Loyola Chicago is off to its best start in 49 years (12-3), and the Ramblers are coming off an impressive 71-70 road win over Evansville as six-point underdogs. That win was significant in that it marked the first road victory for the Ramblers as members of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Ramblers’ three losses this season have come against teams with a combined record of 35-11 (.761), with two of the three foes being ranked nationally. With four returning starters and a solid recruiting class, head coach Porter Moser has Loyola primed for a rapid improvement in 2015.
Loyola’s success is predicated upon the trio of Christian Thomas (13.1 ppg; 60% FG), Milton Doyle (12.7 ppg; 52% FG) and Montel James (7.9 ppg; 52% FG). In fact, the Ramblers are one of only six Division I teams where its top three scorers all shoot better than 50% from the field. The others schools include Wisconsin, Notre Dame, IPFW, Denver and Louisiana-Lafayette. Doyle had a terrific freshman campaign in Chicago where he ultimately earned Missouri Valley Conference Freshman and Newcomer of the Year honors. Coach Moser has finally surrounded Doyle with enough talent to allow the Ramblers to compete on a nightly basis in the Valley.
Loyola’s backcourt depth is quite impressive and represents a significant change from last year’s skeleton crew. Together with Doyle and Thomas, transfer Earl Peterson has established himself as one of the top bench scorers in the Conference. “Earn can score, but he can also facilitate,” coach Moser said. “He’s going to increase our athleticism.” Senior Joe Crisman and junior Devon Turk round out an extremely deep and athletic Loyola backcourt.
Loyola is averaging 67.0 points per game on 47.9% shooting from the field and 39.8% from beyond the arc against teams that would combine to allow 66.5 points per game to a mediocre offensive squad. However, the Ramblers are 6-1 at home this season where they are averaging 71.0 points per game on 51.5% shooting from the floor and 41.9% from three-point territory. Being slightly above average offensively is not good enough to exploit a very good Wichita State defense that is 7.9 points per game better than average (59.1 points per game to teams that would combine to average 67.0 points per game).
Like Wichita State, the Ramblers also possess an advantage at the defensive end of the floor. Loyola is allowing 60.2 points per game to teams that would combine to average 66.9 points per game, thereby making the Ramblers 6.7 points per game better than average offensively. Loyola is also limiting opponents to a mere 57.9 points per game on 40.7% shooting from the field at home. Loyola’s defensive improvement is due to the emphasis placed on it by coach Moser, who worked for defensively-minded coaches Rick Majerus and Tony Barone.
Meanwhile Wichita State is averaging 72.7 points per game against teams that would combine to allow 66.4 points per game, thereby making the Shockers 6.3 points per game better than average offensively. However, the Shockers are only averaging 66.3 points per game versus conference opponents and 66.6 points over their last five games. Conversely, Loyola is limiting foes to just 55.0 points over its last five games. Overall, the Ramblers possess a 0.4 points per game advantage defensively over Wichita State’s attack, but that projection is far too conservative in light of the more relevant data over the last two weeks.
From a value standpoint, the betting market continues to overvalue Wichita State and undervalue Loyola Chicago. That conclusion is supported by the fact that Wichita State is 7-7 ATS this season, including 3-4 ATS on the road and 1-4 ATS in its last five games, whereas the Ramblers are 9-2 ATS, including a perfect 5-0 ATS in their last five contests. With Wichita State standing at 0-6 ATS versus .601 or greater opposition, take the Ramblers plus the generous points and invest with confidence.