Monday, November 8, 2010

Loyola Men's Preview: Everything in Place

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams. Up now ...


2009-10 RECORD: 6-12 in MAAC play, 13-17 overall.

COACHES' PRESEASON PREDICTION: Picked to finish 6th by coaches in their preseason poll.

KEY RETURNEES: 5-11 senior guard Brian Rudolph (7.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists), 6-10 junior forward Shane Walker (8.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.5 blocks), 6-7 junior forward Anthony Winbush (7.3 points, 3.8 rebounds), 6-3 senior guard Jamal Barney (12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds), 6-6 sophomore forward Robert Olson (6.4 points, 2.6 rebounds), 6-9 sophomore forward Julius Brooks (3.7 points, 4.1 rebounds).

KEY LOSS: Guard Brett Harvey (12.5 points).

NOTES: Harvey, at his best, ranked with the conference's elite guards. But, he wasn't at his best at all last season due to a variety of injuries. And, the Greyhounds not only have every player of significance returning, but they all appear healthy, which often wasn't the case last year. Besides Harvey, forward Anthony Winbush, off to a very good start, missed the second half of the season with injuries. Barney, the conference's scoring champ two years ago, missed several games to deal with family issues.
Despite those woes, the Greyhounds were close, losing seven conference games by eight points or less. When they were healthy early they earned a 13-point victory over Vermont, the America East's eventual representative to the NCAA tournament, and went on the road for a win at Indiana, arguably the conference's top road victory last season. Although the injuries ensured that success wouldn't continue, the 13 overall victories marked the fifth straight season of double-figure wins for the program, the first time that has happened in its Division I history.
Everone returning also includes the architect of the recent success for the program, Jimmy Patsos who was reportedly considering a return to an assistant's position at Maryland, where he served prior to taking over Loyola. And, the return of the oft-volatile, always entertaining and shrewd Patsos is definitely a good thing.
What's not in place for a potential run at a league title?
Let's see...
Height: Walker is 6-10, and Brooks is 6-9. Not too many other teams have such quality height.
An experienced point guard: Rudolph is a senior and is poised to become the school's all-time assist leader.
Perimeter standouts: Barney is as explosive a scorer as there is in the league and is reportedly back in playing condition after playing much of last season without that benefit.
Depth: Winbush was off to a great start last year and Olson was an all-rookie team member, and both might come off the bench this season.
Incoming help: Erik Etherly, a 6-7 transfer from Northeastern, will have a significant impact according to multiple sources and he had a 19-point, 10-rebound effort in a recent exhibition game. And, Dylon Cormier, a 6-2 freshman guard, is also reportedly ready to contribute.
It sounds like the Greyhounds legitimately can go 10 deep with solid players.
What's not there? This group hasn't done anything yet. Last year's team finished eighth in the conference standings and the 2008-09 squad finished seventh. Only Rudolph was around the last time the Greyhounds had even a little success, finishing fourth in the conference in the 2007-08 season.

HOW LOYOLA WILL SUCCEED: Everyone plays up to their capabilities. Actually, that's not even needed. If even seven of the top 10 players perform at least up to expectations and two or three others contribute anything, this could be a very good team. Rudolph is an indispensible piece, even if he's not an "elite" point guard. But, he's very solid and he's all the team has unless Cormier, a freshman, is ready. Etherly looks like a very nice addition. If Walker can step up just a little, he'll be a real force inside. Still, the only proven scorer on the roster is Barney, who no longer looks like the program's featured player. Etherly, though, seems capable of filling that role. Almost everyone among the program's top 10 players appears capable of approaching double figures in scoring on a given night. Between the size, versatility and depth the Greyhounds should be a very difficult team to contend with.
Then there's this issue: Teams that succeed in the MAAC traditionally have at least one, if not two, truly elite talents. It's hard to figure whether Loyola has one or not. Without having that one player who can make a big play in any given game's crunch time teams at this level rarely contend for league titles.
It should be an interesting season discovering if someone like that steps up for Loyola, and whether the team can contend for a league title.

COACH'S COMMENTS: "We've got two seniors and four guys overall who can really play the guard position, and in this league you need that type of depth," said coach Jimmy Patsos. "Walker has been around a whole year and there are guys who transfer in from a higher level (Walker came in from Maryland) who don't listen to us telling them how good this league really is until they see it. Etherly is going to play. We expect a new approach overall. We've hit a plateau. We want to get past that and to get to the top."

PREDICTION: Get past the bombast and the theatrics and understand that Patsos can really get maximum production out of his teams. Walker got significantly better as the season progressed. There's height, talent and enough experience here. The expectation is that Loyola will definitely finish in the upper half of the standings and if there are expectations of competiting for a regular-season title ... they're not unfounded.

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