounds in his first two seasons. Townes seems like a quintessential MVC player, and his toughness, experience and athletic ability is going to go a long way toward mitigating the loss of scoring, athleticism, and leadership from Milton Doyle.

The Loyola bench is also improved from the addition of 6’4 freshman shooting guard Lucas Williamson, 7’0” graduate transfer Carson Shanks, and 6’5” juco guard Adarius Avery. Avery was likely to be the biggest contributor of this group as the second highest scorer nationally at the juco level last season, but he sustained an early summer injury that will almost certainly have him taking a medical redshirt this year. Williamson led Whitney Young to the state 4A championship over Simeon last year, and promises to add a lot of potential to the bench. Shanks, a transfer from North Dakota, will add height and potential to take advantage of some mismatches (he scored eight points or more in 11 games off the bench last year, including two games against teams Loyola plays this season). And like Townes, Shanks’ last game before transferring to Loyola was in the NCAA Tournament.

Correcting the depth problem is key. Last year’s Loyola team had only five players averaging over 17 minutes per game, and only seven averaging in double digits. Four Loyola players averaged over 31 minutes per game. For comparison, conference co-champ Illinois State had zero players averaging 31 minutes or more, seven averaging over 17 minutes per game, and nine players averaging double-digit minutes. Going around the MVC last season, Southern Illinois was the only other team that didn’t have at least nine players averaging double-figure minutes (they had one player at 9.9 mpg), and only UNI had as many as three players logging more than 31 minutes a game. Running out of gas on late-game comebacks and allowing too many easy baskets in do-or-die late game situations seemed like a hallmark of the 2016-17 season. Loyola lost their last four conference road games, all four by two points or less.

Look for Coach Moser to expect 25-30 minutes per game from a core four—Ingram, Richardson, Custer and Townes. Aundre Jackson will most likely average between 20-25 minutes per game, with wider variation and flexibility on his minutes depending on matchups. Guards Bruno Skokna and Cameron Satterwhite will eat up minutes averaging in the high teens. And newcomer big men Cameron Krutwig and Christian Negron (when he gets healthy enough to play) will average in the 15-20 range. There will also be some good experience and specialized skills available coming off the bench in Shanks, possibly playing double digit minutes against certain teams because of matchups. Lucas Williamson will have a chance to learn with 5 minutes a game or so as an understudy at the wing.

This year’s schedule is highlighted by one marquee matchup against a college basketball powerhouse, and an intriguing game against a top Mountain West team. Unfortunately, they’re both on the road. This year’s MTE—-
The Savannah Invitational— is underwhelming in terms of opponents, but takes place at a reasonably close location that’s affordable and charming. Beginning the season at anything less than 8-3 against the non-conference Division I opponents would be disappointing.

The key matchups in the conference season have to include the opening conference game at Missouri State on Dec. 22, the road trip to UNI and Illinois State on Jan. 7 and Jan. 10, the home game against Missouri State on Feb. 3, and the final game of the season Feb. 24 against Illinois State at the Gentile Arena. A 12-6 conference record is an eminently reasonable expectation for this Loyola team in this new MVC, but it may take more than 12-6 to win the conference, even in a year with more parity than usual.

Loyola men’s basketball after Milton Doyle is going to be different, and will require some adjustments. But the loss of an all-league player with Doyle’s skills is going to be mitigated by the addition of Marques Townes, who is experienced and adds the ability to drive with force to the basket. Having three seniors (plus a redshirt junior) on the court most of the time will also help. The added depth, an additional year of experience, and two high-potential and immediate impact frontcourt players make the Ramblers a top contender for the MVC crown in a wide-open race.

Add your comments or discuss with others on the Ramblermania message board.

October 2018 Recruiting Update

Update: Just after publication, Isaiah Budjoso and Cooper Kaifes committed to Loyola’s class of 2018.

By Ramblermania.net recruiting expert, Blers.

September Round Up

As the first round of commitments gets underway, it’s pretty easy to get worried that other schools are loading up on talent while we seem stagnant, but that’s just part of the recruiting process. Player rankings will continue to shift as the high school season begins, some players excel, others struggle, and different team needs become apparent. We have at least three spots left to fill but one high level verbal commit already.

The one issue we’ve run into early is several of our point guards targets have fallen off the board. Xavier Castaneda and Brandon Wade committed to other schools; Xavier Pinson, a PG from Simeon who we had documented interest in, committed to Kent State. Shereef Mitchell out of Omaha visited two weeks ago, and seems to have a lot of potential on both sides of the ball, but he also may go the prep school route in search of a higher offer. (Creighton was in to see him earlier this week.) We did have a new name pop up on an official visit this week in Isaiah Budjoso.

