With the men’s basketball regular season over, it’s time to get ready for the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament in St. Louis, appropriately known as Arch Madness.
Last season, the tournament was full of surprises. No. 6 Indiana State University knocked off No. 3 Illinois State University in the quarterfinals, and No. 8 Loyola took No. 1 Wichita State University to the final minutes before WSU pulled away in the quarterfinals.
This year should be no different, as the MVC standings have been tight for most of the season. With that in mind, it’s sometimes hard for teams to prepare for the wild weekend.
Keeping up with the Ramblers
Shaking off a slow start to MVC play, this season turned into one of Loyola’s (18-13, 8-10) most successful in the Porter Moser era as the Ramblers secured a top-five finish for the first time since joining the MVC in 2013. Shooting has been the strongest part of Loyola’s game this year. Four players — senior guard Milton Doyle, junior forward Aundre Jackson, junior forward Donte Ingram and redshirt sophomore guard Clayton Custer — are averaging double digits in points per game.
Jackson also sits fourth in the nation with a 68 percent field goal percentage, and the team is 11th nationally with a 49.2 field goal percentage.
The Ramblers have played in some close games this season. They lost two games in overtime and six more by four points or less. One of the most recent close losses was at Illinois State on Feb. 19, when Loyola fell to the Redbirds 65-63 in the final seconds.
Head coach Porter Moser cited that loss at Illinois State as a reason why he feels his players can make a run.
“These guys have done a good job going in game to game believing that we’re [going to] win,” Moser said. “I can’t tell you the outpouring around the country people talking about how hard we played … that Illinois State game. And if we continue [playing hard] like we have all year, I think something really good can happen.”
With neutral territory on the horizon in St. Louis, Doyle said the team has to close out games better, as that’s been a weak spot all season. The Ramblers are 0-9 in games decided by six points or fewer. During the regular season, Loyola suffered seven losses in the final minutes, and five of those came during MVC play.
“I think it’s just focusing in on the last five minutes of the game and just locking in more,” Doyle said. “We have stretches where we give up a lot of points and have too many mistakes, so we … [have] got to kind of build the lead to where we can keep it and not playing behind…”
The fifth-seeded Ramblers are set to square off against No. 4 seed Southern Illinois University on March 3 in their first game of Arch Madness.
On top of the Conference Wichita State (27-4, 17-1) and Illinois State (25-5, 17-1) have led the MVC all season. As both teams sat tied atop the standings at season’s end, Illinois State won the tiebreaker to snag the No. 1 seed. Illinois State has played well this season. Its defense has been the key, leading The Valley in points allowed (61.4 points per game), field goal percentage allowed (37.7 percent) and blocked shots (4.6 per game).
In what was supposed to be a down year after losing key players Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet to the NBA, Wichita State currently leads the MVC in scoring offense (82.4 points per game), three-point percentage (40.5 percent) and offensive rebounding (40.9 rebounds per game) and hold the No. 21 spot in the Associated Press Top 25. Despite all they have going for them, head coach Gregg Marshall said his Shockers approach tournament play the same way as any other game.
“We’re not doing anything different than we did in January or early February,” Marshall said. “We’re just preparing for the next opponent … and hopefully the guys are in the weight room and taking care of their academics so that when we go to St. Louis, we’ll have an opportunity to be, mentally and physically, as fresh as we can be can be at this time of the year.”
Illinois State will take on the winner of No. 8 University of Evansville and No. 9 Indiana State on March 3, while Wichita State will play the winner of No.7 Bradley University and No. 10 Drake University that night.