Outside of the traditional power programs, teams like Kansas State and Tennessee are considered Final Four contenders this season. Squads like St John’s or LSU could surprise as well. However, to be this year’s Loyola, you need to be a non-power conference team, not named Gonzaga. So, who could potentially be this year’s Loyola? These are three teams that are well positioned to shock the world come March.
This year’s Loyola: Three teams who will contend
Buffalo has a fantastic chance to be this year’s Loyola. The defending MAC champions are coming off of an impressive 27 win season. They amazingly defeated Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Bulls are looking to claim their fourth MAC title in the last five years. No MAC team has ever accomplished that feat. They have stability at head coach as Nate Oats is entering his fourth year at Buffalo, which helps tremendously.
The Bulls only lose two players from last season’s team, which means they are experienced. Three seniors were named to the preseason All-MAC Team, guard C.J Massinburg, forward Nick Perkins and guard Jeremy Harris. All three players averaged 15 or more points per game last season. Additionally, they add in three transfers including Antwain Johnson from MTSU. He shot 44.2 percent from the field last year averaging 10.3 points per game for MTSU. Buffalo will need players like forward Montell McRae and center Brock Bertram to increase production in the paint as well. Plus, they hope former Houston and Three Rivers Community College forward Gabe Grant can contribute at the small forward position.
Undoubtedly, Buffalo is a deep, athletic and versatile squad. Certainly, they will contend to be this year’s Loyola come March.
South Dakota State
Five of the top six scorers return for defending Summit League champs South Dakota State. None is more paramount than star forward Mike Daum, who bypassed the NBA to return for one more season. Daum has incredibly been named Summit League Player of the Year each of the last two seasons. In addition, the Associated Press named him an honorable mention All American each of those years. Last season, he averaged 23.9 points along with 10.3 rebounds per game. This was en route to leading the Jackrabbits to the NCAA tournament. With a tremendous player such as Daum leading the way, South Dakota State can certainly be this year’s Loyola.
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For South Dakota State it goes deeper than just Mike Daum however. David Jenkins put up 16 points per game and brings versatility. Tevin King, Skyler Flatten, and Brandon Key are all experienced, solid all-around players. Plus they bring in an interesting freshman recruiting class. This will be a team to keep an eye on. If anything, be certain to remember Mike Daum’s name.
For Nevada, everything starts with twins Caleb and Cody Martin. Both players toyed with jumping ship to the NBA but elected to return. Caleb averaged 18.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists plus 1.3 steals a game last season. Meanwhile, Cody put up 14 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.7 steals as well as 1.5 blocks per game. Next, Jordan Caroline also returns who accumulated 17.7 points and 8.6 rebounds a game last season. With a threesome like that, Nevada is a true threat to be this year’s Loyola. They also return athletic guard Lindsey Drew, who figures to improve production.
Here is where the depth of the team improves greatly, making them a fit to be this year’s Loyola. Several key transfers are eligible, including senior Tre’Shawn Thurman, a 6-8 forward from Omaha. He averaged 13.8 points along with 7.8 rebounds a game two seasons ago. Additionally, Corey Henson arrives from Wagner after scoring 1,150 points. Nisre Zouzoua is yet another transfer who is eligible this season. He accumulated 16.5 points per game over two seasons at Bryant. Old Dominion graduate transfer Trey Porter adds further depth to the team. He posted 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season for ODU.
The Mountain West preseason freshman of the year, forward Jordan Brown, also joins the loaded roster. Yet another transfer Jazz Johnson, an efficient scorer, comes in from Portland. Nevada is clearly a top contender to be this year’s Loyola.
Others to watch: Central Florida, Western Kentucky, Marshall, Davidson, Loyola (Chicago)
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