There is still plenty of time, but the point guard position is really in a state of flux following this season. We don’t know if Custer will play out his eligibility, or if Skokna will be capable of assuming the starting role next season. I wouldn’t be shocked if we end up with a JUCO point guard by seasons end with the intention of going all in on a 2019 PG for the following class.

Documented Official Visits for September

Brandon Wade
Keshawn Justice
Shereef Mitchell
Cooper Kaifes (?) – followed Custer on twitter same day Shereef Mitchell did, but possibly nothing.
Isaiah Bujdoso

Off the Board

Brandon Wade– Wade was someone I was convinced would be in a Rambler uniform; however, when we didn’t get a commit after the visit I was a bit worried. He ended up committing to Duquense in the A-10. Apparently their coach had been on him since he was a freshmen. We were in his final 3 along with Toledo (where his father played).

Xavier Castaneda– Another high-level point guard we missed on who chose USF. Getting him was always going to be a bit of a reach given his high level of play.

Kendle Moore– Committed to Drake. There’d been no news of us having contact with him, and in a Twitter exchange regarding Tim Finke, his uncle stated we backed off Moore a while ago (I really like him as an offensive spark for Drake, he’ll be fun to watch).

Vincent Williams– Committed to VCU. We were always a stretch for Williams. He’s a nice talent, we offered just as he really started to pick up, even got a Butler offer a few days before committing.

Still on the Board

(Open Offers according to Verbal Commits)

Guards
Cooper Kaifes- Official Visit in September [Committed to Loyola on 10/11.]
Shereef Mitchell- Official Visit in September
Keshawn Justice-Official Visit in September
Lamar Norman-Unofficial earlier this year
Drew Peterson- Unofficial earlier this year

Bigs
Markeese Hastings
Tray Jackson
Trace Ramsey
Deante Johnson
Gaven Pinkley- Think he’s off our radar.

The Commit

Franklin Agunanne is a ESPN 4 star, Rivals and Scout 3 star player who according to many had High Major interest. He comes from La Lumiere, one of the best programs in the country. They won the Dicks National Championship last season, so not only is Porter getting a state champion, but a national champion as well. He looks like he could play now based on his size and muscle mass. Elite defender and rebounder with a growing offensive game. A trio of Krutwig, Negron, and Agunanne is exciting. That has potential to be an elite frontcourt by 2019-20.

New Names

Tim Finke– Finke’s a former top 100 player in the nation who plays for Champaign basketball. He had a rough (by his standards) go shooting the ball in the summer after being injured. There was a good amount of buzz about him and us on Twitter after this tweet by one of his high school coaches.

It is doubtful that these struggles will continue, as he has been an elite prospect since his freshmen season. He held offers from Illinois, Ohio State, ND, Vandy, and Oregon. However, all of these schools seemed to have backed off following his struggles. Loyalty has played a big role in some of our better gets the past few years; and I doubt we’ll be as fickle as bigger programs. Finke would be Loyola’s biggest get since Doyle, and while I don’t think it’s likely, I don’t put our chances at 0%. Word is he will play out the high school season and commit in the Spring.
Isaiah Bujdoso– Point guard out originally from Canada but playing for Sunrise Christian. Plays under control, pass first but can score when he wants. He’s not the most athletic point guard I have ever seen but has more athletic upside than either Clayton or Bruno. Has offers from Wichita State and St. Bonaventure, as well as some other mid majors. He took a visit last week, no word on when he is looking to commit. [Committed to Loyola on 10/10.]
Trace Ramsey– 6’8 wing type out of Valparaiso. Athletically gifted, likely playing against lesser competition. Reminds me a bit of Chastain before he committed, more polished down low, but less of a jump shot. Like Chastain he’s probably best attacking the rim off the drive. We just offered him over the weekend, so I don’t know much. Has offers from Toledo and Western Michigan.

Looking Forward…

Lots of options and pieces still on the board, and probably plenty that we don’t even know about. Things can change quickly with recruiting; take Agunanne for example. His recruitment moved extremely fast. I mentioned him briefly in the last round up and within a few weeks, he committed. There was no formalized offer or visit, he just popped up as a commit one day.

In terms of another commitment, I feel like we have a good shot at Keshawn Justice and maybe Cooper Kaifes. That said it is hard to say, you’d like to have kids wrapped up directly following a visit, and they’re both a few weeks removed from theirs. We are recruiting kids at a higher level than we have previously, so they all definitely have other options they’ll want to check out. That said hopefully we’ll have at least one guard commit before the November deadline!