With a strong group of upperclassmen and a deep bench, the Loyola men’s basketball team was picked third in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) preseason poll for its first season in four years without former guard Milton Doyle.
Loyola had two players — senior guard Donte Ingram and senior forward Aundre Jackson — earn first-team preseason All-MVC honors Oct. 24. Head coach Porter Moser said he has high expectations for the seniors and hopes for them to earn those honors after the season.
“I hope they are All-MVC, at the end of year,” Moser said. “Those guys really got a good level head about themselves. They know preseason accolades don’t mean anything. At the end of the year if they are both first team all-league, we had a great year. That means they played really well and I want that for both of those seniors.”
This season, the team has four seniors, one redshirt junior and two juniors on the roster. Moser said it’s the veterans’ responsibility to help the newcomers with the transition to college basketball. Players such as redshirt junior guard Clayton Custer have been helping the newcomers adjust to the pace of college basketball.
“With the [first-years], [I’m] just [trying] to instill confidence in them,” Custer said. “[That] is the biggest thing, sometimes things are hard when you’re first coming in … The big thing for me is just trying to keep them confident and to keep them positive throughout practice and when the season starts.”
Redshirt junior guard Marques Townes — who is a transfer from Fairleigh Dickinson University — sat out last season due to NCAA rules. After participating in practices last season and watching the games, Townes said he can’t wait to get back on the court.
“I think it is going to be a great feeling,” Townes said. “Just sitting out all last year and seeing the game from a different viewpoint just got me motivated and got me ready for this season. I have been working hard all offseason and all during the year last year when these guys were playing.”
Fairleigh Dickinson lost to Florida Gulf Coast University in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in 2016. Townes played 27 minutes during the NCAA tournament. Townes said he hopes every college athlete will get the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. Moser said he knows Townes is going to be a great asset to his team this season given Townes’ past experience.
“Defensively, [Townes] probably does the best job of pressuring the ball, that we have,” Moser said. “He is really a strong, powerful guard. I think Ben Richardson is [an] all league defender and I think Marques has that capability … There is no question, [Townes] is going to be a key player for us as we move forward this season.”
Moser said he wants his team to make it to the postseason, but he knows that every team in the country is aiming for that. He hopes that working on leadership during the regular season will help them get there.
“Obviously, we want to win the Missouri Valley [Conference],” Moser said. “We want to get into the NCAA tournament and advance in the NCAA tournament … I know as a coach from doing it for this long you’ve got to break it down into smaller segments and be thinking about the process instead of thinking about March. You’ve got to get better along the way.”
The MVC basketball landscape will boast a different look this season. In April, it was announced that Wichita State University was leaving the MVC to join the American Athletic Conference. In May, the MVC announced that Valparaiso University accepted an invitation to join the conference from the Horizon League. With Wichita State out of the picture, Moser said he feels the conference is up for grabs.
“[I] wish [Wichita State] well … and it leaves a huge opportunity,” Moser said. “The word that comes to my mind is opportunity. Opportunity for someone else to come take the top spot in the league. Our whole mission, our whole mindset is, ‘Why not us?’”
Custer, like Moser, said he hopes the loss of Wichita State will give Loyola a chance to win the conference, but the team liked playing Wichita State each year because they were good competition.
“It’s a good and bad thing for most of us,” Custer said. “I think a lot of us liked playing Wichita State every year, just because Wichita State was good and we wanted to get to that level where we were competing with them and beating them.”
Moser said one factor that gave Wichita an advantage was the fact that they sold out every single one of their home games. This season he hopes Gentile Arena will be the place that competing teams dread to play.
“Playing at Wichita was a different experience because of the home court advantage,” Moser said. “We can create that here at Gentile Arena. We hope in all aspects we become that Wichita; the hardest place to play [and] the top team. And that is a process. But, you have got to have high goals. That’s a goal.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to open their season Nov. 10 against Wright State University at Gentile Arena.