Saturday, February 25, 2017 7:00 p.m.
SIU Arena, Carbondale, Ill.
After Loyola’s devastating 67-61 home loss to Southern Illinois on February 4, it looked like the Salukis (then 8-5 in conference) might cruise to a third-place finish. But Barry Hinson’s unpredictable team followed their road win at Loyola with a dismal stretch—a loss at UNI where the two teams combined for 86 points (and SIU on the short end with only 41 points), a home loss to Evansville, a 19-point home loss to Wichita State, a win at Indiana State, and another loss scoring in the 40s at Illinois State. It leaves the two teams, Loyola and SIU, stumbling and deadlocked at 8-9 in the standings as they face each other on the final day of the regular season.
A Loyola win on Saturday means a lot of really good things for the Ramblers: It means a .500 conference record for the first time in the MVC and for the first time since 2006-07. Loyola has already clinched at least a 5th place finish, already their best since joining the MVC, but a Loyola win and a UNI loss hosting Illinois State would give Loyola a 3rd place seeding for Arch Madness. And a win on Saturday night would allow Loyola to capture their 2nd 20-win season in the past three years if they can get a W in St. Louis.
The Salukis like to dictate the pace, and get their opponents into a plodding half-court game, where an effective 2-3 zone tends to drive their opponents nutty and frustrated. Generally, keeping the ball from going inside to Sean O’Brien is the best way to limit the Saluki offense. O’Brien smoked Loyola for 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field in their last meeting, while point guard Mike Rodriguez and forward/center Thik Bol made a combined 17 trips to the free throw line. That can’t happen again in the rematch if the Ramblers hope to win. Loyola needs to keep SIU off the free throw line, deny the ball inside to O’Brien, and improve on their 27.8% three-point shooting from their last meeting.
The Salukis have generally been a below average team at home, managing only a 4-4 record in conference and 9-6 overall at home. While the Ramblers have a terrible record on the road in conference (2-6), almost all those games have been within one basket from a win: a four-point loss at Drake, a double-overtime three-point loss at Northern Iowa, a one-point overtime loss at Missouri State, a two-point loss at Evansville, and an in-and-out buzzer-beating three-pointer missing by millimeters resulting in a two-point loss at Illinois State. That’s FIVE road conference games—all losses– decided by a total of 12 points and three overtimes. Getting a win at SIU, getting a .500 record in conference for the first time, and possibly getting a 3 seed at Arch Madness would go a long way toward forgetting about those five tough road losses.
Loyola game notes: http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/loyc/sports/m-baskbl/auto_pdf/2016-17/release/release_20170224aaa.pdf
Southern Illinois game notes: http://siusalukis.com/documents/2017/2/24//Notes.pdf
TV/Streaming video: ESPN3 ( http://www.espn.com/watchespn/index/_/id/2977796/loyolachicago-vs-southern-illinois )
Vegas odds: Loyola by 1