Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Off-Season Report: Loyola Men Moving Up

Here's another in the series looking at MAAC teams.

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 10-8 in MAAC play, 15-15 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: The 10-8 record was the program's third-best ever in conference play, and was very nearly much better. The Greyhounds lost games by a point against Rider, by two against Niagara and by three against Saint Peter's. But, it also had some impressive close-margin victories, too, with wins over regular-season champion Fairfield by one; over conference-tournament winner Saint Peter's by two; and by third-place regular-season finisher Iona by three in overtime. Was a 15-15 overall record disappointing? Maybe a little, but let's put that in perspective. It wasn't that long ago that Loyola's program was one of the worst, in terms of record, in all of Division I with its 1-27 overall mark in the 2003-04 season. After that head coach Jimmy Patsos took over, and your blogging hoopscribe remembers him responding, at one point during a 6-22 2004-05 season's finish, to some fan heckling with words to the effect that "wait until I get my players here." Since then, his teams have been 94-92 overall and 55-53 in conference play, a vast improvement since that 1-27 season. This past season's team also made a nice move forward from a 6-12 MAAC record the previous year to its 10-8 performance in 2010-11. This past season was a blending of some veterans (center Shane Walker and point guard Brian Rudolph) and newcomers (transfer Erik Etherly and contributing freshmen Dylan Cormier and Justin Drummond). All things considered, finishing fifth in the conference and getting double digit league victories for just the third time in the program's affiliation with MAAC was anything but a disappointment.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Start with two real good freshmen guards in 6-4 Justin Drummond (9.8 points, 3.1 rebounds) and 6-2 Dylon Cormier (8.1, 3.0). If they make the expected step up from first-year player to experienced performer, then Loyola's perimeter play should be strong for the foreseeable future. The 6-10 Walker continued to establish himself as one of the better big men in the conference, averaging 11.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and blocking 47 blocks. And Etherly, a 6-7 transfer from Northeastern, proved an effective front-court performer (10.8 points, 7.6 rebounds). Rudolph had a nice senior year as the team's point guard, averaging 4.4 assists per contest and finishing second all-time on the Greyhounds' career assist chart. J'hared Hall, a 6-2 junior guard, became a nice offensive force off the bench, averaging 8.8 points, making 41 3-pointers and shooting .462 percent from the field, a terrific percentage for a perimeter player. It was enough to earn him the 6th Man of the Year award in the MAAC. Sophomore Robert Olson, another perimeter player, a 6-6 swingman, also had a nice year (9.1 points, 3.0 rebounds). The regular-season victories over Fairfield, Iona and Saint Peter's showed that the Greyhounds could play with any MAAC team on a given night. However, a loss to Niagara and a regular-season ending setback against Canisius also indicated that there was too much inconsistency for this past season's team to have done better than its final record.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Start with the continuing saga of gifted guard Jamal Barney who was in and out of the lineup through 16 games before he and the program had a parting of the ways. Barney was averaging 10.3 points before his departure and, had led the MAAC in scoring in the 2008-09 season. Had Barney, who had a litany of personal issues, resembled the former scoring leader that he was ... well, Loyola assuredly would have won a few more games. Then again, his continued presence might have meant less playing time for the youngsters, who surely will benefit from the year's experience. Then, too, the team dealt with transition ... two freshmen and a transfer getting major minutes. Anthony Winbush, a 6-7 junior forward who averaged 7.3 points and 3.9 rebounds as a sophomore, was injured in the season's eighth game and didn't return. And Julius Brooks, a 6-9 sophomore forward who flashed some signs as a freshman, missed 12 midseason games and never regained his freshman year's effectiveness. The close losses might have been a little troubling, but they were balanced off by quality close victories, too.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Expectations are that Loyola will move forward next season. Right now it looks like Fairfield and Iona are considered the top two teams for 2011-12, but Loyola isn't far behind with this past season's top six scorers (excluding Barney) returning along with the likely return to full health of Winbush and Brooks. Someone, though, needs to step into the point guard's role vacated by Rudolph. That might be Cormier. Or, it could be incoming freshman R.J. Williams, a four-year starter at Baltimore's strong St. Francis Academy. Otherwise the team returns just about everyone else of note, and that experience will mean less transition and, theoretically, improved team "chemistry." Overall the 2011-12 product might be the best collection of talent Patsos has had compared to his previous seven years with the program. Patsos is a proverbial lightning rod, his on- and off-court antics both innovative and, at times, slightly puzzling. But, he can definitely coach and the view here is that he'll take a program he has already restored to respectability to the next level. It might happen this year, or very quickly after that. More help is coming as 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward Jordan Latham, who played this past season as a freshman at Xavier, transferred in and will be eligible for the 2012-13 season.

2011-12 PREDICTION: The likelihood is a third- or a fourth-place finish for the coming season, another step forward. But the Greyhounds certainly appear capable of foiling that prediction and competing for the top spot, particularly if a point guard steps up.

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