After the No. 9 Valparaiso Crusaders (15-17, 8-11) crushed the Indiana State Sycamores on Thursday, their opportunity to take the Missouri Valley Conference by storm is upon us. The Crusaders are playing in back to back games, while the No. 1 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (19-12, 12-6) have rested up to begin their quest for consecutive MVC tournament titles.

Betting Line: Loyola-Chi -6.5  o/u 119

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The Ramblers are (14-16) against the spread. They are (13/17) in o/u.

The Crusaders are (11-18) against the spread. They post a (11/18) in o/u.

The Ramblers swept the Crusaders during the season. In game 1, the Ramblers displayed their unique ability to share the spotlight. They won 71-54 behind six double digit scoring efforts. Cameron Krutwig and Aher Uguak scored 12 points apiece in the starting lineup. Meanwhile, Cooper Kaifes played his reserve role to drop another 12 points on 4 of 5 shooting from 3-point range. The most interesting part is Lucas Williamson, Marques Townes and Clayton Custer each scored 11 points apiece. When the Ramblers play with this type of balanced attack they are difficult to guard. Krutwig and Townes led the team with 10 shot attempts. The Ramblers also produced 15 assists on 24 makes.

Meanwhile, the Crusaders were a one-man show. Markus Golder led the way with 16 points. He was the only member to score in double figures. More importantly, the Crusaders were held to eight assists in defeat.

Game 2 was a much different outcome. The Ramblers were down two points at halftime. Yet, they outscored the Crusaders by seven points to win 65-60 on the road. The style of play showed great disparity as well. The Ramblers only had two players reach double figures, led by Townes’ 18 points. Townes also attempted 17 shots, while the rest of the team had 27 shot attempts combined. More importantly, the Crusaders held the Ramblers to 10 assists in the close loss.

The Crusaders are (2-2) in neutral site games. They are (8-7) in home games and (5-8) in road games. They average 67 points per game, while giving up 66 points per game. The Crusaders entered the conference tournament with three straight losses. They had a season-high five game winning streak in the middle of the season.

The Ramblers are (1-2) in neutral site games. They are (13-4) in home games and (5-6) in road games. Loyola is outscoring opponents by six points per game. They are scoring 66 points per game, while giving up 60 points per game. That’s good enough for the No. 6 ranked defensive team in college basketball.

Players to Watch:

Marques Townes leads the Ramblers with 15.9 points per game. He also adds 5 rebounds and a team-leading 3.5 assists per game. Krutwig is producing 14.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Custer is scoring 11.4 points per game. Last season, Custer won MVC Player of the year after scoring 13.2 points per game.

Junior Derrik Smits leads the Crusaders with 12.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest. He is the only true size for the Crusaders this season. Smits is joined by freshman guard Javon Freeman at 11 points per game. Golder also has a chance to have explosive scoring nights for the Crusaders.

Pick: Loyola-Chicago 70 – Valparaiso 59