In a Jan. 10 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) coaches call with members of the media, Loyola head coach Drew Valentine said he isn’t focused on the outcome of rankings like the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 Poll. However, some Rambler fans are a bit more invested.
Fans had been tweeting to #RankLoyola after the team’s performances leading up to Jan. 10 — a victory in a quickly-scheduled game against the University of San Francisco Jan. 6 and an overtime win over Bradley University Jan. 8 — and continued their passion for ranking the team after it ended up placing at an unofficial No. 27 that day.
After the Jan. 10 ranking was announced, Loyola junior and Rambler fan Shane Lievens said although he wasn’t thrilled with the results, he believed in Loyola’s potential to catch the attention of voters and be ranked Jan. 17.
“I think it was a little disappointing,” Lievens, 21, said. “I guess that the AP Poll voters are always kind of sleeping on the mid-majors.”
Lievens said with the team’s experience and older leadership, they have what it takes to be ranked in the Top 25. He also said they had met his expectations so far in terms of record and overall performance.
Before the Jan. 17 rankings, the computer science major said he believed if the Ramblers won their next couple games, they could “definitely” be ranked the following week. He said a larger challenge would come later when Loyola takes on Missouri State University Jan. 22 at Gentile Arena.
Loyola 2019 graduate and Rambler fan Bryan Schwaba said he felt underwhelmed at first following the Jan. 10 result, but said he also wasn’t sure if Loyola had earned a Top 25 spot yet.
“The more I thought about it, I don’t know that we necessarily deserved to be ranked based off of how close … the Valpo game and the Bradley game [were],” Schwaba said. “Yes, I like getting the recognition, but ultimately I don’t know if it makes much of a difference.”
In the week following Jan. 10, the Ramblers secured victories in both of their matchups — a double-overtime win over Valparaiso University Jan. 11 and a comeback win at Indiana State University Jan. 15.
Loyola and fans alike were rewarded with a spot in the Top 25 the morning of Jan. 17.
Lievens said he thinks the No. 22 slot was a “reasonable” place for Loyola to be and that it seems “well-deserved.” Before the official rankings were announced that Monday, Lievens said he had seen journalists posting their own rankings.
“I had seen a lot of people putting Loyola in the 22 to 23 range, but I had also seen that in previous weeks, so I wasn’t 100% sure,” he said. “But, given all of the losses towards the back end of the Top 25 over the last week, it would have really surprised me if [Loyola] had not been in.”
Schwaba said he was “very excited” to see the Ramblers take a ranked spot that day and that he appreciated the recognition. However, he said he has more of a pessimistic view about things due to some of the closer scores Loyola has had against opponents lower in the MVC rankings.
He said he’s not sure if Loyola will have what it takes to hold back tougher MVC schools like Missouri State and Drake University, though the team has shown resiliency and the ability to come back from first-half deficits. Schwaba said this particular team reminds him of the 2018 Final Four team with many players having success, but sometimes the Ramblers are still starting off games a bit rocky.
“Obviously [the game at] Indiana State looked a little bit better, but I mean, we’re still not facing the top end of the conference,” Schwaba, 24, said. “We’ll see how that goes, but obviously things seem to be trending upwards, so that’s exciting.”
After blowing past the University of Evansville Jan. 18, the Ramblers will face a much tougher target when they host Missouri State at Gentile Arena Jan. 22. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and the game is set to be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.