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Ramblers, Bulldogs Battle for Top Spot in MVC

Both Teams Have Won Two Straight

The Loyola Chicago Ramblers go for a third straight victory when they take on the Drake Bulldogs in a matchup of the top teams in the Missouri Valley Conference on Sunday. The opening tip is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET at The Knapp Center in Des Moines, Iowa.

Loyola Chicago (16-3, 7-1 MVC) suffered its first loss in conference play on Jan. 22 but swept a pair of games with the Southern Illinois Salukis since then, including a 44-39 victory on Thursday night. The Ramblers are atop the MVC standings, leading the Bulldogs, Missouri State Bears, and Northern Iowa Panthers by a game.

Darnell Brodie handles the ball Loyola Illinois vs Drake Picks
Sarah Stier/Getty Images/AFP

The Bulldogs (15-6, 6-2) have won two in a row as well, both in overtime, including an 89-88 victory on Wednesday night against the Illinois State Redbirds. Drake is 10-1 at home, though the one loss came in its last game in The Knapp Center, as it fell to the Bradley Braves on Jan. 19.

The college basketball lines have the Ramblers as 2½-point favorites on the road in this one, with the over/under set at 131½ points. If you want to make a moneyline bet online, Loyola Chicago is listed at -135, with Drake at +115.

Low-Scoring Wins

The Ramblers have their individual over/under set at 67 points but they are coming off back-to-back wins in which they averaged 51.5 points. Fortunately, the Loyola Chicago defense held the Salukis to just 43 points per game in those contests.

“Loyola puts five guys out there who can all guard,” Salukis coach Bryan Mullins said after Thursday’s contest. “They switch, and they make you play iso basketball. They stay home on shooters, and they allow you to drive it, but they give you a lot of tough 2s.”

Loyola Chicago is allowing teams to score just 61.1 points per game, which ranks 22nd in the country. The low scoring in the two games was also due to Southern Illinois’ defense, which is 18th in the country, allowing just 60.4 points a contest.

Offensively, coach Drew Valentine’s squad can put the ball in the basket, averaging 74.7 points per game. The team will work the ball around to whoever can get an open shot, leading to a very even distribution of shots and points.

Senior guard Lucas Williamson leads the way with 12.4 points per game, and, at 6-4, he’s also the team’s leading rebounder with 4.9 per contest. Williamson is also crafty on the defensive end, averaging 1.2 steals per contest, which is actually his lowest average over the last four seasons.

Just Winning

Drake doesn’t stand out from the rest of the teams in college basketball in any one category, but the Bulldogs win, even if it takes a little extra time. Pulling out a pair of road wins in overtime is tough for an entire season, but to do so in back-to-back games coming off a home loss shows the character of coach Darian DeVries’ squad.

Freshman Tucker DeVries — yes, the coach’s son — paces the Bulldogs in scoring at 13.5 points per game. He finished with 18 points, six assists, and two steals in the one-point win against the Redbirds on Wednesday.

The Bulldogs also have a balanced attack, with three other players averaging between 10 and 11 points. Roman Penn is scoring 10.9 points and dishing out a team-best 3.6 assists per game, while Garrett Sturtz is scoring 10.9 points and grabbing a team-high 7.4 rebounds a game. Sturtz is only 6-3, but he’s shooting 61.4% from the floor and will mix it up inside.

Guard D.J. Wilkins chips in 10.1 points per game, while two other players — Tremell Murphy and ShanQuan Hemphill — added 9.9 and 9.8 points per game, respectively.

Bulldogs Win at Home

While Loyola Chicago has a solid offense and tough defense, the Bulldogs have shown their grit and have just as many scoring options. Look for a big game from DeVries in this one as the Bulldogs get back on the winning track at home with a victory.

When making your college basketball picks, take Drake to win at home.

Pick: Drake Bulldogs +2½

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