Season Preview: Loyola-Chicago

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Jordan Hicks (2) will step out from the shadow of the departed J.R. Blount this season.

The Ramblers were an old team last season, but that didn't necessarily translate into being a good team. Loyola's main offensive weapons struggled with their shots all season and effort on the defensive end often wasn't enough to compensate for the missed opportunities. Towards the middle of the season head coach Jim Whitesell began experimenting with lineups and he seemed to hit a positive note with the development of freshmen Jordan Hicks and Courtney Stanley. This season those two will play a much more prominent role on a "young and fun" Ramblers squad.

Update (2:13 p.m.): Forward Andy Polka has been granted an extra year of eligibility after missing most of the 2008-09 season due to an injured ankle. He'll be a junior this season in terms of eligibility and the Ramblers will get two more seasons from their most experienced low-post player.
Last Season: 14-18 (6-12 Horizon League)

'08-'09 Pomeroy Profile: 228th (226th on Offense, 222nd on Defense)

Departures: G J.R. Blount, G Justin Cerasoli, F Leon Young, F/C Darrin Williams

Arrivals: F Shaun Adams, F Ben Averkamp, G Gabe Kindred, G Kevin Muldowney, G Charles Winborne, G Terrance Hill

Key Non-Conference Games: Nov. 13 at Kansas State; Nov. 17 vs. Canisius Nov. 23 vs. Western Michigan; Dec. 16 at Bradley; Dec. 20 at SIU-Edwardsville

Summary: The departures list represents four of the five players that used the most possessions for the Ramblers during the 2008-9 season. Blount was the team's creator, scorer and crunch-time man all wrapped into one and at times he struggled mightily in that role. This season the scoring should be much more balanced. Blount's departure has opened up a host of opportunities for the young players in Loyola's roster - nine scholarship players are in their first or second collegiate season. That means there is immediate playing time available for a number of the new arrivals. Last season Loyola attempted to rely on solid half-court execution and this year - with a number of athletic newcomers - the Ramblers will probably switch to a more uptempo game.

The departure of Blount leaves the position of "play-maker" wide open in the backcourt. Possibilities include senior guard Aric Van Weelden - who is a steady, known commodity at this point, Courtney Stanley and freshman Gabe Kindred. Stanley and Kindred are both fast penetrators that could open looks up for their teammates by getting around defenders at the top of the key. The off-guard position could be where Jordan Hicks plays, but if he slides into the frontcourt once he's recovered from his Achilles strain, then expect freshman Charles Winborne and senior Marcus Thomas to split most of the minutes at the off-guard position. Thomas shot 32.1 percent from beyond the arc last season and is the only player returning that used more than 20 percent of the team's possessions while he was on the court last season. Winborne is a bit undersized for the shooting guard position, but he scored more than 3,000 points in his high school career. Also, Terrance Hill comes over from the junior college ranks and could provide the three-point shooting necessary to bust zone defenses.

The frontcourt has a number of young players, but also second-year players that were forced into action last season after the season-ending injury to Andy Polka. Polka is healthy, stronger and ready to go this season and should be a focal point for the Ramblers in the post. His injury meant that Walt Gibler and John Benkoske played more minutes than expected as freshman. Gibler in particular played quite well and should be in the running for a lot more playing time this season. Two freshman - the athletic Shaun Adams and 6'8" Ben Averkamp - could also get a number of minutes.

Unless one of the newcomers steps up immediately, Loyola is going to have to be very team oriented, especially on offense. While Hicks could end up being a go-to-guy, Polka has never been a high-volume possessions eater and that's not likely to change this season. Expect an even distribution amongst a large number of Ramblers.

Best Case Scenario: Polka stays healthy, Hicks returns and elevates his game, 3 or 4 freshman make an immediate impact, Thomas is more consistent from three-point range and the point guards are able to create easy baskets for their teammates. If those fall into place, excitement and a .500 record are a possibility.

Worst Case Scenario: Polka gets hurt again, Hicks' injury hampers him all season, the freshman get beat up inside, Thomas can't handle an increased workload and the point guards look lost on offense. If that happens then watch out, this young team could completely lose their confidence and struggle to the last-place finish in conference that was predicted preseason.

Chicago College Basketball's Bold Prediction: Jordan Hicks develops into a star-level player in the Horizon League and has a signature moment during an upset victory. The Ramblers learn the old adage of addition by subtraction and finish with the same 6-12 record during the conference season that they did in 2009. The development of a young roster will cause some growing pains during the non-conference slate, but 12-15 wins is a reasonable possibility.

Tomorrow: Chicago State

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