A new era begins in Loyola (Chicago) basketball tomorrow as the Ramblers play their first-ever Missouri Valley Conference game against the Indiana State Sycamores. Former long-time members of the Horizon League, the Ramblers (5-7) are entering their inaugural year in the MVC.
Short of Wichita State, playing at Indiana State (9-3) is the toughest introduction to the league Porter Moser‘s club could draw. The Sycamores, picked to finish second in the MVC, are a top-10 mid-major with wins against Notre Dame and Belmont.
Senior point guard Jake Odum runs the show and is a candidate for MVC Player of the Year. He is currently No. 2 in the conference in assists with 5.1 dimes per game, and he leads the Sycamores with 13.4 points.
Indiana State’s other double digit scorers are senior Manny Arop and junior Justin Gant. Arop, a 6’5″ wing, averages 12.9 points while shooting 52.8% from the field. He is also the Sycamores best three-point shooter at 48.8%. Gant, a 6’9″ forward, records 12.8 points per contest. He shoots it well from the field at 53.6%, and, though he does not often shoot three-pointers, he is 11-of-23 (47.8%) from deep this season.
The Sycamores have three other noteworthy players in senior Dawon Cummings and sophomores Khristian Smith and Devonte Brown.
Cummings is a pesky backcourt defender with 1.9 steals per game, and he ranks in the top 50 nationally in assist rate. He is also a respectable scoring option with 9.8 points per contest and a 39.5% conversion rate on three-pointers.
After making improvements in early December games against Mississippi State, UIC and Campbell, Loyola has regressed its last two times out. The Ramblers led Northern Illinois by 15 points in the second half on Dec. 18 and were then outscored 41-20 in a six-point loss. Last Monday, they held an 11-point lead in the first half against Fordham but lost by 14.
Though the Ramblers have one win on a neutral site, they have not won a true road game this year — and Indiana State has won four of its home games.
Loyola will need to be clicking on all cylinders tomorrow.
The Ramblers have displayed an inability to win without freshman guard Milton Doyle producing large scoring numbers, except against SIU-Edwardsville when Doyle posted a goose egg in a victory. In Loyola’s four other victories, Doyle is averaging 23 points, but in his last two outings he has recorded eight points per game.
Tip-off at the Hulman Center is slated for 2:05 p.m. CT Wednesday afternoon.