Monday, June 4, 2012

Loyola Men's Report: More Success Coming Up

We now return to your regularly scheduled broadcast ... or, posts, as the case may be ... with the resumption of program reports, a look back and ahead at MAAC teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 13-5 in MAAC play, 24-9 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: The program's first trip to the NCAA tournament in 17 years, that came as the result of a tenacious defensive effort in a 48-44 victory over Fairfield in the conference tournament's championship game. The result, though, was a tough NCAA tournament draw of Ohio State, and the Buckeyes proved a little too big and too talented in a game that wasn't truly in doubt for long. Still, a terrific year for the Greyhounds. Coach Jimmy Patsos, in his eighth year, has been building toward this since his arrival from being an assistant at Maryland. His energy and outgoing nature helped resuscitate interest in the program (it had back-to-back home court sellouts this season for the first time ever) and, now, the program did more than lure fans ... it won. A year ago, after losing in the 2010-11 MAAC tournament, Patsos spoke about returning relevance to his program and that the next step would be winning a MAAC title. Although Loyola didn't win the regular-season crown, the tournament title and NCAA birth pretty much accomplished what Patsos had spoken about the previous year. There were highs and lows along the way. A mid-February demolition of then-first place team Iona (87-81, although the Greyounds led by 25 points with about 12 minutes remaining) was probably a necessary confidence builder. After that, Loyola appeared to be in the hunt to take the regular-season title but, then, suffered a probable letdown, losing three straight league games (to Fairfield, Marist and Manhattan) before winning its last regular-season game (vs. Manhattan) to clinch the second seed in the MAAC tournament. After that, three tournament wins and the NCAA trip for a team without a singular star (leading scorer Erik Etherly's 13.7 ppg. average led the team). It was more than enough for Patsos to be named the league's Coach of the Year, a much-deserved honor.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The big victory over Iona was a definite signal that the Greyhounds had gone beyond mere relevance. And, then came the adversity of a three-game league losing streak. To Loyola's credit, it quickly regrouped and went on to win the post-season tournament title. It certainly put the program on, at least, the regional map with the type of publicity it never could have otherwise generated. And, the school reaped even more when its lacrosse program recently captured the national title. These certainly are good days for the Baltimore college. Back to basketball ... Patsos has used the platform of an NCAA appearance well, throwing out the first ball at an Orioles' game, meeting up with "Mad Money's" Jim Cramer at an NBA playoff game in Boston, hobnobbing with a variety of dignitaries at a dinner prior to the Preakness, the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, etc. It all came about as a result of good tough play and a team-oriented style. Etherly was a first-team MAAC all-star, but his stats (13.7 points, 7.5 rebounds) didn't match that of a few other players in the league. But, four players averaged double figures. and the team legitimately went eight deep. Definitely success by committee. The team also embraced Patsos' message. He is often blustery and, maybe even a little heavy handed. But his players respond. As a motivator and in terms of getting a team to play well together, he is among the best in the MAAC, if not the mid-major level. It was enough to get off to an 8-1 non-league start, followed by losses to St. Bona's and Kentucky (but, Loyola was within five of the eventual national champs with 17:45 left), followed by a nice league season and, then, the NCAA berth.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Hard to find faults with a 24-victory season that results in an NCAA appearance. One fault was the match-up with a loaded Ohio State team, but that wasn't anything Loyola could control. Otherwise ... Loyola might have added the MAAC's regular-season title to its portfolio, were it not for the late-season three-game slide. So, that's probably the first order of motivational business Patsos will bring up prior to the upcoming season. Otherwise, hard to take exception to much else during the past year.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The potential for more of the same. Either Loyola or Manhattan will probably be the preseason pick to win the league. And, why not Loyola? The Greyhounds have their top three scorers returning, and it would have been the top four had sophomore guard Justin Drummond, who came off the bench for most of the past season, not opted to transfer out. Still, Etherly and guards Dylon Cormier (13.4 ppg.) and Robert Olson (11.1 ppg.) are all back. Freshman R.J. Williams, a 5-8 point guard who had a solid first year, should come back able to contribute more. The biggest loss, both literally and figuratively, is 6-10 senior Shane Walker (9.0, 6.5), who provided good defense, shot-blocking, some rebounding, clutch play and leadership. But, there's a capable replacement in place in 6-8/250-pound bruiser Jordan Latham, who started his career at Xavier. The program also has five incoming players, and if one or two of them step up then the team's depth will e good again, too. One freshman of note is 6-6 forward Jarred Jones of Baltimore's John Carroll H.S. You can never be sure about how good incoming players will be, but Jones will be the fifth Baltimore-area player on next year's roster, which is also a credit to Patsos' work. In the not-so-distant past the program couldn't attract talent from its backyard. But, now, local standouts are more than willing to come aboard.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: They'll have the proverbial target, as the likely preseason favorite, on their backs. But, the team is more than capable of handling that. If Latham gives them a decent inside presence, and one or two of the incoming freshmen step up ... next year could match this past season's. Your hoopscribe is picking Loyola as the early favorite for 2012-13.

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