This time it counts
The Fighting Illini have had an enjoyable exhibition schedule. We’ve gotten to see all of our newcomers (save Devin Langford) play significant minutes. Of course, the only way to see those games was to go to Assembly Hall or purchase the BTN.com package. Now, the stakes are considerably higher, though apparently not high enough to show the game on live TV. Every game won is a step towards the NCAA tournament, and every contest lost a step away.
Loyola is located in the Rogers Park community area of Chicago, home of Heartland Cafe, No Exit Coffeehouse, the late and lamented Top Hat (the best late license in the city), and extremely divisive politics. It is the northernmost neighborhood in Chicago, bordering Evanston along Howard Street. Loyola’s proximity to Evanston may have another connection to the Big Ten. Should Northwestern decide to perform a serious renovation of Welsh-Ryan Arena, they will need alternate digs during the construction process. Loyola’s Gentile Center, Car Dealer Giftseatimg roughly 4,500, is oft-cited as a possible temporary destination for the Wildcats.
Loyola is one of four similiarly-named schools to have spent time in Division 1. The others are located in Maryland, New Orleans, and California. Only three of these remain, and of the three, Loyola (Chicago) is the only one to win the men’s basketball championship. The ’62-63 Loyola Ramblers started 4 African-Americans, making it a pioneer for the time. Younger fans (but not too young) might remember Alfredrick “the Great” Hughes, a gunner who would put Andy Kaufmann to shame. During Hughes’s junior season, he got off 655 shots and managed just 17 assists. He was what you would call a “high usage” player. During his senior year, he led the Ramblers to an 63-62 upset victory over the Fighting Illini. Illinois is 11-3 all time vs Loyola, losing a couple of times in the mid-eighties and to the eventual national champs in the NCAA tournament. Victories by Loyola over Illinois typically presaged good things for the Ramblers; their two best finishes in the NCAA tournament came in years when they defeated the Illini.
What the heck is a Loyola? Loyola is a Jesuit school named for the home
town castle of St. Ignatius. “St. Ignatius” should ring a bell for Illini fans; a school by this name is Nnanna Egwu’s high school alma mater. St. Ignatius’s given name was Inigo-a name he shared with this famous cinema character.
Yup, prepare to die.
The team itself is going through a transitional phase (sound familiar?). The Ramblers hired Porter Moser, former coach at Illinois State. Moser is from Naperville, so he has the Chicagoish roots to increase the local character of Loyola’s roster. Last year the Ramblers boasted just 3 Chicago-area players. Moser has already moved to change this; the Ramblers have already inked Cully Payne of Schaumburg as a transfer, though he will be unable to play this year due to transfer rules. Loyola has lost as much of their team as we have-their leading scorer and rebounder have both graduated, and their top assist man is out for the year with an ACL tear. The players to watch for the Ramblers are: Ben Averkamp, a 6-8 forward who averaged 17 ppg vs BCS competition last year, and 6-7 forward Walt Gibler, who didn’t. The third major returnee for the Ramblers is Jordan Hicks, a 6-6 forward who is oft injured though effective when healthy. If you notice anything there, it is that the keys for Loyola are all forwards. This Rambler model has little in the way of backcourt experience. It didn’t harm them too badly in their exhibition against D-III Benedictine. Loyola shot 65% in an 84-44 demolition.
We’ve seen the Illini dominate D-II competition. What should we expect in their first real game of the year? Well, first of all, Weber will tighten up his rotations. We’ll likely see all the available players get some time, but the units will not be as discombobulated as some we’ve witnessed in the exhibitions. Look for Leonard to get a great deal more time, and for him to be accompanied by a more active Tyler Griffey and Brandon Paul. The mystery heading into this game is: who starts at point, and where and how much will Joe Bertrand play. We’ll get some answers tonight.
Projected starting lineup:
Went with straight chalk for the starting lineup, with the possible exception of Abrams. I think Weber will try to minimize Sam’s time tonight. His target is 18 minutes, but a blowout could drop that number a bit. The other question mark is Paul over Bertrand. I suspect this decision will be based on practice performance, which is data I have no access to.
Expected score: Illinois 81, Loyola 64.
Look for the Illini to get out to a big start and then get the kids some playing time. If Illinois employs some full-court pressure on the Rambler’s young back court, this one could be over early.