A new season and a new conference for the Ramblers as they begin their first season as a member of the Atlantic-10 conference. Loyola finished their final season in the Missouri Valley with a conference tournament championship and a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The Ramblers then lost in the first-round game to Ohio State 54-41.
Now, Head Coach Drew Valentine enters his second season as Loyola head coach. Valentine was previously the defensive coordinator as an assistant at Loyola under Porter Moser, so it’s not a surprise he was able to keep Loyola as an elite defensive unit in his first season at the helm.
Losses: Lucas Williamson, Aher Uguak, Ryan Schwieger, Chris Knight, Tate Hall
Additions: Bryce Golden (Butler), Sheldon Edwards (Valparaiso), Philip Alston (California (PA)), Jeameril Wilson (Lehigh)
Adding Bryce Golden and Sheldon Edwards via the transfer portal is a huge boost to the depth of this Loyola squad. Golden is mobile big with three years of Big East starting experience. He plays with an edge and can stretch the floor (knocked down 23 threes for Butler last season at a 36.5% rate).
After losing Lucas Williamson on the wing, Drew Valentine re-loaded with transfers Sheldon Edwards and Jeameril WiIlson. This in addition to two rising sophomores in Saint Thomas and Ben Schwieger. Thomas didn’t play big minutes, but he did play in 26 games last season. At 6-7, 200 he has the body to compete as a wing. Schwieger redshirted last year and has put on 20 pounds, so he is option at the wing position too.
Braden Norris and Marquise Kennedy return in the backcourt and Kennedy will likely take on the role of guarding the opponent’s best player. Jacob Hutson provides depth at 6’11, but he also had some big games early on last season, including a 26-point outburst against Arizona State in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Philip Alston is a DII transfer who provides even more depth inside and a guy Valentine said can “play an enforcer role”.
As was evident in Loyola’s 54-41 NCAA Tournament loss last year, Loyola plays slow and hangs their hat on the defensive end. Valentine’s philosophy favors getting back on defense over crashing the offensive boards. That explains why the ramblers were 278th in the country in offensive rebound percentage last season. But on the other hand, Loyola does get back and force opponents to play in the half-court and have long possessions. Loyola opponents had the 7th longest average possession length in the country.
Offensively, Loyola works to get high percentage shots, and they are one of the best in the country at getting them. They finished last year 14th in the country in effective field goal % (55.6%). They are either getting shots close to rim or from the three. With the addition of Bryce Golden, Valentine might run some 5-out sets and really take advantage of the spacing to get more high-quality drives to the rim and threes. On occasion, the Ramblers turned the ball over too much, but they do have two seniors returning in the backcourt.
Loyola opens with Fairleigh Dickinson on November 7th. They’ll play in the Myrtle Beach Invitational from November 17th-20th. They take on Tulsa in the first round there. Other key matchups for the Ramblers include at Harvard on November 25th, hosting DePaul on December 3rd, Clemson in Atlanta on December 10th, and at Stanford on December 22nd, before beginning A-10 play.
The transition to the A-10 will give this team a new set of challenges. There’s some roster turnover, but not enough to think Loyola won’t be competing for a spot in the NCAA Tournament once again. Defense, as always, will be the strength of the Ramblers.