Saturday, November 9, 2017 3:00 p.m.
Gentile Arena, Chicago, Ill.
Fresh from an attention-grabbing upset over #5 Florida, the Ramblers close out their non-con home slate with Norfolk State. The Spartans lost at Loyola last year, 75-62, before going on to a very good season. They made it to the MEAC conference tournament final, losing a bid to the NCAA tournament by eight points, before ending their season in a CIT first-round loss to Liberty.
The Spartans lost two of their primary players from last year, their top and fourth best scorers, but have an experienced returning group. Picked to finish 2nd in the MEAC preseason men’s basketball poll behind Morgan State, the Spartans have struggled perhaps more than expected, with a record of 0-8 entering their matchup with Loyola. The team has been somewhat competitive in each game, but not able to close within nine points at the end of any games against D1 squads.
Coach Robert Jones has been tinkering with his lineup, but the likely starting five are 6’6” senior forward Preston Bungei, 6’8” junior forward Alex Long, 6’4” sophomore guard Stephen Whitley, 6’1” freshman guard Mastadi Pitt, and 6’4” senior guard Kyle Williams. Whitley is the team’s scoring and assist leader, with 12.3 points and 3.6 assists on average. He also shares the team lead in rebounds with 5.2 per contest, and leads in steals and free throw percentage. Bungei leads the team in blocks, shares the rebound lead, and averages 10.5 points; he also chips in 2.8 assists per contest as the small forward. Freshman Mastadi Pitt averages 10.1 points per game, much of it on the strength of his team-leading 13 three-pointers and 43.3% three-point shooting percentage. Long also averages 10.1 points, and adds 3.7 rebounds per game. Kyle Williams shoots well from three, but averages only 7.1 points per game this season; he played well against Loyola last year with 13 points and 7 rebounds.
The NSU bench players include 6’2” sophomore guard Nic Thomas (8.4 points per game), 6’5” junior guard Derrik Jamerson, Jr. (4.1 points), 7’0” senior center Dan Robinson (3.1 points, 3.6 rebounds), and 6’7” senior forward Stavian Allen (3.8 points, 3.3 rebounds).
Norfolk State’s biggest weakness is precisely the opposite of Loyola’s biggest strength: shooting percentage. Only one player on the Spartans, 6’8” Alex Long, has a field goal shooting percentage over 45.5% from the field. As a team, NSU averages only 38.8% on its field goal attempts, which ranks as 339th out of the 351 Division 1 teams. Loyola’s team field goal percentage is 7th in the nation at 52.2%, and 14th on three pointers at 42.3% as a team.
Although the Spartans have some dismal efficiency numbers, one has to remember that most of their non-con games have been on the road. NSU led by four points at halftime in their home game against Kent State, and they’ve managed to stay within striking distance (within 15 points or less) for all but three of their eight losses.
Norfolk State game notes: Pending
Vegas odds: N/A