PEORIA — Loyola coach Porter Moser flashed some sarcasm during Monday’s Missouri Valley Conference coaches teleconference in response to a question about playing Bradley for the first time this late in the league season, a 7 p.m. Wednesday night at Carver Arena.
“I have to thank the league for letting us play Bradley when they’re the hottest team in the league,” Moser said. “They’re playing well on all cylinders now at both ends. Darrell Brown is as hot as any player in the league.”
Indeed, Brown — selected Monday as the Valley's Player of the Week — scored 55 points in Bradley’s two wins last week, hitting 11 of 15 shots from 3-point range (73 percent).
But Moser’s concerns regarding the Braves (13-12, 5-7) ranged beyond Brown.
“They’re always going to guard you like crazy and they’re always going to pound the glass,” he said. “They’re shooting at a high percentage and not just Brown. They’re second in the league in 3-point percentage (.395). The way they get out and run, they really get going in transition. There’s a lot of things you’ve gotta prepare for with the way they’re playing.”
Of course, Brian Wardle and his staff also have their hands full readying for the first-place Ramblers (16-9, 9-3). In league games, Loyola is first not only in field-goal percentage (.501), but in 3-point shooting (.424), assists (13.5) and scoring defense (60.8).
“They play as hard and as aggressive on defense as anybody in our league,” Wardle said. “Can we slow down (guard Marques) Townes? Can we get paint touches and get the game going up and down? Because they do a good job slowing the game down.”
Wardle disputed the notion that the Braves’ recent success (5-2 after an 0-5 start) has been triggered by playing at a quicker pace.
“Everybody thinks we’re playing faster,” he said. “We’ve always wanted to attack. I just think the ball’s moving quicker and we’re making quicker decisions. We’re more decisive and confident with the ball.”
The result is at the bottom of the net. In their five league wins, the Braves are shooting 52 percent from 3-point range (51-for-98).
One of those shooters and a key player during the BU surge, 6-foot-9 forward Luuk van Bree, has been nursing a hand injury suffered in Saturday’s 96-67 rout of Indiana State. On Monday, Wardle listed van Bree as day-to-day. If he can't go or is limited, look for freshman Ja'Shon Henry, who scored 17 points off the bench Saturday, to log ample minutes.
Loyola center Cameron Krutwig broke his nose last week and wore a protective mask in the Ramblers’ 56-51 win at Valparaiso. His production was unaffected, scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
A Bradley win over Loyola would be a nice boost to the Braves’ NET ranking, the seeding tiebreaker for the MVC tournament used beyond standings rank and head-to-head competition. The Ramblers’ NET ranking is currently 118, best in the league. BU is at 189.
And Bradley gets two shots at Loyola in these final six conference games.
The league office announced Monday that the second meeting between the teams in the regular-season finale March 2 in Chicago will tip at 5 p.m. and be telecast nationally on ESPN2.
Dave Reynolds can be reached at 686-3210 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at davereynolds2.