Three Thoughts - Loyola vs. Robert Morris

Hicks out on the wing

Loyola defeated Robert Morris 88-71 in Alumni Gym on Saturday night. It was the Ramblers' only exhibition contest of the 2010-11 season. It was also the final basketball game in the gym's history. Loyola started hot and led 47-27 at the end of the first half, but the Ramblers struggled a bit in the second half. Check out the photo gallery post for some photos from the game. Here's are three thoughts.

1. The return of Jordan Hicks is real. -- After tonight's game there is no doubt that Hicks is back and ready to go for his junior season. While his sophomore season was basically wiped out due to injuries, Hicks will be a big part of this team going forward. He was in the starting lineup and played 28 minutes, the most of any Rambler. 
"It feels great just cause it's good to be back out there with my teammates," Hicks said. "I'm just here to help the team win."
While the stat line - 4-6 from the field, 1-2 from three, 5 boards, 9 points, 1 block - doesn't leap off the page, it doesn't really encompass Hicks' contributions. He'll be a big help immediately on defense and he fits in well offensively.
"Defensively I thought he was solid," said Jim Whitesell. "Offensively, I thought he was pretty active and he didn't force anything. ... He's always been pretty good as a starter."
Hicks' return also meant juggling of the starting lineup. Whitesell decided to bring Terrance Hill and Andy Polka, two veteran players that started most of last season, off the bench. Walt Gibler and Hicks got the starts in their place. 

2. Sometimes Courtney Stanley is good, sometimes Stanley is bad. -- Both sides of Stanley's game - and how they affect the Loyola offense - were on display on Saturday night. In the first half Stanley had 7 assists and 0 turnovers and Loyola scored 47 points and allowed 27. In the second half he had 1 assist and 4 turnovers and the Ramblers scored 41 and gave up 44. Of course it wasn't all because of Stanley, but this is something Loyola is going to have watch constantly. After 3 turnovers in the first half, the Ramblers turned it over 11 times in the second half. That's a sign of bad habits coming back.

Of course, having a reliable backup for Stanley would help Whitesell limit his point guard's minutes and help teach about mistakes. It looks like Denzel Brito is going to fill that role. Brito played 18 minutes with 1 assist and 3 turnovers. Part of the rash of turnovers for Stanley and Brito was the pressing defense that Robert Morris played, especially guard Diante Watkins. The Ramblers won't see ball pressure that intense for most of the season. 
Also in the mix at the backup point guard spot are Hill and Chim Kadima. Kadima didn't play on Saturday because of an injury.

3. The post forms the foundation for Loyola. --  Gibler scored 18 points and grabbed 9 boards, Averkamp scored 16 and grabbed 8 boards and Polka and Jonathan Gac combined for 7 points and 9 boards in 33 minutes. After an off season spent getting stronger, Averkamp looks ready to go for his sophomore season and Loyola had its best success on offense when they pounded the ball into their dominant post players.

"We think Ben has ability to make a jump," Whitesell said. "We'll see. He has a lot to work on, but he has very good practice habits and he's had a good start. He's really worked and improved. ... We're happy with that." 
Polka still thinks he's a guard in a forward's body a bit too much for my liking, but he did finish with 4 assists and 1 turnover. Gac is long and lean, but he can contribute this season on hustle plays if Averkamp or Gibler are in foul trouble. Gac isn't someone that can step in and play 19 minutes a night like Averkamp did last season, but he doesn't have to be either.
Loyola also used its advantage in the post to pound the offensive glass and get Robert Morris into foul trouble. The Ramblers had an offensive rebounding percentage of 42 percent, which is outstanding. They also attempted 38 free throws, making 25.
Random notes: Hill still took too many bad shots (4-11, 11 points), Geoff McCammon led the Ramblers with 19 points but had three turnovers, Loyola had 6 blocks - including 3 by Averkamp - he should finish in the Top 25 in block percentage this season in the NCAA.

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