Last night, as I watched Brandon Wood and Norris Cole take over games for Valparaiso and Cleveland State and carry their teams into the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament, I thought about what Loyola and UIC are missing. The reasons why they weren't there.
For the Ramblers, I think the problem was that they didn't have a guy that could take over games. Yes, Geoff McCammon won the Sixth Man of the Year award. He was a good player, but he was a guy that the other team could take away. In conference play you need a guy the other team can never take away. Loyola didn't have that this season.
For the Flames the problem is a little more nuanced. Even though he didn't make any of the all-league teams I think Robo Kreps could've been that guy. Unfortunately during his time at UIC the Flames failed to put the talent around him that was necessary to win. You can't have just one guy. Look at Cleveland State, while Cole took over the game in the second half, the Vikings got key contributions from Trevon Harmon (14 points) and Jeremy Montgomery (16 points) and a number of other players as well.
Tonight, four of the five players on the All-Horizon League First Team will play in the semifinals. The fifth, Wright State's Vaughn Duggins, was eliminated by Cole last night. It takes a very talented player to get this far into the tournament.
The Flames are searching for that player. Howard Moore is recruiting hard. Hopefully some of the players he brings in will be able to develop into that superstar type player. Players like Jerome Brown and Will Simonton could develop into that guy over time.
But at Loyola is that what they're really looking for? Colin Beatty and Joe Crisman are nice recruits, but neither profiles as a superstar player. Maybe Jordan Hicks is that guy when healthy. Maybe Ben Averkamp can develop in that player as he gains more strength and consistency in his junior season. But neither guy is definitely going to be, or - more importantly - definitely wants to be, "the guy".
It makes me wonder if we'll end up right back here next season.
P.S. Horizon League Semifinals Live-Blog at 4:45 p.m. CT tonight!