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Syracuse vs. Loyola Basketball Preview: Q&A With Mid-Major Madness

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Let's talk about Loyola basketball!

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

We face Loyola in lacrosse here and there, but basketball? Never, actually, until tomorrow night. The Greyhounds head up to the Carrier Dome fresh off a 41-point loss to Butler, and if you thought Syracuse struggled to score points... just wait. For those who wanted to watch -- you're going to have to use ESPN3 instead of standard broadcast options. Sorry. Luckily there are only a few of these on the schedule that don't see a national airing.

Below, Jimmy Kelley (who should follow on Twitter) from SB Nation's Mid-Major Madness, stops by to chat all about Loyola (MD) basketball. Since it's not every day we face the Greyhounds, it's a good primer on what to expect tomorrow. Join us below:

Loyola's struggled to score in the early goings of the year. What's been the main cause of that? Tough opposing defenses, or the Greyhounds' shooting issues (or both)?

The answer to this question is actually much more simple than either of those things. Last year, Loyola put the lion's share of the offense on the shoulders of Dylon Cormier and he responded by averaging 21.2 points per game. He used 32.3 percent of the Greyhounds possessions (No. 17 in the country, per KenPom) and drew 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes. After him the usage rates drop off to the low 20s, headlined by the now-suspended R.J. Williams who will not play until around mid-January. Jarred Jones and Andre Walker have done their part to replace some of the combined 29.5 points per game Williams and Cormier took with them, but until they replace Cormier's go-to-guy mentality they will continue to struggle on that end of the floor.

It seems like Loyola's game minutes are spread pretty evenly through the top seven guys. Who's the one player that needs to stay on the court for Loyola to stick around in this one?

Against a team like Syracuse, Loyola will need all hands on deck. Andre Walker had been looking like the go-to-guy until he posted an 0-7 game against Butler. However, with the Greyhounds only netting 39 points without ANYTHING from Walker proves that he can pace this team offensively. He gets to the line about five times per game, and while his shooting percentages are poor, he is constantly involved with everything G.G. Smith is trying to do on that end of the floor. Beyond him, Cam Gregory is grabbing every single rebound right now, so if he can limit the Orange's second chances they could keep it close.

Without facing the 2-3 zone often, how can Loyola try to exploit it without disrupting the team's typical rhythm on offense?

I think they will struggle. The Patriot League is a very man-to-man league and, if you watched last year's conference championship game, even the best teams in the conference tend to struggle against zones. Eric Laster has been shooting the three at an unsustainably high rate (10-for-19), but if he can keep it up for one more game that will pull the zone to one side of the court. By stretching the zone with outside shots, lanes will open up for Walker to get into the mid range and take his low-percentage shots or draw fouls. It's a small adjustment, but if they remain disciplined and Gregory can grab a few offensive rebounds, Loyola might make some hay on offense. That said, this is Syracuse. So best-laid plans will likely not come to fruition.

Is there one specific Syracuse player the Greyhounds will be focused on either attacking or avoiding?

Pretty much all of Syracuse's interior defenders will be worth avoiding at all costs. The less shots that die in the paint, the better. On the defensive end, Loyola will have all sorts of trouble with Chris McCullough and will be ultra award of where Trevor Cooney is at all times. Kaleb Joseph has been an animal already, Rakeem Christmas has shown remarkable progress on both ends of the floor...you know what? Everyone poses a problem for Loyola.

How about a prediction? Any chance Loyola can pull off a monumental upset?

I think Syracuse handles its business in this one, probably by double digits and probably before the last media timeout of the first half. Loyola made decent progress towards the end of last year, but without a sure-fire replacement for Cormier and Williams, it's tough to see them making much noise in games like this.

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Thanks again for taking the time out for these, Jimmy! Be sure to follow him on Twitter, and head over to Mid-Major Madness in case you're looking to see how the other half lives.