BroncoBlitz.com exchanged a series of questions and answers with Brendan Boyd of the Loyola Phoenix leading up to Friday's game against Loyola-Chicago in Tampa.
BroncoBlitz.com: Rough year for Loyola last season. What are Rambler fans expecting this year in terms of improvement, and do you expect the team to bounce back?
Brendan Bond: Coach Moser has said he is focused on building a program and that process takes time. This year, there are nine faces, including seven freshmen. Improvement for this year might not be as tangible as wins and losses, although winning more than seven games is definitely necessary. Improvement will be measured in how the freshmen progress throughout the season. That said, I can see 12-15 wins for the Ramblers this year.
BB: Loyola went 3-1 overseas and several players seemed to perform well. What stood out to you the most from that trip?
Brendan: The experience. Again, with such a young team and many new faces, the experience of playing together was the most valuable aspect from the trip.
BB: What is this team's biggest strengths? Weaknesses?
Brendan: The team's biggest strength is defense. Last year, they allowed just over 62 points per game, and that number could go down this year with more athleticism on the roster. Their biggest weakness is outside shooting. There are more shooters on the roster now, but any team that finished last season sixth worst in the country in three pointers made (339 out of 344) has a long way to go to improve on that.
BB: These two rosters seem nearly identical on paper with all of the freshmen. Which of Loyola's freshmen do you expect to make the most immediate impact?
Brendan: Jeff "Keke" White will fill in the backup point guard role behind Iowa transfer Cully Payne. The freshman adds depth to a position that was non-existent for the Ramblers last season, plus he gives them a proven man-to-man, full-court defender.
BB: To what can you attribute all of the outgoing and incoming transfers on the Loyola roster recently? Who is Loyola's biggest loss and who is Loyola's biggest addition?
Brendan: The transfers are a result of Coach Moser putting his imprint on the program. Coach Whitesell brought all of the players who have transferred in previously. Their biggest loss was probably guard Chim Kadima because of his athleticism. The biggest get in terms of transfers has been point guard Cully Payne, a former Big Ten All-Freshman team member at Iowa. He gives Loyola a true point guard, something that was lacking last season.
BB: Can you talk a little bit about Coach Moser's offensive and defensive philosophy, and what kind of schemes Bronco fans can expect to see the Ramblers run?
Brendan: On defense, the Ramblers will play a tough, half-court man-to-man defense and try to run the shot clock down. Occasionally they may have Keke White pick up ball-handlers full court or they might employ a 1-3-1 zone to slow opponents down. On offense, the focal point will once again be Ben Averkamp, but because of the playmaking ability they now have at the point, the Ramblers will try to go up-tempo more.
BB: Obviously it's no secret to opposing teams coming in that this team heavily relies on Ben Averkamp in the paint. How valuable has he been to this team over the years?
Brendan: There's no questioning Ben is the best player on the team and one of the best to play at Loyola in recent years. To underscore his importance and show how little Loyola had around Ben last season outside of graduated forward Walt Gibler, Ben is the returning leader in games started, minutes per game, points score, points per game, three-pointers made, three-point percentage (minimum of 10 attempts), blocks, rebounds, rebounds per game, free throws made, assists and is second in steals.
BB: Besides Ben Averkamp, who else do the Broncos need to worry about?
Brendan: Fifth-year senior swingman Jordan Hicks is the healthiest he's been since his freshman year when he scored 23 points against Butler. Hicks has the size (6-foot-6) to be a matchup nightmare on the perimeter.
BB: What does Loyola need to do well in order to beat Western Michigan?
Brendan: As with most of the games they'll play this year, Loyola's defense should keep them in the game. They just need to make outside shots to have a chance to win. If they can't stretch the floor on offense, the focus will be on Averkamp, bottling up Loyola's top scoring option.
BB: Prediction time. Who you got and why?
Brendan: The X-factor here is Hicks. He can go off for 20, or get shut down for two. The feeling here is that his healthy offseason will translate to a consistent 12-15 points per game, giving Loyola a solid one-two punch with him and Averkamp.
Score Prediction: Loyola 66, WMU 61