CHICAGO — Loyola is new to the Missouri Valley Conference and new to most Wichita State fans. The third-ranked Shockers play in Chicago on Wednesday in a game expected to hand them a share of the Missouri Valley Conference title with little trouble.
WSU is on track for an unbeaten season and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Loyola is trying to escape the cellar of the MVC.
Those who grew up in the Dave Stallworth era, however, remember a different tone to the rivalry. The teams were national powers when they first met in 1963 at Chicago Stadium, starting a series that lasted until 1976.
“This brings back good memories,” said former Shocker Art Louvar, who grew up near Chicago. “I was always pumped to play in those games. To play in those doubleheaders, to play in Chicago Stadium, that was a big deal.”
WSU (27-0, 14-0 MVC) can clinch at least a share of its eighth MVC title at Loyola (9-17, 4-10) on Wednesday at Gentile Arena. The Shockers lead second-place Indiana State, which plays Evansville on Wednesday, by three games with four to play.
The Shockers and Ramblers didn’t play as conference opponents in the 1960s and 1970s, yet they met twice a season from 1964-74. The series peaked early. The Shockers handed Loyola one of two losses during its 1963 NCAA championship season. In 1963-64, both teams were ranked in the top 10 when they played. In 1964-65, the Ramblers split the series with a Shocker team headed to the Final Four.
Befitting games of that stature, they often played at Chicago Stadium as part of marquee doubleheaders. In 1963, Bradley played Notre Dame after the Ramblers-Shockers game. In 1965, Iowa upset No. 1 UCLA. On New Year’s Eve 1968, No. 4 Kentucky played Wisconsin.
“I remember eating pre-game meal and seeing (Kentucky coach) Adolph Rupp for the first time,” former Shocker Ron Mendell said. “Those were big-time, marquee doubleheaders.”
With that regular presence in Chicago, the Shockers began recruiting players from the area. Louvar, from Morton West High in Berwyn, Ill., remembers the excitement of getting a recruiting letter from Shocker assistant Ron Heller. Louvar grew up listening to the Ramblers on the radio and watched Stallworth score 28 points in the 1963 game.
“That was a big recruiting tool,” Louvar said. “Ron Heller recruited that area pretty heavily.”
Greg Carney, from Mount Carmel High, joined WSU in 1967 and ranks 10 on the program’s career scoring list with 1,545 points. Parker High’s Ron Washington, who averages 14.7 points in his career, came to WSU in 1965. Greg Rataj, Bill Lang and Steve Kalocinski joined the Shockers in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
It will take several years for Loyola-WSU to generate that kind of interest in the current era. The Ramblers are rebuilding their program under second-year coach Porter Moser, trying to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1985. His team shoots the ball reasonably well (46.4 percent in MVC games) and defends effectively (allowing 43.3 percent).
Turnovers and rebounding, however, are a problem. The Ramblers rank last in the MVC in turnover margin at minus-2.86 and their average of 13.3 turnovers in conference games ranks ninth. Four times they committed 17 or more turnovers and lost all four.
“I use (WSU guard) Fred VanVleet’s name a lot,” Moser said. “You can’t put a price tag on valuing the ball.”
The Ramblers lost to WSU 57-45 at Koch Arena after cutting a 22-point deficit to nine in the second half. Freshman guard Milton Doyle scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half to help the Ramblers make the Shockers work harder than expected late in the game.
“Doyle really played well at the end of the game.” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He was very aggressive driving the lane. He comes right at you. You've got to be ready to guard at the point of attack.”
Moser watched the Shockers defeat Evansville 84-68 on Sunday and thought the Aces played hard and benefited from a revved-up crowd. It still wasn’t enough. He won’t waste time trying to convince his players that they are a better team than the Shockers.
“It’s not an NBA best-of-7 series,” Moser said. “It’s one night. We need to be better than them in a two-hour period.”
VanVleet on the ballot — VanVleet, WSU’s sophomore guard, is one of 23 finalists for the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award. Fans can vote for VanVleet at www.cousyaward.com until March 10. The field will be cut to five players with the winner announced April 7 at the Final Four.
VanVleet, from Rockford, Ill., averages 11.7 points and 5.2 assists. He is also on the watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, as is teammate Cleanthony Early. That trophy is awarded to the player of the year and selected by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
Time set for senior day — WSU’s March 1 game against Missouri State will tip at 1 p.m. at Koch Arena. ESPN will decide on the network (ESPN or ESPN2) after WSU’s Feb. 25 game at Bradley.