I’m ranking and previewing the nine teams of the Horizon League leading up to the start of the 2012-2013 season. Rankings are based on a host of tempo-free and other factors. I invite your take in the comments section below.
Last season: After losing a trio of their most productive starters, and in the midst of a coaching change, the Ramblers staggered to the finish line last season with a 7-23 record that included just one Horizon League victory.
The Ramblers may have finished last in the season standings but they ranked ninth in both offensive (0.935 points scored per possession) and defensive (1.027 ppp) efficiency.
Coach: Porter Moser is now in his sophomore season as head coach. Already he’s making his recruiting presence known in Chicago with some big gets, but he has yet to show that his team can win.
Returning minutes: 55.49% (fifth) Returning possessions: 55.91% (fifth) Returning scoring: 57.72% (fifth) Returning starters: 4
1. Ben Averkamp (28 games/27 starts/1.04 points per possession) - Big Ben is again the face for another young Ramblers team. The 6-8 senior forward logged more minutes (79.4 percent), possessions (28.3 percent) and more shots (33.4 percent) than any other Rambler last year, and was named to the All-Horizon Second Team at the end of the season.
His assist rate (22.8 percent) was also high for a front court player and increased year-to-year along with his defensive rebounding rate (19.7 percent). Thanks to an incoming refined backcourt field for this season, Averkamp should be able to focus on his inside game. Loyola needs blocks, boards and big layups from their big man to make up for the loss of Walt Gibler.
2. Jordan Hicks (20/16/0.99) - Hicks, the team’s only other senior, missed 10 games with a foot injury last season that added to a growing collection of injuries over the years. His shooting stroke started to come around towards the end of last season, and his versatile 6-6 size should prove useful in Moser’s liquid lineup — if he stays healthy.
3. Joe Crisman (26/25/0.91) - As a freshman starting in the two-guard spot, Crisman turned some heads last season.
He’s a fun-to-watch scrappy inside-outside player that just needs to slow down and pick his looks a little better. Crisman made more attempts from range than any other Rambler last season (90), but only 26 found their mark. That’s a lot of wasted possessions, especially given his low (13.6 percent) assist rate. He’s had another year and some gametime in Italy with a shortened 24-second shot clock that may have helped improve his game.
4. Christian Thomas (30/14/0.94) - Thomas filled the role of poor-man’s Gibler last season. He’s a solid inside-the-arc shooter that coughed up too many turnovers and didn’t effectively use his 6-5 size in the post.
1. Walt Gibler - Although he missed five games due to injury, Gibler still was able to add his name to Loyola’s career 1,000/500 club last season. He led the team in both offensive (9.2 percent) and defensive (19.8 percent) rebounding rates last season, and his presence underneath will be difficult to replace.
Gibler now plays professionally for Germany’s Leitershofen team.
2. Denzel Brito - Loyola’s starting point guard transferred to a different Loyola team — the one in Maryland — for this season. It’s possible that the sophomore just didn’t want to have to play behind incoming transfer point guard Cully Payne, but his father told the Wareham Courier that Brito was told he would be “the 13th guy on a 12-man roster.”
Either way, Brito and his sixth-ranked assist rate among Horizon League point guards are gone.
3. Chim Kadima - Kadima earned starting nods in 12 games as a fill-in last season but didn’t contribute much of note. He’ll be playing this season for D-II St. Leo University in Florida.
1. Cully Payne - At long last, the former starting point guard from Todd Lickliter’s Iowa team makes his debut in the Windy City, of which he is a suburban native.
As a freshman Payne handed out assists at a 26 percent clip (seventh among Big Ten players that year) and was named to Sporting News‘ All-Big Ten Freshman Team, but Payne suffered a season-ending sports hernia just five games into his sophomore year and then transferred. He’s the obvious choice to lead the Ramblers’ young back court.
2. Nick Osborne - Osborne passed up Big Ten offers as well as scholarships at Miami, Ball St. and Fordham to play at Loyola after wrapping up his junior season at Muncie Central in Indiana where he averaged a double-double per game.
Osborne’s 6-8 size and strength will be an asset inside. He should receive significant minutes in his freshman season, and maybe he’ll vie for Thomas’ starting job.
3. Jeff “KeKe” White - A native of Peoria, Illinois, White (6-1) ranked 16th in Joe Henricksen’s annual list of Illinois recruits. He had offers from Bradley, Southern Illinois and Missouri State.
He’ll be a solid reserver in the backfield, but should focus on shoring up his athleticism in the meantime.
4. Tanner Williams - Williams was ranked 21st on the above recruiting list. The 6-6 big comes from western Illinois, and has been praised for his athleticism and play-making ability. It’s likely that he won’t see any significant minutes this season though.
Projected starting five:
Payne, Crisman, Averkamp, Hicks, Osborne
Marquee matchups (full schedule here):
1. Vs. Mississippi State on Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. - As some have noted, the Bulldogs are not going to be good this season. So, a shot at a real live SEC team at home should be welcomed. This game will even be carried on ESPNU, although not live.
2. At DePaul on Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. - The local forced rivalry continues. This really could be a good game this season though. The Blue Demons won the last two by double-digit margins.
3. At Michigan State on Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. - I wonder how much the Spartans are paying for this win. It means coverage and TV for the Ramblers.
1. Cully Payne. He could be one of the league’s most dominant point guards in a conference known for solid guard play. But Moser is aware that’s it’s been almost two year since Payne has played a D-I opponent.
Still, Payne will be an asset for shaping young guards like Crisman and redshirt freshman Milton Doyle.
2. Italy Trip. The team traveled to Italy over the summer to get some much-needed practice time under their belts. They won three of four games against professional teams there. Early starts can’t hurt.
3. Big and talented recruiting class. Moser brought in seven newcomers this year, and was only able to do so by freeing up roster spots in the offseason. Kody Williams, a JUCO point guard, joins six freshman to form Moser’s first real recruiting class at Loyola.
It’s clear too that Moser had size in mind with this class. Three recruits, including Osborne, are 6-8 or taller.
1. They’re young. It’ll be an asset down the road, but for now Loyola’s two seniors — Averkamp and Hicks — will have to lead a decidedly young squad through some difficult times.
2. Shooting woes. The Ramblers were eighth in the Horizon League in shooting percentage from both inside and outside the arc last season, and Gibler, one of their best shooters, is gone. Somebody will have to step up. Fortunately Christian Thomas (57.6% eFG%) was a bright spot last season here, and Hicks can be a streaky shooter as well.
3. Uptempo? Moser said before last season started and before he lost a lot of his roster to injuries that he wanted to play uptempo basketball. The Ramblers instead averaged less than 61 possessions per game to become the slowest team in the Horizon League. Payne and some athletic recruits could make uptempo basketball a reality this season, but I’m not holding my breath.
So far Moser has done everything right in his second season. He’s brought in a great recruiting class to shore up his team; he took them to Italy to get some early time together, and he has made some difficult roster decisions.
This Loyola squad, while still young, has real potential. Payne fixes up their backfield problems from a year ago — both defensively and offensively, and Osborne should be a real threat for them inside. It’s also easy to forget the utility that Hicks brings if he can stay healthy. Crisman said in his blog today that Moser is focusing on defense in practice.
Things can only go wrong from here. Let’s hope they don’t.