Tag Archives: MVC

Missouri State Preview — 12-22-2017

Friday, December 22, 2017 8:00 p.m.
JQH Arena, Springfield, Mo.

Loyola kicks off the 2017-18 conference season with a pre-Christmas Friday night road game against the conference favorites. Loaded with seniors, including the 2017-18 Preseason Player of the Year Alize Johnson, Missouri State was picked as a heavy favorite to win the MVC in the 2017-18 Preseason Poll. The Bears picked up 30 of the 40 first place votes in the poll, even as the MVC was considered to have the most parity in decades.

Coach Paul Lusk’s 2017-18 squad has a lot of talent, so much so that two heralded upperclassmen—seniors-to-be Chris Kendrix and Austin Ruder—left the team last spring as their playing time diminished and they had limited prospects. A plethora of experienced newcomers has bolstered an already talented returning group. The Bears have been very inconsistent in non-conference season despite their 9-3 record. The Bears won their toughest game on an uninspiring non-conference schedule—an 85-80 road win against Western Kentucky—but dropped three much easier games, including two (home against North Dakota State and at Oral Roberts) that should have been gimmes.

The MSU starting five are likely to be Jarred Dixon and Ryan Kreklow at the guard spots, and the trio of Alize Johnson, Jarrid Rhodes, and Obediah Church in the frontcourt. Grad transfer JT Miller recently replaced Ronnie Rousseau III in the starting lineup, but Miller did not play at all in Tuesday’s win over Wright State.

Dixon is a 6’4” junior guard who averages 7.9 points per game and leads the team in assists. Kreklow is a senior shooting guard specializing in threes, but has had trouble finding his stroke this season. He averages 7.2 points per game and leads the team in steals, but is shooting only 32.8% from three and only 33.7% overall.

Six-six small forward Jarrid Rhodes averages 9.2 points and 4.6 boards per game. He leads the team in made threes, shooting at a 40.4% clip. Obediah Church is a 6’7” junior forward who likes to mix it up inside. Church, a Springfield, Ill. native, leads the league in blocks, averages 6.9 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game (2.6 on the offensive boards, ranking third in the MVC), and hits 71% of his shots from the field.

MVC Preseason Player of the Year Alize Johnson is the most talented player in the league. At 6’9”, he plays with the ball handling abilities of a shooting guard. Averaging 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds, he shoots 54.5% on his two-point field goal tries, but his three-point stroke has been off this season compared to last. He’s also a great passer, ranking a close second on the team in assists.

MSU’s bench is among the best in the league, and gets a lot of playing time. JT Miller, a 6’2” graduate transfer guard by way of Howard University, is a sometimes-starter who averages 9.8 points on 52.7% shooting from the field. Juco newcomer Reggie Scurry is a solidly-built 6’5” junior forward averaging 9.4 points; he ranks second on the team in blocks, and shoots 58.1% from the field. Ronnie Rousseau III was the starting point guard at the beginning of the season, but now comes off the bench to play starters’ minutes. The 5’10” senior is a dangerous outside shooter, and averages 6.5 points and 2.2 assists per game. Tanveer Bhullar, a 7’2” grad transfer from New Mexico State gets into most games but averages less than 10 minutes per game, chipping in 3.1 points on average.

If you haven’t noticed, the Bears have a lot of height and length, augmented by very speedy guards. They’re led by upperclassmen, and have very good depth and flexibility from the bench. The result is a team that leads the league in blocks, rebounding margin, and offensive rebounds. Conversely, the Bears struggle a bit with their turnover margin, steals, and outside shooting. Both MSU and Loyola are somewhat turnover prone, but MSU overcomes that with an 8.8 average rebounding margin. Loyola’s strength is shooting percentage, and passing. The Ramblers are first in the league in field goal percentage, and the Bears are fifth; Loyola is second in three-point shooting percentage, the Bears are last. It will be a contrast in styles when these two teams match up.

