A long road ahead for Loyola
Loyola has started the season off well at 6-2 and the Ramblers are starting to look like an outside contender in the Horizon League. Things are going so splendidly that the Ramblers are even being giving their own shout outs on HLN by Damon Lewis.
There is still a long road ahead for the Ramblers and head coach Jim Whitesell (right). According to the statistics Wednesday at Bradley represents their toughest test since going to Kansas State to start the season and it will be a true benchmark of where the team is in its development right now. Then the home-and-home round robin in the Horizon League will offer plenty of tests.
How can Loyola navigate the speed bumps along the way?
The Ramblers need to stick with what works, and clamp down a bit on defense. The defensive efficiency rating is starting to creep into a poor territory. Loyola was beat up inside by Dior Lowhorn inside on Saturday against San Francisco. Lowhorn was able to make plays in the paint with his strength and size.
Of course not every team Loyola plays is going to have a 6'7" Mid-Major All-American on their team in the paint. But the Braves do have a 6'6" 205-pound sophomore forward in Taylor Brown that is leading the team in scoring. Brown is averaging 16.8 points per game and he's been particularly efficient with the basketball this season. He'll be a scary match-up in the paint for Loyola. Also, another Horizon League team with a bullseye on its back, Butler, happens to have an excellent - though struggling - post player of its own in 6'8" junior forward Matt Howard. The Ramblers need to figure out a way to contain these players in the post.
Other than that the changes should be minor. The Ramblers have an identity as a tough rebounding, three-point shooting offense and it works. It's an odd offense for sure, but it sure makes for thrilling moments. Every open shot for Loyola is a chance for a huge momentum change. With so many good three-point shooters always on the floor - Loyola has 6 players shooting 40% or better from three - the Ramblers challenge teams to stretch their defense. If Loyola makes shots against Bradley it will be a great sign as the Braves are currently 25th in the nation in defensive three-point percentage.
The addition of Jordan Hicks can only help the offense and the deep bench should keep everyone fresh and allow Whitesell to ride the hot hand on any given night, as long as he can find one.
Watch the game against Bradley closely. It's the first test in a long and exciting road ahead for the Ramblers.