No. 21 Loyola Chicago eyes sweep of Southern Illinois

NCAA

While a lesser sample size has left college basketball’s NET metric a little less reliable than normal, it’s hard to ignore the number next to No. 21 Loyola Chicago.

The Ramblers, who close their regular season Saturday by hosting Missouri Valley Conference rival Southern Illinois, were rated 10th by the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) through Thursday. The NCAA uses that rating to evaluate teams’ potential seeding for its tournament.

That puts Loyola ahead of every team from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pac-12.

Yet Loyola might not even be the top seed for the MVC tourney next weekend in St. Louis. Even if the Ramblers bag their 22nd straight home-court win Saturday, they would require help from Bradley, which hosts Drake.

Loyola (20-4) and Drake (24-2) are each 15-2 in the conference. The teams split their conference series two weekends ago in Des Moines, the Ramblers rolling through the first game for an 81-54 victory before falling in overtime 51-50 on Valentine’s Day.

If both win on Saturday, the top seed would come down to the second tiebreaker. Both teams registered sweeps of third-place Missouri State. However, the Bulldogs earned two victories against fourth-place Indiana State while the Ramblers could manage just a split of their series with the Sycamores.

Regardless, Loyola is in good shape for no worse than an at-large bid into the NCAA field with a potentially favorable seed.

“No one worked harder to get opponents,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “We try so hard to schedule games, and COVID made it so hard. For instance, we found out we could play Wisconsin. … We were playing UIC on Sunday and then we left for Madison on Monday.

“But we can build a resume within our league this year, which makes a difference. Missouri State and Indiana State are Quad 2 wins and Drake was a Quad 1 win. The league is strong night in and night out.”

The lower the “quad” number, the higher rated the win is.

The Ramblers reached the 20-win mark Friday night with a 60-52 win over Southern Illinois in the opener of the two-game series. Marquise Kennedy scored 16 points off the bench for Loyola, which earned a 24-2 advantage in bench points.

While the Ramblers are focused on preparing for their first NCAA Tournament since reaching the Final Four in 2018, the Salukis (11-12, 5-12) could get their leading scorer back for the first time since early January.

Marcus Domask (16.3 points per game) injured his foot on Jan. 4 at Drake and has missed the past 13 games. He has practiced recently without a walking boot.

Before Domask’s injury, Southern Illinois was good enough to start the season 7-0, including a victory at Butler on Dec. 21 when he carved up the Bulldogs for 26 points.

“We’re going to do what’s best for Marcus and how he feels,” Salukis coach Bryan Mullins told the Southern Illinoisan. “His long-term health is more important than playing one game right now.”

Southern Illinois canned 12 of 20 3-point attempts Friday but scored only 14 points in the paint and earned only two foul shots, missing them both. Steven Verplancken Jr. posted game-high totals of 17 points and eight rebounds, going 5 of 5 from 3-point range.

–Field Level Media

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