Loyola is coming off an embarrassing 73-56 loss in Milwaukee, where the injuries to Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson seemed crucial just a few minutes into the game. Uncharacteristically, the Ramblers were ice cold from distance throughout the game, and Loyola’s opponents were lights out. Loyola had a season-low nine assists in the game, and shot under 40% from the field for only the second time this year—both losses—as the Panthers went on a blistering run in the final minutes of the first half to stretch out to a 17-point advantage. Richardson may be getting close to returning for the Ramblers, but freshman Christian Negron was injured before the UWM game and his status is also indefinate.

The Ramblers have won only one conference opener since joining the MVC, and have won only two of the past 10 conference openers dating back to the Horizon League. The Ramblers split with MSU last year, and hold a 6-3 advantage all-time with Missouri State.

Loyola Game Notes: http://www.loyolaramblers.com/documents/2017/12/20//Missouri_State_Away_Notes_12_22_17.pdf?id=4768

MSU Game Notes: http://missouristate_ftp.sidearmsports.com/custompages/sports/m-baskbl/notes/Game%20Notes%2014.pdf

TV/Streaming video: NBC Sports Chicago / ESPN 3 (http://www.espn.com/watch/_/id/3232399/loyolachicago-vs-missouri-state-m-basketball)

Live Stats: http://www.sidearmstats.com/missouristate/mbball/media/

Vegas Odds: Pending

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.

2015-16 Loyola Men’s Basketball Preview

Last year’s 24-13 Loyola Ramblers men’s basketball team won the College Basketball Invitational tournament, advanced to the MVC tournament semi-finals at Arch Madness with a record-setting win over Indiana State, and finished with an RPI of 87 in their second year in the MVC. They did it with only one senior in the starting lineup and their top player injured for more than half of the conference season. The 2015-16 Ramblers will face much higher expectations and a tougher overall schedule. Opponents will certainly be more prepared for the style of play the Ramblers adopted last year, a higher energy style which depends on sharing and switching on offense and defense. But whether the top players can stay healthy will probably have the largest impact on the Ramblers’ season.

Last season, the Ramblers compiled an impressive 11-7 record away from home, including wins over Boise State, Texas Tech, Kent State, UTSA, Indiana State, and Evansville. Loyola won the CBI title on the road, set a new record for the largest margin of victory at Arch Madness, and took the title of the Las Vegas Invitational. It was a surprise for Loyola to play so well on the road last year after snapping a 20-game road losing streak spanning three seasons with the UTSA win.

Nevertheless, health problems loomed especially large for Loyola in 2014-15. Milton Doyle missed 12 entire games while recovering from ankle problems, during which Loyola posted a lackluster 5-7 record (4-7 in league play) and dropped some close conference contests. Only four players on the team managed to play in all 37 games, and only one of those four started more than 21 games on the year. Christian Thomas (at Missouri State), Montel James (at Evansville), and Ben Richardson (at Kent State) each missed one entire game because of injury, and each of them played limited minutes for the next game when returning to the lineup. Jeff White and Julius Rajala began and ended the season in street clothes, respectively. Staying healthy will be crucial if Loyola is going to finish high in the top half of the conference.

The big loss from last year’s squad will be the leadership and steady play of Christian Thomas. The soft spoken senior led the Ramblers in scoring or rebounds (or both) in 21 of Loyola’s 37 games last season. Thomas averaged 11.2 points per game last season, and leaves LU as the 18th highest scorer and 15th highest rebounder in Loyola history. The Ramblers also lose experienced and hard-working Joe Crisman, who started 21 games, was a key defensive stalwart, and averaged 17.9 minutes per game. The two 4-year players saw Loyola rise from their worst-ever season in the Horizon League as freshmen to 20-plus wins and a couple of tournament titles as seniors in the MVC.

