Two games are on tap for the first night of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
At 6 p.m. in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game, Loyola takes on Bradley. Despite the Braves going 3-15 in the conference, one of those wins came against these very Ramblers.
Although Loyola is the higher seed, it has the most pressure on it. The Ramblers first joined the league in the 2013-2014 season and quickly underwhelmed in their inaugural season.
Last season was a different story.
Loyola flashed success in the nonconference portion of their season, but things really got going for them in March. After entering as the No. 6, the Ramblers upset Indiana State in the quarterfinals of Arch Madness and then went on to win the College Basketball Invitational.
After another strong showing in the first half of this season, the Ramblers have been a major question mark, losing to Drake and Bradley but sweeping Northern Iowa.
Both the Braves and the Ramblers enter today’s game coming off a loss.
Tipping at approximately 8:30 p.m. is No. 7 Missouri State vs. No. 10 Drake. The Bears beat the Bulldogs twice in the regular season, each time by only nine points. The latest meeting coming just eight days ago in Springfield.
While the Bulldogs are coming off a win against the Ramblers, the Bears are coming off what could be considered two losses. MSU lost their regular season finale against SIU in a hard-fought battle, but maybe more importantly it lose yet another guard to injuries, this one coming to freshman Jarred Dixon.
The Bears are now down to just junior transfer Dequon Miller and freshman Ryan Kreklow to handle guard duties. Sophomore Chris Kendrix and Loomis Gerring are both listed as guard/forward on the official roster, but both of them have typically only played on the wing and are not used to ball-handling duties.
The clearest issue for MSU will be their lack of experience. Miller has proved he can handle the workload, but this is still only his first year at this level. Kreklow is also in his first year and was originally going to redshirt.
Kendrix was voted to the MVC’s ‘Most Improved’ team, which he said was a huge honor. It was a big moment for the sophomore, who at one point this season was benched because he was ‘struggling with some personal issues.’
Gerring and Kendrix haven’t been all bad from a scoring standpoint since playing more of the guard position. Even their rebounds have increased. Yet both struggle with turnovers.
Miller is the only true point guard and has already played 1033 minutes this season. He suffered a deep-thigh bruise against Loyola on Feb. 21, so to say he has “wear and tear” would be an understatement.
Bradley, Drake and MSU are all young and looking to grow but Loyola boasts an older team. All four need to end on a positive note, no matter what that looks like.