All 10 men’s basketball teams in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) wrapped up their regular seasons Feb. 24 and are now looking ahead to the conference tournament, taking place in St. Louis March 1-4.
Loyola (25-5, 15-3) will be the No. 1 seed in the tournament — appropriately named “Arch Madness” — for the first time in program history, while Southern Illinois University is the No. 2 seed and Illinois State University at No. 3.
Loyola’s Historic Regular Season
The Ramblers’ 25 wins are the most since they won 24 regular season games during the 1962-63 national championship season. Loyola also set a program record with 15 conference wins, breaking the previous record of 13 conference wins during the 1984-85 season. That was the last time Loyola made the NCAA tournament.
Loyola’s depth has been crucial to its success this season. Five players — redshirt junior guards Clayton Custer and Marques Townes, first-year center Cameron Krutwig and senior forwards Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson — all averaged double-digit ppg this season. This marks the first time five Ramblers have averaged double-digit ppg since the 1965-66 season when the team made the NCAA tournament.
While Custer missed five games early on due to an ankle injury, Loyola lost two of its first three MVC games. The Ramblers went 14-1 after Custer returned to the lineup Jan. 7, with a lone loss of 69-67 at Bradley University Jan. 31. Custer’s 15.4 ppg, 4.3 apg and 50 percent three-point percentage during conference play have earned him MVC Player of the Year.
First-year center Cameron Krutwig also shined in MVC play. The Algonquin native averaged 12.5 ppg and 6.4 rpg during conference play while finishing second in field goal percentage, shooting at a 61.5 percent clip in 18 MVC games. Krutwig’s performance gave him the MVC Freshman of the Year award and earned him third team All-MVC, MVC All-Newcomer Team and MVC All-Freshman Team honors.
Ingram earned second team All-MVC honors and first-year Lucas Williamson earned MVC All-Freshman Team honors.
Senior guard Ben Richardson also became the first Rambler to win MVC Defensive Player of the Year.
Looking ahead to Arch Madness, head coach Porter Moser said his upperclassmen players have been crucial to getting the younger players to take each game as it comes, and he won’t change his mentality heading into the tournament.
“The easy part is that our guys are veteran guys and they’ve bought into that philosophy [of taking things one game at a time] all year so nothing’s changing,” Moser said. “They know that we need to have a good week of practice, we need to get better … every team has an opportunity this weekend.”
Loyola is scheduled to play its first game of the tournament March 2 at noon against the winner of the No. 8 University of Evansville vs. No. 9 University of Northern Iowa game, which is scheduled to take place March 1 at 6 p.m.
The Tournament Field
When the MVC preseason poll was released Oct. 24, Missouri State University was picked to finish in first place and University of Northern Iowa was picked to finish in second. After both teams finished with 7-11 records in MVC play, Missouri State will be the No. 7 seed in the tournament and Northern Iowa will be the No. 9 seed. Both are scheduled to start Arch Madness March 1.
Southern Illinois rode an 11-7 record to a second-place finish in the MVC standings, its highest since winning the conference in 2007. Redshirt junior guard Armon Fletcher, junior center Kavion Pippen and junior guard Sean Lloyd were key players for the Salukis this season. Fletcher was Southern Illinois’ leading scorer with an average of 14.2 ppg, which earned him second team All-MVC recognition. Pippen, the nephew of former Bulls guard Scottie Pippen, averaged 12.3 ppg to pick up All-Newcomer Team honors, while Lloyd averaged 11.9 ppg and picked up All-Defensive Team honors.
The Salukis are currently working with a seven-player rotation due to injuries. Head coach Barry Hinson said he’s not worried about the tournament so much as he’s worried about helping his players recover from back-to-back, double-digit losses.
“We’re just trying to get our guys back to playing the style of basketball specifically right before we played Loyola [Feb. 21],” Hinson said. “We’ve got a basketball team that doesn’t have a lot of confidence and we’re worn down physically and mentally. Our biggest opponent right now is between our ears and with the rest of our bodies. So we’re trying to get that corrected before friday’s game.”
Illinois State, last year’s MVC champions, finished third despite losing four of its top-five scorers prior to starting this season. The Redbirds went 10-8 in MVC play and were led by redshirt junior forward Milik Yarbrough, who averaged 17 ppg during the regular season after transferring from Saint Louis University, earning him MVC Newcomer of the Year accolades. Junior forward Phil Fayne was also a key contributor for Illinois State, averaging 15.3 ppg this season en route to a second team All-MVC nod.
The Salukis are scheduled to open Arch Madness March 2 at 2:30 p.m. against the winner of the No. 7 Missouri State vs. No. 10 Valparaiso University game, which is scheduled for March 1 at 8:30 p.m. The Redbirds are scheduled to take on No. 6 Indiana State University March 2 at 8:30 p.m.