For the second season in a row, the Loyola men’s basketball team was named second out of ten teams in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) after the MVC released its preseason poll Oct. 20.
The preseason poll is determined based on ballots from 43 total voters, including MVC head coaches, sports information directors and media members. Loyola received eight first place votes for a total of 363 points — 22 more points than they received in last year’s poll.
Loyola was able to hold the same place in the poll despite the departure of key player Cameron Krutwig and head coach Porter Moser. This is likely due to the Ramblers returning four graduate players and new head coach Drew Valentine, who served as the team’s defensive coordinator, helping them to become the No. 1 scoring defense in the country.
Valentine addressed the hole in the team with Krutwig’s absence, saying that a “more conditioned” sophomore center Jacob Hutson and the team’s guards will fill the void.
“I think our team is a little bit different without Krutwig,” Valentine said during an Oct. 20 press conference. “We’ve had really good guard play and really good guard depth, so I think you’ll see those guards playmaking and taking on bigger roles.”
Drake took the No. 1 spot for the first time in program history with 29 first place votes and 411 total points. The Bulldogs saw their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014 when they received an at-large bid to the 2021 tournament. Drake redshirt junior guard Roman Penn was also named to the MVC Preseason First Team.
Taking the third spot is the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), who received six first place votes and 354 total points — just nine points behind Loyola.
UNI returns senior guard and 2020 MVC Player of the Year AJ Green, who was selected as this season’s MVC Preseason Player of the Year despite sitting out most of the 2021 season due to a hip injury. The team will also have 2020 Freshman of the Year Bowen Born — a sophomore guard — returning to the lineup.
Loyola graduate guard Lucas Williamson was named to the Preseason Second Team All-MVC. Williamson is in his fifth year with the Ramblers squad, during which he’s seen two March Madness appearances.
Williamson was named MVC Defensive Player of the Year for the 2020-21 season and was named to the Julius Erving Award Watch List Oct. 20, which honors the best small forward in the country in partnership with the Basketball Hall of Fame.
This list includes 20 athletes from across the country and Williamson is one of only four players to be placed on the watchlist from a non-Power 6 conference.
Valentine said that the defensive powerhouse had worked on some of his offensive tactics, specifically ones he displayed during last year’s national tournament.
“I think he’s improved his screen roll decision making,” Valentine said. “I think he showed some of that in the NCAA Tournament.”
Meanwhile, Loyola redshirt junior guard Braden Norris was tabbed Preseason Third Team All-MVC. Norris had a successful season in his first year of eligibility after transferring from Oakland University, landing 41% of his three-point shots and making the MVC All-Newcomer Team for the 2020-21 season.
“It’s an awesome time for everybody,” Drake head coach Darian DeVries said in the press conference. “I think the league is as good as it’s been in a long time.”
The Ramblers will open MVC play Dec. 1 at home in Gentile Arena against Indiana State University, which was picked to finish ninth in the Valley. After that game, Loyola will finish off non-conference play before returning to MVC play against Southern Illinois — which placed fifth in the poll — University Jan. 2 on the road.
Loyola will open non-conference play Nov. 9 when the team hosts Coppin State University at Gentile Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago+.