Joining me today to preview the Horizon League opener for Loyola and Milwaukee is RamblerHoops.com blogger Peter Skiadopolous. I have two articles here; one written by Peter from the Rambler point of view followed by one written by me from the Panther point of view.
Enjoy, and let’s get this thing started right! Go Panthers!
Loyola looking to build a winning streak
By Peter Skiadopolous
The time has come to separate contenders and pretenders in the Horizon League. Loyola (1-4) heads into Thursday’s game against Milwaukee (5-1) as the heavy underdog. Both the Milwaukee Panthers and Loyola Ramblers, however, are 0-0 in conference play so ultimately, the game is by no means one sided. Loyola’s dismal record reflects the tough level of competition they have had already, Illinois Fighting Illini (BigTen) and the Kansas State Wildcats (Big12) as well as some late game blunders against less talented teams. Now that Horizon League play is opening up, the real test of the season is forthcoming, because when all is said and done, the conference tournament winner gets an automatic NCAA tournament bid, something Loyola hasn’t been to since 1985.
While the current overall standings may not indicate a Rambler return , Porter Moser and his squad beg to differ. Moser has consistently touched on the dedication the team shows in practice and their commitment to weekly improvement. The Ramblers finally clicked on all cylinders during their 64-50 win over Fordham at the Gentile Arena and will need to bring equal intensity and game play into Milwaukee as they take on the Panthers this Thursday. Veteran members of this year’s team like Walt Gibler and Ben Averkamp already have a remembrance of the powerful Panthers, but freshman stand out guard Joe Crisman should be in for a treat. The hostility of a conference game will bring out the guards true colors and test his leadership skills that have been already commended by Porter Moser in post game conferences.
Loyola and Milwaukee have played some highly touted games recently, splitting the two contests last year with each school winning in away games. The previous twelve games between the two have also been split proving each school’s strong, competitive Horizon League nature. Expect a close battle in which neither team lets up. For the Ramblers, a fast paced attack should be employed as well as the tandem of Denzel Brito and Crisman at the guard positions. Milwaukee likely already has their eye on captains Gibler and Averkamp so it is a must Porter Moser utilizes the rest of the roster to his advantage, just as he did against Fordham. Loyola proved to be able to not rely only on the senior captains as they were held to a combined meager 17 points. The strong performances by supporting cast members showed the depth Porter Moser has at his finger tips and the Ramblers capability to adjust.
Panthers look to hit the ground running in Horizon League
By Jimmy Lemke
From the Milwaukee point of view, the Panthers have an opportunity to start 1-0 and get a leg up on the Horizon League conference race. Last season, Milwaukee was slow out of the gate, going 4-5 in the first half of conference play and tying Cleveland State and Butler for the conference crown. One of the big reasons they had to share the title was a loss in a game they should have won against Loyola at home. While the other four losses were understandable – at Green Bay, at Valpo, home against Cleveland State and at Wright State – dropping a home game to the Ramblers was a major flop game by the Panthers in 2010-11.
With conference title and NCAA Tournament aspirations in mind again in 2011-12, the Panthers need this victory to hit the ground running and prepare themselves for the long season. Lose and the Panthers will likely be looking up at Cleveland State and possibly Valpo for the rest of December.
The main storyline for tonight’s game is the return of Tony Meier. The senior forward who was named to the Horizon League Preseason First Team is a game time decision and will likely only play 10-15 minutes at most even if he does get action. Meier scored 12 points per game last season and was one of the best shooters in the conference, making 50% of field goals, 44% of three-pointers, and 80% of free throws. The senior has missed all games up to this point.
Loyola’s program under Porter Moser is playing a much different game than it did under Jim Whitesell. The Ramblers play a straight up man defense and will occasionally mix in a zone to confuse opponents or take advantage of poor shooting by the opponent. The defense is susceptible to a strong inside presence. The Panthers should be looking to pound the ball inside to get Ben Averkamp in foul trouble and force the Ramblers other post players to win the game for them. Walt Gibler is an outstanding role player, but he’s not a #1 post guy, and the Panthers can seriously take advantage of that.
The reason you try to get Averkamp out of the game is because he is their best remaining weapon. With Courtney Stanley out for the year and the graduations of Geoff McCammon, Andy Polka, and Terrance Hill coming last May, Averkamp has become the focal point of the Ramblers offense. The Panthers’ inside pair of Haarsma and Kelm will try to get Averkamp in foul trouble and force the Ramblers to become an outside shooting team.
The Ramblers might not be entirely against this; Denzel Brito is 8 of 19 from beyond the arc so far this season and Joe Crisman is 9 of 24. The pair of guards have proven to be Loyola’s most reliable scorers on the perimeter, as both are averaging over 40% from the field.
Milwaukee’s keys to victory will be to force the Ramblers to take many outside shots by getting Averkamp out of the game in foul trouble and getting up big early. If the Panthers can succeed in these two areas, the Ramblers will be in a hole that their talent just won’t be able to climb out of.
After tonight, the Panthers stay at home for a 1 p.m. tip-off against UIC on Saturday.
Other match-ups Thursday in Horizon League action include UIC at Green Bay, Youngstown State at Detroit, and Cleveland State at Wright State. Valparaiso and Butler open their conference season on Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse.