At least in the short term, Wichita State’s decision to leave the Missouri Valley for the American is a blessing for Loyola.
Twice in the last three years, Loyola has had teams that, when healthy, rank in the top 100 of Kenpom. In any mid-major league other than the MVC with Wichita State or the WCC with Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s, that’s good enough to compete for a conference title.
But competing in the MVC, Loyola’s regular season title hopes were always dashed early. In four years, the latest the Ramblers were eliminated from the No. 1 seed at Arch Madness was Feb. 7. Unable to put together any sort of at-large resume, their NCAA Tournament hopes always came down to five words: get hot in St. Louis.
So the bad news for Loyola is the Valley loses its status atop the mid-major world. The MVC is a one-bid league for the foreseeable.
The good news for Loyola is it can realistically compete for that one bid now.
We don’t know yet if next year’s team will be better or worse than last year’s. Three starters return but all-conference guard Milton Doyle has graduated. Regardless, next year’s team will have an exponentially better chance of winning the MVC.
And I’m not just talking getting lucky in St. Louis and stealing the conference tournament title. Loyola has a legitimate chance to win the regular season title, too.
Just checked my preseason ratings by conf. Kind of interesting. 1. B12, 2. BE, 3. SEC, 4. ACC, 5. B10, 6. P12, 7. AAC, 8. MW, 9. A10 10. MVC
— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) April 7, 2017
Even with Doyle graduating, Loyola should be top three in the MVC preseason poll. The Ramblers return eight of their top nine scorers while adding three quality freshman (one being Matt Chastain who medically redshirted last year) and an impact transfer in former Fairleigh Dickinson guard Marques Townes.
Illinois State deserves to be the preseason favorite despite losing three starters. The other team in the mix should be Missouri State, which underperformed last season but returns seven of its top eight scorers, including potential conference player of the year and double-double machine Alize Johnson.
My guess is all three — Illinois State, Missouri State and Loyola — will be borderline top 100 teams. The Valley usually has a few borderline top 100 teams, except recently those teams have been chasing Wichita State in the top 15.
Now there’s no Wichita State left to chase.
Loyola still is not the best team in the Valley. That honor belongs to Illinois State. But the gap has closed, and by virtue of Wichita State leaving, Loyola is now on a championship level in the MVC.