Missouri State Preview — 2-3-2018

Saturday, February 3, 2018 1:00 p.m.
Gentile Arena, Chicago, Ill.

As everyone even mildly interested in the MVC this season knows, Missouri State, with their exceptional talent, experience, and depth – especially in the frontcourt— was expected to win the conference title this season. Northern Iowa was voted a close second, behind the promise of their experienced coach, experienced starting lineup, and some newcomers bringing more athleticism to Cedar Falls. And Loyola was voted third, thanks to some admired returning talent and potential from a few good-looing newcomers. Prognosticators can gauge the coaching and the past performance of returning players, but they can never know for certain how team chemistry or a couple of game-changing bounces can go. And there are always injuries, mishaps, and unexpected circumstances.

Many people will blame an adverse reaction to a cryotherapy treatment for the Bears not coming close to their potential and expectations this season. A treatment session on Jan. 22 resulted in two players, 6’5” junior forward Reggie Scurry and 6’7” Abdul Fofana, getting blisters on the bottom of their feet. At first the players were said to be out day to day, but later it was admitted that recovery will take “weeks.” Fofana rarely plays significant minutes, but Scurry has made a significant difference as the first or second player off the bench, including 18 points and seven rebounds in Missouri State’s five-point win over the Ramblers in December. Scurry averages 8.9 points and 4.2 rebounds on the season.

In spite of Scurry’s bizarre injury, the Bears were not living up to potential before the cryotherapy session. At 5-3 in conference and 15-6 overall against a snoozer of non-con schedule, Missouri State showed flashes of dominating athletic talent meted out in undersized and infrequent doses. A lot of random Saturday afternoon YMCA pickup squads have more chemistry, and too often the team plays like there has been zero game planning. An early home loss to North Dakota State featured Alize Johnson getting 23 points and 20 rebounds, but the team—the entire team—had only one (1) assist.

After a mystifying loss at Oral Roberts (a team that was 2-9 at the time and coming off a loss to a non-D1 team), MSU briefly played some exceptional basketball—a decisive win over a very good Wright State team and three straight conference wins to start their MVC campaign. But malaise or complacency or indifference again swept over the team.

The three games since losing Scurry have just tacked on more dread to what has become a numb fog of season. The Bears have now lost four in a row, and six of their last eight. As their lackluster performances have increased, their rotation off the bench has tightened, even without Scurry. In their loss at home last Saturday against SIU, they got only 26 minutes from their bench as all five starters played 31 minutes or more. In Tuesday night’s home loss to Illinois State, the starting backcourt was 1-for-16 from the field for two points and three assists.

Sixth man and outside shooting specialist Ryan Kreklow has struggled mightily in the past four games, averaging 2.8 points while shooting 21.4% from the field. Kreklow, a junior guard, came into the season with a 39.6% mark in career field goal percentage (including 44.9% last season), but is averaging only 28.9% this season. Even Preseason Conference Player of the Year Alize Johnson has struggled; in two key road conference games last week at Drake and at Bradley, he combined for only nine points on 2 of 14 shooting from the field. Last time out against Illinois State, Johnson got his double-double– 12 points and 10 rebounds—but it came on 4 of 14 shooting. Johnson continues to shoot three pointers with team-leading frequency despite connecting at less than 28%. Even with one of the best frontcourts in the league, rebounding—once the definitive strength of the Bears—has eroded of late; three of MSU’s last four opponents have won the rebounding battle, and despite the recent slump, MSU still leads the league on the season with a +6.2 rebounding margin.

In Loyola’s last outing, the Ramblers ended their second 7-game winning streak of the year at Bradley when a furious comeback came up short with a botched last possession. Loyola has had seven 7-game winning streaks in the past 12 seasons, but hasn’t won eight in a row since 1984-85. Loyola still has a chance to get a third streak of seven wins or more in the 2017-18 season if they win out the regular season.

Saturday’s game at 1 p.m. is the kick-off to a big day at Loyola. The game will be a “White-Out” at Gentile Arena, with fans asked to wear white to show support for the team. The Ramblers have a chance to set a new high in conference wins with a victory, Coach Porter Moser has a chance to achieve a new career season high in MVC conference wins, and a win would reduce Loyola’s magic number to 6 to win the conference. And at 7 p.m., the #7 Loyola men’s volleyball team hosts #13 USC at in Gentile Arena.

Loyola game notes: http://www.loyolaramblers.com/documents … df?id=5831

Missouri State game notes: https://missouristate_ftp.sidearmsports … s%2025.pdf

TV/Streaming video: CBS Sports Network / http://www.cbssports.com/watch/cbssportsnetwork

Stats: http://stats.statbroadcast.com/broadcast/?id=189602

Vegas odds: Loyola by 7