During the 2018 March Madness the Loyola Of Chicago Ramblers, led by Clayton Custer, Marques Townes, Ben Richardson, Donte Ingram, and Cam Krutwig went to the Final 4 beating #6 Miami, #3 Tennessee, #7 Nevada, #9 Kansas State, before ultimately losing to Mo Wagner and #3 seeded Michigan who then lost in the title game to Villanova. So how’d the nation fall in love with them? Let’s start it here 2 seconds left, Donte Ingram shoots a contested 3 from 30+ feet and drills it to beat Miami. Next round Clayton Custer makes a contested mid-range shot, and who can forget Sister Jean? The Chaplain for the Basketball team would engage in group prayer and motivational speeches before and after games and the cameras just couldn’t get enough of the 98-year-old at the time and the world loved every second of it. Then they beat Nevada, they were up one with 6 seconds left before Marques Townes hit a three on the right baseline hits a three to put Loyola up 4 and seal the game. To complete their run, they routed Kansas State, winning by 16. Loyola had the lead against Michigan at the half and was up by double-digits at some points in the first half, but Michigan ended up being too much to handle as they won by 12, but that doesn’t tell the story of the game. It was an incredible run that many weren’t sure a team from the MVC can do again any time soon, I think if there’s a team that can do it this year, that team would be 2020-21 Northern Iowa Panthers.
Led by star guard A.J. Green, who averaged 19 points per game, while shooting 41% from the field, 39% from deep, and 90% from the line. He’s testing the NBA Draft Waters but odds are in favor that he returns for his Junior season, Green is a former Top-100 recruit chose to stay home in Iowa over going to Virginia, Nebraska, Clemson, Iowa State, and Minnesota.
The next key player is Junior big man, Austin Phyfe the big lefty had 11 points and 8 rebounds per game this past season, and his presence was noticed often he just made a difference and it was huge. Now let’s look at the whole roster.
PG: A.J. Green
SG: Trae Berhow
SF- Tywhon Pickford
PF- Noah Carter
C- Austin Phyfe
Bench: Antwan Kimmons, Cole Henry, Logan Wolf
The Panthers return 3 out of 5 starters from a 30-win team that ultimately got routed by Drake in the first round of the MVC Tournament. They lose Isaiah Brown and Spencer Haldeman, but return Green, Berhow, Phyfe, their three best players from last season. This season’s team is still talented, Green and Berhow are knockdown shooters. Phyfe is a big presence down-low, Tywhon Pickford can score when needed, and while he played sparingly Noah Carter could be good in the future. The Bench is slightly concerning but we just need to see how some of these players develop if Kimmons can be a good bench pieces. This is a team that won at Colorado last season, playing in Boulder is super difficult due to altitude and a good fan base, while they had a good team last season. They also nearly beat West Virginia on a neutral court. This team would’ve been a high seed NIT, just missing out on the NCAA Tournament had it taken place. Add to that fact that they return their 3 best players. Count me in.
Loyola-Chicago and Bradley are also solid teams that could compete near the top of the league. I think Northern Iowa can have an amazing season and while they maybe aren’t able to run the table in MVC play, they should be pretty close. Make sure to look out for the Northern Iowa Panthers this season.