Men’s Basketball Gears Up For Rekindled Rivalry With Bradley in NIT

The 32-team field includes familiar A-10 foes Saint Joseph’s, Richmond and VCU.

Despite an early exit from the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship, the Loyola men’s basketball season continues as they have earned a bid to the National Invitation Tournament. The Ramblers’ postseason journey continues March 20 at 6 p.m. against well-known foe Bradley University. 

The 32-team field includes traditional powers such as Seton Hall University, Ohio State University and Villanova University in addition to familiar A-10 foes Saint Joseph’s University, University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University. 

The higher seeded school will host each matchup on their home floor up until the semifinal and championship rounds, which will be held at the Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana April 2-4. 

Loyola will be without second-year guard Jayden Dawson in the first round due to illness, head coach Drew Valentine said. Dawson also missed the quarterfinal game in the A-10 tournament when the Ramblers lost to St. Bonaventure 75-74 March 14.

Valentine said the team accepted the bid to NIT because it gives them the opportunity to show how great their year has been and a chance to make up for their heartbreaking loss in Brooklyn.

“Not to say that we’re going to win this championship or we won’t have another heartbreaking loss, but at least we’ll know that we’re in the postseason,” he said. 

Valentine added how the opportunity is important considering the level of the conference they play in, as the A-10 typically doesn’t receive a large number of NCAA Tournament bids.

“Getting an opportunity to play in a high level postseason tournament like the NIT is important,” Valentine said. “It shows the year that you had it shows where your program is at.”

The Carver Arena in Peoria, Illinois isn’t unmapped territory for Loyola, as the two teams competed in the Missouri Valley Conference for nine seasons between 2013 and 2022 before the Ramblers made the jump to the A-10.

Graduate guard Braden Norris said the matchup is exciting for guys like him and graduate forward Tom Welch who played the majority of their careers in the Missouri Valley.

“To go back and play a team like Bradley who you know, like I said, we’ve had a lot of battles with throughout the years when we were in the Valley, I think it’s really cool,” Norris said.

Norris said he has been helping to prepare the members of the team who haven’t played in the Carver Arena for the atmosphere.

“You know they’re bringing that motorcycle out pregame,” Norris said. “It’s gonna smell like gas the whole first half. They have a good fan base and it’s gonna be loud in there, but nothing we’re not gonna prepare for and be ready for.” 

When the Ramblers and Braves last met April 4, 2022, it was Loyola who came out on top 66-50, knocking Bradley out of the Missouri Valley tournament in the quarterfinal round. The Braves lead the all-time record 37-33 and have gone 24-11 against the Ramblers when playing at home. 

Loyola and Bradley last met in the NIT nearly 75 years ago in 1949 when the Ramblers won 55-50. 

The Braves finished the regular season 22-11 overall and went 13-7 in conference play. They are 13-3 when playing at home this season. Bradley fell to Drake University 72-67 in the semifinal round of the Missouri Valley tournament March 9. 

Third-year guard Connor Hickman is the Braves’ leading scorer averaging 14.5 points per game. He led the team with back-to-back 20-point games in the Missouri Valley tournament. 

Fourth-year guard Duke Deen has also been a key contributor, averaging 14.1 points and 3.9 assists per game. Graduate forward Malevy Leons has stood out in the front court, averaging 13.7 points and seven rebounds a game. 

The Braves are the best shooting team in the Valley, finishing the year with a field goal percentage of 41%. By comparison, the Ramblers have shot at a 45% clip.

The winner of the game will face either the University of Cincinnati or the University of San Francisco in the second round. 

Fans can catch the game at 6 p.m. streamed live on ESPN+ or listen to the radio telecast on Rambler Sports Network.

Featured image by Austin Hojdar | The Phoenix

Griffin Krueger

Griffin Krueger