Five questions: Loyola coach Jim Whitesell

Q: What level of expectation is there this season with your top six players returning?

A: I think the expectation is we should have a good basketball team. We feel we have a lot of guys back, a lot of good experience, and the guys who were hurt last year are healthy this year. Our expectation is we think we have a great schedule, and the league has turned into a great basketball league. I think with Butler’s success everyone is realizing how good this conference is. I think it’s exciting. We have a lot of guys back, and we have guys who are healthy. We were a very young and inexperienced team last year, and now we have a lot of guys back with experience. A lot of things have to break right to have a good season, but I’m excited about the potential there.

Q:This is a team that started off last season 11-2 and had Butler on the ropes, but also a team that went 3-14 to end the season. What was the difference between those two teams, and how can you get that better one to show up more consistently this season?

A: Consistency is going to be a big thing. The other thing is adjusting to conference play night in and night out was challenging for the guys, and the other thing was being healthy. When we were 11-2 we were 11 deep. What happened was we had to two players break their foot and another dislocated his knee. We went from keeping guys fresh to not being able to do that, especially at the point guard spot. If you look at our league, there’s just a lot of outstanding guards and perimeter players. Courtney Stanley, it was his first year starting, and he played incredibly well for us in the first half and the second half he struggled. We honestly played him too many minutes, but we had no one else to put there. We got to learn more on the fly and get better. One of the things I’ve seen is individual improvement in workouts. Guys are putting in the time and effort.

Q: Every program in the Horizon League is probably being asked the same question. Is anyone capable of knocking off Butler? If so, how do you do it?

JW: I think you got to give credit where credit is due. Butler is a great success. It certainly gave our league the national spotlight. The other thing that is interesting is our league was really good. Obviously, Butler went through it undefeated. To be able to do that was an incredible feat. There are a lot of good basketball teams. Wright State certainly deserved to be in the NIT and got snubbed. Cleveland State and Detroit were good teams. Hey, Butler is the one who is the returning champs and have a lot of players coming back. Somebody’s got to knock them off the seat before you can say it’s not theirs to win. I think the one thing is you don’t get many nights where you can win by playing poorly. The margin for error isn’t there. I don’t have a formula to do it. Every year is different. Hopefully, your group improves. Hopefully, you play great when you play them.

Q: How did you get Kansas State to play at Loyola and what sort of opportunity is that for your team?

A:Jacob Pullen’s mother works here at Loyola. When Kansas State approached us to do a 2-for-1, the thought process was to get Jacob back home to play. Anytime we can get a BCS schools to play at Loyola, we’d like to accommodate. It’s hard to get teams to play at your place. That team is a top-4, top-5 pick coming back. We think that it’s a real positive for our fans and season-ticket holders. You got them on the schedule and Butler and the Horizon League. I think it’s an attractive game for our fan base and program. We got worked at Kansas State last year. I don’t think people realized how good they were. They have an incredibly good team coming back. They could be in position to be the No. 1 team in the country when they come here in December.

Q: You play DePaul, Eastern Illinois and UIC this season. Would you be interested in seeing all the Chicago teams or maybe even all the Illinois teams get together for an invitational?A:I think the idea is a fantastic idea, and we would certainly sign up for it tomorrow. The hard thing is scheduling since you have several leagues represented, finding dates and what’s best for the program. It’s more complicated than the old days. Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame and Butler are doing a one-day deal. I think that would be a great thing for college basketball. That is something we could do in Chicago annually and have it be a positive thing. Here with the Bulls being such a big deal, you have to find a niche not only on your campus, but in your city. I think it would help with recruiting. It gets it into the media. That’s a good thing. I would love to see that.