Loyola opens MVC play Wednesday against Southern Illinois, which raced to an 11-2 non-conference performance. The Salukis are 4-0 in true road games this season.
What you should know about Southern Illinois (11-2, No. 124 KenPom):
Southern Illinois is almost like last year’s Loyola team. The Salukis returned their core players but added several new, important pieces, particularly from the junior college ranks.
The biggest additions have been junior college guards Mike Rodriguez and Leo Vincent. Rodriguez has assumed the team’s point guard duties, leading the Salukis with 3.7 assists per game. He’s a capable scorer as well as a secondary option. Rodriguez is averaging 10.9 points and has scored at least eight points but never more than 15 in every game. He also shoots 34.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Vincent is another 3-point threat at 34.3 percent, and he is averaging 7.8 points per game.
This duo joins star guard and senior Anthony Beane, who has become even more lethal this season scoring the ball. Beane is averaging 20.5 points, the second-best mark in the MVC. After shooting just 33.3 percent from 3-point range last season, he is scorching the nets this year at 43.2 percent.
In four career games against Loyola, Beane is averaging 19.5 points on 58.3 percent shooting.
Southern Illinois’ frontcourt is small and shallow, but the Salukis have received plenty of production from 6-foot-7 junior Sean O’Brien. O’Brien is averaging 13.8 points on a career-best 50.7 percent shooting.
6-foot-7 forward Bola Olanyian is not much of a scorer, but he is one of the nation’s best rebounders, particularly on the offensive end. In only 21.3 minutes per game, Olaniyan is the MVC’s second best rebounder with 7.8 boards per contest.
What you should know about Loyola (7-5, No. 192 KenPom):
Southern Illinois has lost 10 straight MVC road games, but Loyola likely won’t have much of a home court advantage Wednesday with students still on break.
The Ramblers may be forced to score in ways they are not used to. Southern Illinois defends the perimeter well, and Loyola gets nearly a third of its points there with 39.3 percent 3-point shooting.
Loyola does not shoot many free throws or score efficiently from two-point range, but those areas are Southern Illinois’ weakest on defense. Having a healthy Montel James is crucial for Loyola, as a couple of weeks ago, when James was hurt, Loyola was connecting on fewer than 44 percent of its two-point attempts.
Getting more production out of 6-foot-6 sophomore Donte Ingram, who has looked like a new player since the Creighton game Dec. 5, will also be key. Ingram is averaging 10.2 points per game this month.
Southern Illinois will be looking to run Loyola off the 3-point line. If James, who is coming off two great games, forces the Salukis to double team him in the post and if Ingram knocks down a couple of his quintessential mid-range jumpers, that will keep the Southern Illinois defense honest on the perimeter.
—If Southern Illinois wins, coach Barry Hinson will move into sole possession of fifth place all time in MVC coaching wins. Hinson is currently tied with former Wichita State coach Ralph Miller.
—The Salukis have not won their first five road games of a season since 1947. They enter Wednesday’s game at 4-0.
—Loyola coach Porter Moser is 1-11 all-time against Southern Illinois.
—With 1,008 points, Loyola senior guard Devon Turk ranks No. 40 on the Ramblers’ all-time scoring list. He is 10 points away from tying Ed Earle for No. 39.
—Since joining the MVC, Loyola is 2-0 in conference home openers with an average margin of victory of 23.5 points.
How to watch, listen, stream and bet:
Start time: 7 p.m. CT
TV: CSN Chicago
Line: Loyola -1.5
Sagarin: Southern Illinois -2
KenPom: Loyola 67, Southern Illinois 66 (51%)