Loyola expects a full house for Sunday’s basketball game against No. 15 Wichita State. Like last season, hundreds of Shockers fans will show up. Unlike last season, Ramblers fans won’t give up home-court advantage easily.
“There’s a different sort of buzz and feel around campus than there ever was last year,” said Brian Day, Loyola’s assistant director of advancement for ticket operations. “You hear people talking about basketball. Last year, people were like ‘When do we play and what conference are we in now?’”
On Friday, Day said he expects Sunday’s walk-up crowd to fill the 4,561-seat Gentile Arena. Classes begin Monday and the athletic department is encouraging students to return early and come to the 4 p.m. game. WSU requested 100 additional tickets beyond the Missouri Valley Conference standard of 50 complimentary seats and many fans purchased tickets in other ways.
WSU guard Fred VanVleet, from Rockford, Ill., expects a contingent of around 20 family members and friends to attend. Getting tickets is harder this season and some of his friends are priced out of the arena.
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“Prices are getting up," he said. "It should be packed. They’re doing better, so that’s great for their excitement.”
The Ramblers (12-3, 2-1 MVC) are giving their fans a good reason to pay attention to their second season in the Valley. Loyola is 12-3 for the first time since 1965-66 and passed last season’s 10-win total in December. Its power ranking (RPI) of No. 46 is 246 spots better than last season’s final RPI of 292. Loyola is on pace for its first winning season since the 2010-11 team went 16-15.
“They could always shoot the ball,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “Now they’re playing very confidently. Milton Doyle is terrific and the seniors are giving them a lot of leadership.”
After last season’s 10-22 record and 4-14 MVC effort, it appeared it might take Loyola several years to climb the conference standings after moving from the Horizon League. A strong non-conference performance changed that perception. The Ramblers beat Texas Tech and Boise State in Las Vegas. After going 0-14 on the road last season, it is 4-2 with an attention-grabbing win at Evansville on Wednesday.
“They’re a year better,” WSU guard Ron Baker said. “The thing I noticed a lot is that (Christian) Thomas, their low-block guy, is a workhorse, demanding the ball a lot. The thing that makes them dangerous is how well they’re shooting right now.”
Loyola is shooting an MVC-leading 39.8 percent from three-point range and it makes 47.9 percent of all shots, tied for second. In three MVC games, it is 25 for 63 behind the arc, more makes and attempts than any other conference school. The Ramblers aren’t big, so they spread the court with shooters and make opposing big men defend in uncomfortable spots. Thomas scored 16 points against Evansville and made 7 of 9 shots and two three-pointers.
Doyle, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, is again Loyola’s key player. He enjoys more help this season and seems to trust his teammates more. Thomas leads the Ramblers with an average of 13.1 points. Doyle’s scoring is down from 14.9 points last season to 12.7, but he is shooting much better. Last season, he made 42.4 percent of his shots and 31.5 percent of his threes on his way to MVC Freshman and Newcomer of the Year honors. As a sophomore, he is shooting 51.8 percent and 51.1 percent from three-point range.
"He’s not trying to force as much," Ramblers coach Porter Moser said. "We’ve got a couple other guys that can create shots for him."
Doyle is playing with a torn labrum in his shooting shoulder. The only sign of the injury is the black compression shirt he wears under his uniform, apparel that the NCAA had to approve because it doesn’t match Loyola’s colors. He injured the shoulder in early October and opted to rehab and strengthen the shoulder instead of season-ending surgery.
Moser keeps Doyle out of some practice drills. It is not unusual for basketball players to play with the injury. The labrum provides stability to the shoulder, but an athlete can perform basketball functions with the injury. The danger is that the athlete may be more prone to a shoulder separation caused by a bump or a fall.
"Any guy on our scout team that touches him has to run 25 suicides," Moser said. "We really try to watch him. But you can’t overcompensate, because then he’s going to struggle in the league. The league is a physical, defensive (league)."
Against Evansville, Doyle made a step-back three to draw Loyola within one point in the final minute. Then he passed over two defenders to Thomas for the winning layup in a 71-70 victory.
"He’s a tough guy," Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. "He’s fun to watch. He’s not very fun to play against."
No. 15 Wichita State at Loyola
When: 4 p.m., Sunday
Where: Gentile Arena, Chicago
Records: WSU 13-2, 3-0 MVC; LU 12-3, 2-1
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
No. 15 Wichita St. at Loyola
Wichita State (13-3, 3-0): WSU swept the Ramblers last season, 57-45 at home and 88-74 in Chicago. The 57 points represented a season-low for the Shockers. VanVleet, from Rockford, Ill., made all six of his shots and all 10 of his free throws in the road win in front on numerous friends and family. He scored 22 points, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out six assists … WSU has won 21 straight MVC regular-season games and 24 straight against MVC schools … The Shockers lead the MVC in turnover margin at plus-4.13 and have committed fewer turnovers than all 15 opponents.
Loyola (12-3, 2-1): Junior F Montel James (6-7) missed Wednesday’s game at Evansville with a sprained ankle. He is considered questionable for Sunday’s game. James, from Coffeyville Community College, averages 7.9 points and 4.4 rebounds and started the previous 14 games … G Earl Peterson, also a transfer from Coffeyville, averages 7.5 points and has made 8 of 20 three-pointers … Freshman F Donte Ingram came off the bench to score 13 point, on 5-of-9 shooting, in Wednesday’s win at Evansville. Ingram averages 5.8 points and 3.7 rebounds.
RPI as of Saturday: WSU 11, LU 46