Going into this season, people saw a young Loyola men’s basketball team which had just lost three of its top four scorers. It was predicted to finish seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) preseason poll, and it looked like a rebuilding year.
But the Ramblers, (16-11, 6-8) who are tied for fifth in the MVC standings and have been as high as third, are arguably having their most successful MVC campaign since joining the conference in 2013.
The offense has been the integral piece for Loyola. The team currently sits first in the MVC in field goal percentage (49.5 percent) and second only to Wichita State University in scoring offense (74.9).
Head coach Porter Moser reiterated the role of the offense, but said the players need to find a way to win when the shooting isn’t there.
“We’ve got to … be able to win when we don’t shoot well,” Moser said. “We didn’t shoot well against Southern [Illinois University], … and you have to find ways to win when you shoot well, and we didn’t.”
Winning is a big key for the Ramblers at this point, and while that seems obvious, the last couple games have shown Loyola can’t win games just by showing up. The Missouri Valley standings are tight, as the difference between third place and seventh place is just two games. Loyola is currently tied with Southern Illinois University for fourth place after a four-game losing streak caused the Ramblers to fall out of third place.
Junior guard Donte Ingram said the way to getting back in the win column and to peak in the standings is to play cleaner and close out games, issues that gave Loyola trouble in losses against Southern Illinois and the University of Evansville.
“We [have] to lower the amount of errors we make and down the stretch, we’ve got to be able to to finish games,” said Ingram.
Senior guard Milton Doyle added that the team has fought hard all season, and it doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“We still have a long way to go,” said Doyle, “We know we still have to fight so we’re not so far behind.”
The Ramblers have never been seeded higher than sixth in the MVC tournament. With four games left, three of them — including conference co-leader Illinois State — are against teams it has already lost to.
Moser said the team wants to avoid the seventh seed. Should Loyola drop to a bottom-four seed, the Ramblers will have to play on the first night of Arch Madness for a chance to play the second seed the next day. If the Ramblers finish in sixth or higher, they’ll have an extra day of rest to prepare.
With just over one week left of regular season play, Loyola’s position in the conference tournament is still up in the air. Every game matters, and a loss to Southern Illinois or Drake could have a major impact on the tournament seeding.
But as evidenced by No. 6 Indiana State University knocking off No. 3 Illinois State in last year’s tournament, anything can happen in St. Louis.
The Ramblers will look to end their skid at home against Indiana State University on Feb. 15 before they travel to Normal, Illinois, to face Illinois State on Feb. 19