After opening the season with a 94-57 shellacking of FNU, FGCU (1-0) faces its first road test against a strong Loyola Chicago team on Saturday, 11/13 at 2PM. Below we will break down the matchup.
The Ramblers have a storied program, but aren’t always viewed in high regard like fellow midwestern programs, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, or Notre Dame (etc.). Because of this, Loyola (and Sister Jean) captivated the nation in the 2018 NCAA tournament, reaching the Final 4 before falling to Michigan. Last year the Ramblers did it again, making it to the Sweet 16 before losing to Oregon State.
This year, the Ramblers’ roster is a strong balance of youth and experience. As currently constructed, they have 4 freshmen, 1 sophomore, 3 juniors, and 8 seniors/grads. Loyola lost their top scorer from a year ago (Cameron Krutwig) but return 8 of their top nine scorers (all but him). Lucas Williamson, Braden Norris, and Aher Uguak started all 31 games for the Ramblers’ last season and Keith Clemons, Marquise Kennedy, and Tate Hall, all played significant minutes for the team. In addition to the returning talent, the coaching staff went to work in the offseason, bringing in 2 Ivy league transfers. Chris Knight (Dartmouth) averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists last time he played. Ryan Schwieger (Princeton) averaged 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists.
So far, the Ramblers are also 1-0, after beating Copping State 103-45. They are coached by 1st year head coach, Drew Valentine (brother of Denzel Valentine), who is believed to be the youngest coach in DI basketball at 29 years old. Valentine was promoted this past April, after 4 years as an assistant there.
As for what they bring to the table, the Ramblers’ possess a lot of size. Despite not boasting 7-footers like high-major programs would, Loyola has 10 player who are 6’6″ or taller. They crash the boards well and this will be something the Eagles try to neutralize during the game with their own size.
This Eagles’ roster contains a level of talent and experience that is rarely afforded to mid-major programs. It is, on paper, the best collection of players the team has had in several years. With that said, if the goals are high, then the early tests are what shape and guide the end-of-season results. The Eagles were mostly impressive in their debut but Loyola is the first real challenge of the season. Last time out, FGCU was without 3 key players. Do they return for this game? How long does it take for them to get their feet wet? An early season win against this tough opponent could be a tone setter for the rest of the year.
Starting 5 Projections
- Marquise Kennedy
- Braden Norris
- Lucas Williamson
- Ahar Uguak
- Jacob Hutson
- Tavian Dunn-Martin
- Caleb Catto
- Cyrus Largie
- Austin Richie
- Kevin Samuel
In this clash of the past Cinderellas, Loyola will be favored. Their success is more recent and their roster is solid. FGCU will be needing to prove a lot of people wrong this year. Despite how tough this game could be, the Eagles have a real shot of winning. Regardless, this tough early season schedule should prove beneficial to the team, long-term.
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