Rebuilding seems to be the recurring theme among Chicago‘s college basketball teams (DePaul and Northwestern), but Loyola is the exception to this rule. Instead, the Jesuit institution is building their men’s hoops team from the ground up. The Ramblers have not been to college basketball’s postseason since 1985, the longest drought out of all of Chicago’s Division 1 programs. Current LU head coach Porter Moser is looking to do something that his four predecessors could not, become the first Ramblers coach since Gene Sullivan to take the program into the middle of March.
The athletic department in Rogers Park believes in the Naperville native, this was evidenced by the contract extension he was given over the summer. While some critics believe that the extension was given too early, the Ramblers have shown improvement during Moser’s tenure. After going a miserable 7-23 during the 2011-2012 season, Loyola saw drastic improvement last year by finishing with a 15-16 record.
The Ramblers could have been a 20-win team had it not been for some unfortunate losses. Last season the Ramblers were swept by Youngstown State during the regular season, along with two non-consecutive four-game losing streaks in January and February respectively. They also split the season series with arch-rival Illinois-Chicago and finished the regular season losing four of it’s last five games.
The reasons for these heartbreaking losses were foul trouble and defensive collapses late in those games which left them unable to hold leads. Those mental lapses will need to be corrected if Loyola is to reach the next level. Of course getting to that next level will be a little more difficult this year. Last year’s leaders were forward Ben Averkamp and guards Cully Payne and Jordan Hicks. All three men have since have graduated and moved on. But the good thing is that last year’s role players will now transition into starting roles.
There will also be a change in lineups for Porter Mosers team. Last season Loyola started four guards along with the 6-8 Averkamp. Those guards were Payne and Hicks along with Joe Crisman and Devon Turk. This season, Loyola is expected to use a bigger lineup. Crisman and Turk will head the backcourt along with sophomore Jeff White who saw a fair amount of minutes as a freshman.
The Ramblers will use two forwards instead of one. Those two men will be sophomore Nick Osbourne (6-8) who was Averkamp’s backup last year, and junior Christian Thomas (6-5) who averaged 14 points per game coming off the bench during the 12′-13′ season. Loyola will have decent size overall as aside from Osbourne, the Ramblers have five other players who measure 6-6 or taller.
They will also have experience on their side as this year’s team has six upperclassmen. And out of the six sophomores on the roster, four of them (Turk, White, Osbourne and forward Matt O’Leary) already have a solid amount of playing experience. Especially when Payne and Averkamp (concussions) were on the injured list for the bulk of the February schedule last season.
Coach Moser has also done a solid job of recruiting locally as he currently has eight players who hail from either the Chicago area, Northwest Indiana and Western and Central Illinois. Loyola still has a good core of players in place that can help them succeed. The Ramblers could also benefit from a new conference. After spending the better part of two decades in both the Summit League (formally Mid-Continent) and the Horizon League (originally the Midwestern Collegiate Conference), the maroon and gold now find themselves in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Loyola will no longer have to tangle with Valparaiso, Detroit, Wright State and Wisconsin Green-Bay (They’ll continue to play UIC as a non-conference opponent), but they will face new challenges. Those new challenges will come in the form of Wichita State (this year’s favorite to win the conference), Northern Iowa and Evansville who all went deep into the postseason last year.
Aside from that, Creighton (last year’s MVC champion) is now a member of the rebuilt Big East Conference. The rest of the conference (Indiana State, Illinois State, Bradley, Drake, Missouri State and Southern Illinois) had a combined conference record of 44-64 last season, which should give Loyola a decent shot to make noise in The Valley.
It will also be fun to see them create new interstate rivalries with ISU, SIU and Bradley. They also have a favorable non-conference schedule as well. We will get to see the progress that the Ramblers have made when they host Lewis University in an exhibition on November 2nd. They will begin the regular season at the Gentile Center against former conference rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee on November 8th.
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