Ramble on – By Nick Zoll, Contributor
After two straight years of tournament exits, following their magical Missouri Valley Conference championship win in 2018, I believe that 2021’s rendition of Arch Madness is where the Loyola Ramblers will get their revenge.
Ranked 20th in the nation, Loyola has proved themselves to be the superior team in the MVC over the course of the regular season, posting a 21-4 record (16-2 conference).
In the Ramblers’ near-perfect 18-game conference schedule, they came up on the losing end a total of two times, earning the top seed in the Arch Madness tournament. On Jan. 10, Indiana State edged Loyola by five points, but the Ramblers redeemed themselves and beat the Sycamores by 10 points the following night.
Feb. 14 was their only other conference loss, falling to Drake by one point. However, the Ramblers obliterated that same Drake squad by 27 points the previous night. Even on their worst shooting night imaginable, Loyola almost snuck out with a win against the tournament’s second seed.
In addition, the recent announcements of the MVC awards had a few Ramblers taking home some hardware. Senior center Cameron Krutwig won MVC Player of the Year while senior guard Lucas Williamson earned the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award. The duo of Krutwig and Williamson can help Loyola become the last team standing in this year’s Arch Madness.
Coming off of a massive win on Feb. 28 against second-seeded Drake, Bradley certainly has momentum on their side entering Arch Madness. They also possess a championship pedigree, as head coach Brian Wardle looks to lead the Braves to the first three-peat at the Arch Madness tournament since Southern Illinois accomplished the feat (1993, 1994, 1995). However, Bradley has been massively inconsistent this year (6-12 conference record), and they’re going to have a much tougher path to defending their title as an eight-seed.
Since this college basketball season has been unlike any other due to COVID-19protocols, I’m going to go with the team that’s been the most consistent — the Loyola Ramblers.
Make it a three-peat – By Francisco Alonzo, Contributor
The Arch Madness brackets are ready and Bradley has a long way to go if they want to fight for the title once again. I believe the Braves have what it takes to be champions for the third year in a row, despite only having six scholarship players available.
They already demonstrated what they are capable of during the regular season with victories against strong teams such as Drake, Valparaiso, Southern Illinois and Evansville.
With their first playoff game against Southern Illinois, Bradley should not have trouble advancing to the second round. The real challenge will be facing Loyola, the team that is currently ranked number one and the favorite to win the title this year.
Bradley has players with a lot of experience in St. Louis, like junior Ja’Shon Henry and sophomore Ville Tahvanainen, who played a key role on last year’s title team. In addition to these returners, freshmen like Darrius Hannah, Rienk Mast and Jayson Kent have shown that they are ready to help the team fight for the title this year.
If Bradley manages to defeat Loyola, they should have no problem reaching the final for the third year in a row. There, they will most likely face Drake, who is the strongest team on the other side of the bracket. We know that Bradley already defeated Drake once, and if they reach the final, they will do it again.
After an irregular season, the Braves appear to be currently in their prime of the season after defeating Drake. They have to take advantage of the momentum to defeat the strongest rivals. Southern Illinois, Loyola, Indiana State and Evansville won’t be easy teams to beat, but Bradley will have to get the job done if they want another championship ring.
A lot of people don’t see Bradley as the favorite to take the title home this year, and it’s totally understandable. But they have to remember that Bradley has won the last two titles, and the reason is that in big games, the players step up and shine.
This weekend, the Braves will be looking to win their third straight Missouri Valley Conference championship title, something no team has accomplished since Southern Illinois’ run from 1993 to 1995.