The three main additions to the team for 2015-16 will be: 6’9”, 240-pound sophomore Maurice Kirby; 6’7”, 215-pound freshman guard/forward Pernell Adgei; and 6’2” sophomore point guard Tyson Smith. A former Virginia Tech recruit, Kirby will be expected to fill a lot of the roles performed by Christian Thomas. His size and strength should help ease the leap up in competition from Coffeyville Community College, where he averaged 8.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 21.6 minutes per game as a freshman. Adgei comes from Northern Virginia via Fishburne Military School, and has the kind of athletic and ball handling skills in a large body that cause matchup problems for opponents. Another sophomore juco transfer, Baltimore native Tyson Smith, will add depth at the point guard position.

The likely starters will be Milton Doyle, Earl Peterson, and Devon Turk at guards and Donte Ingram and Montel James in the frontcourt. In the exhibition game against Lewis, the 6’6”, 215 pound Ingram got the starting spot to replace Christian Thomas, and though the sophomore may be a slight improvement on the boards over generously-listed 6’5” 220 pound Thomas, he’ll need to do some more work on finishing his shots. Seniors Peterson and Turk both played phenomenal stretches at the end of their junior seasons, and look to maintain that excellence on both sides of the court. James, also a senior in 2015-16, played very well in the second half of his first season in D1, and needs to play at that level with more consistency while improving his free throw touch.

Tops off Loyola’s bench are Ben Richardson and Jeff White, who both did a great job defensively last year, but need to score with more consistency. Sophomore Julius Rajala, and newcomers Maurice Kirby and Pernell Adgei will combine for significant minutes in the frontcourt, rotating in to spell James and Ingram. The development of the frontcourt bench players will play a big role in conference play, as sophomore Jay Knuth will miss the 2015-16 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum.

Loyola’s 2015-16 schedule is a nice step up in difficulty. Gone are the two non-D1 games from last season. The Ramblers finally get the Bracket Busters return game from Creighton, now in the Big East, after having waited throughout the entire Doug McDermott era and beyond. Road games at Notre Dame and New Mexico will be especially tough; home games against UTSA, UIC, Toledo, and Cleveland State should be excellent tune-ups for the conference season, and more challenging than last year’s home games.

Assuming the Ramblers can stay relatively healthy, some key contests stick out on the schedule as make-or-break games. The Dec. 5 home game against Creighton is a chance to get a quality win over a respected program in a major conference on the home court, yes, but it’s also a chance to make an emphatic statement about Loyola’s place in the MVC. The Jan. 2 game at Indiana State will go far in determining the trajectory of the MVC league race; Loyola has never won a regular season league game against Indiana State, and a win in Terre Haute would go a long way toward establishing a beachhead early in the season near the top of the conference standings. If the Ramblers are going to continue to progress up the ladder in the MVC, the Feb. 3 home game against Illinois State should be a crucial turning point; Loyola lost both games to Illinois State last year by a combined 10 points, and the Redbirds figure to be a rival for the same Arch Madness tournament seeds. The Feb. 14 home game against Evansville, the team predicted by most as the league runner up to Wichita State, may also be a similar statement game with high importance to the league race.

Around the league, Wichita State figures to run away with the league crown, and Evansville returns the core of their CIT championship team. Illinois State had serious losses to graduation and the shocking transfer of frontcourt cog Reggie Lynch. Northern Iowa has a strong home court advantage working for them and a mix of experience and promising newcomers under a savvy coach, but Seth Tuttle will be impossible to immediately replace. Indiana State lost their frontcourt to graduation, but Coach Greg Lansing always seems to have a team that punches above its weight class.

The expected parity just below Wichita State– with Evansville, Illinois State, UNI, Loyola, and possibly Indiana State or Drake jockeying for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th seeds at Arch Madness– has all the earmarks of coming down to tiebreakers. After the head-to-head or multiple team round robin tiebreakers, non-conference strength of schedule plays a factor. Although Loyola has a favorable and improved non-con schedule this year, it’s still unlikely that the Ramblers would win that matchup against UNI, Evansville, or Illinois State.

For 2015-16, here’s how I see the MVC:

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

Comments? Visit the Ramblermania message board.