Tonight the Nick Kladis Classic is going to tip-off at the Gentile Center and with it comes a golden opportunity for the Loyola Ramblers. Yes, it must be a complete headache trying to put one of these events together, but Loyola has done a good job of bringing in some comparable programs and setting itself for a great start to the season.
The three games in three nights will be a daunting task. One that Loyola won't face again for the rest of the season. The competition will be strong as well. Ken Pomeroy's new prediction system has Eastern Kentucky ranked right around Loyola and a number of Horizon League teams. Indiana State is actually ranked slightly higher than both of those teams and then Texas Pan-American is a Great West team that has the potential to surprise some people this season.
Each team has its own strengths and it should be a very entertaining weekend of basketball. Here are some things to watch as the weekend gets going.
Game 1: Loyola vs. Eastern Kentucky - The Ramblers are projected to have a slight edge in this game by Pomeroy, almost completely due to home court advantage. The official Pomeroy prediction is 69-65, with Loyola having a 65 percent chance of victory. Last season the Colonels were very good at offense, but they'll be without Justin Stommes, a 6'7 senior guard - who was pre-season All-OVC, because he's suspended for the first three games of the season due to a team rules violation. Joshua Jones did play in their exhibition and scored 16 points on 5-12 shooting. Here's a more detailed look at the Colonels. In the past this game might turn into a three-point shooting contest - and that might be bad because the Colonels are a very good shooting team, but Loyola should be mindful of that and work the ball inside consistently.
Game 2: Loyola vs. Indiana State - The Sycamores are the best team in the Nick Kladis Classic according to Pomeroy, but the Ramblers are projected to have a 59 percent chance of winning the game thanks to the home court advantage. Dwayne Lathan appears to be the guy to stop on offense for the Sycamores. As a sophomore he used 31.1 percent of the team's possessions while on the court and he's picked right back up this season scoring 18 points and 11 points in Indiana State's two exhibition contests. Their head coach Greg Lansing is in his first season as a head man. Indiana State's other go-to-guy is Jake Kelly, a 6'6 senior guard that only played in 12 games because of a knee injury last season.
Game 3: Loyola vs. Texas Pan-American - This is a game that Loyola should dominate. The Broncs are a young team that showed some promise last season, but they're still coming from the Great West conference. In the front court watch out for Luis Valera. Also on the team is Perry Petty. He played a season at Santa Clara and was selected to the All-Great West preseason second team along with teammate Aaron Urbanus. Jared Maree (to the right) was an Honorable Mention.
The keys in all these games for Loyola will be the same. In fact, they'll be keys for the season. Let's call them "The Loyola Factors". They are:
- Don't turn the ball over (TO% less than 19 percent)
- Pound the ball inside (At least 12 points from one forward)
- Consistency from half to half (Similar score differentials in the halves)
- Clog the middle on defense (Opponent 2PT% less than 48 percent, block percentage of 9 percent or higher)
If Loyola can do those things consistently this can be a postseason team. The journey to March starts tonight.