For the third straight season, Loyola has won its first game at the MVC Tournament, otherwise known as Arch Madness. The Ramblers advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round, where they will face top-seeded Wichita State.
The Shockers swept the regular season series with ease, winning the first matchup 80-54 and the second by a score of 76-54.
Although the adage says it’s difficult to beat the same team three times in one season, Wichita State is an extremely heavy favorite.
What you should know about No. 1 seed Wichita State (23-7, 16-2 MVC)
Wichita State has extra rest. The Shockers haven’t played since their regular season finale Saturday. Meanwhile, Loyola played its first-round matchup less than 24 hours ago.
With the way the Shockers like the wear down opponents with their defensive pressure, this factor gives them an even greater advantage in that battle.
The Shockers have the most efficient defense in the country. They allow an adjusted 89.9 points per 100 possessions. In two regular season matchups, Wichita State held Loyola to 83.1 points per 100 possessions.
Senior guards Fred VanVleet are two of the toughest defensive guards in college basketball, and young wings Zach Brown and Markis McDuffie are extremely effective on the defensive end with their length.
Loyola is coming off a strong offensive night against Bradley’s 115th-ranked defense, scoring 74 points in 70 possessions. Bradley is a fine defensive team, but facing Wichita State for a third team provides a challenge on a whole new level.
By the numbers, this Wichita State team could be the best Gregg Marshall has had. The Shockers rank No. 8 in KenPom entering the conference tournament.
Last year’s team, which went 17-1 in the MVC and earned an at-large bid as a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, ranked No. 10 entering Arch Madness. Two year’s ago, the undefeated team was ranked No. 5. Three years ago, when the Shockers reached the final four, they ranked No. 34.
And of course, the reason they have been so good is because of VanVleet and Baker. The backcourt duo of seniors have dominated the Missouri Valley for three years and are looking for their second tournament title.
VanVleet won MVC Player of the Year while Baker finished second. These two have historically played well against Loyola.
What you should know about No. 8 seed Loyola (15-16, 7-11 MVC)
The Ramblers lost some depth in the backcourt. Sophomore guard Tyson Smith is done for the season with a torn ACL.
Loyola still has plenty of guards to rotate in on normal circumstances, but when junior Milton Doyle got in foul trouble Thursday, coach Porter Moser started to feel the effects of a thinner bench.
“We literally have not had this problem all year long in terms of rotating our guards until the last two games, with the injury and then that’s the worst foul trouble for a guard all year,” Moser said. “I haven’t had to play a guard with two fouls in the first half. I don’t think I’ve put a guard or anybody in with two fouls all year long. I felt like I needed to.”
Loyola is the only team in the Valley that forces turnovers nearly as often as Wichita State. Wichita State’s opponents turn the ball over in 23.7 percent of possessions. Loyola’s cough it up in 22.1 percent.
A big difference is that Wichita State is one of the best teams in Division I when it comes to taking care of the ball whereas Loyola is below average.
The Shockers had a slight edge in the turnover battle in each regular season meeting. The Ramblers will need to flip that to have a shot at an upset and semifinal berth.
Ben Richardson has a good history at Arch Madness, so watch out for him. Richardson flew under the radar Thursday but was actually one of the Ramblers most valuable players in the win with six points, five assists and six steals, including a steal and no-look, over-the-shoulder, sitting-on-the-floor, half-court pass to forward Montel James for a layup.
Last season, Richardson dropped 15 points, a career-high at the time, on 5-of-5 3-point shooting along with five assists in Loyola’s tournament victory against Indiana State. He then had two more strong performances during Loyola’s CBI run.
Moser loves Richardson because the sophomore guard has a winning history. He won two state championships in high school.
“There’s a reason why you love to recruit kids that have won before,” Moser said. “He means a lot to us. He’s one of our better defenders, really solid defensively.”
The other X-factor is Montel James. James has carried this team to an 6-4 record in the last 10 games, averaging 14.9 points and 9.5 rebounds during that stretch. When he plays well, particularly in terms of defense and rebounding, Loyola has better results.
James may not be Loyola’s most skilled player, although he is up there, but he has certainly been the team’s most valuable contributor.
How to watch, listen, stream and bet:
Start time: 12 p.m. CT
TV: MVC TV Network
App/Online: ESPN3 (subject to blackout)
Line: Wichita State -17.5
Sagarin: Wichita State -16.5
KenPom: Wichita State 69, Loyola 55 (93 percent)