Postseason basketball has not been kind to Loyola College the past five years.
The Greyhounds have won only one tournament game since losing to Fairleigh Dickinson in the championship of the ECAC Metro in 1985.
Loyola has dropped its past four games and will finish with its fourth consecutive losing record. The seventh-seeded Greyhounds will be first-round underdogs to second-seeded La Salle in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference quarterfinals at Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, N.Y. tomorrow night.
But there are some encouraging signs for Loyola, which has not beaten La Salle since 1944.
"We're a lot more optimistic about this than last year," said captain Derek Campbell. "With the way we finished in the league and with Doug Overton questionable, it kind of throws their offense off balance and gives us an edge."
Although the Explorers are the three-time defending MAAC champions, they have been in a tailspin because Overton, their best player, has had a sprained ankle.
"They've struggled some with Overton hurt," said Loyola coach Tom Schneider, who renews a longtime rivalry against La Salle coach Bill [Speedy] Morris. "They've had shooting problems. But I don't think getting La Salle is an easy draw."
La Salle beat Loyola, 75-68, in the season opener in Philadelphia, with Overton scoring 31 points in a game missed by the Explorers' No. 2 scorer, Randy Woods, who was on suspension.
In the rematch, Woods had 24 points and Overton 21 in a 94-84 victory at Reitz Arena on Jan. 17.
The key will be the health of Overton. "He gives them a whole different dimension, runs the show," said Campbell. "He knows where to give Randy Woods the ball and when things are getting out of hand."
Not only would La Salle miss Overton's generalship and saavy, but also the depth. Morris prefers to go to a basic eight-man unit when Overton is healthy, and Schneider usually plays at least 10 or 11, a luxury he has with guard Dave Wojcik back from an injury.
"At tournament time, when you have to play three days in a row, you have to shoot well," said Schneider. "That's the key, if the ball's going in."
Three of the past four consecutive losses have been close. The first was a four-overtime, 98-96 game at Niagara, the last a three-overtime, 95-92 loss at home to St. Peter's. A third was a two-point verdict against Fairfield. Only once were the Greyhounds beaten soundly in that span.
"It's not like it was a catastrophe being blown out four times in a row," said Schneider. "And we have more poise and patience offensively and defensively than last year."
Campbell said: "We have a lot of confidence. The losses took air out of our sails, but at the same time the games gave us reassurance that we can play with the better teams in the league. We've made a lot of headway this year, and I think right now is the best time to catch La Salle."
Last season, when Loyola finished with a 4-24 record, this kind of positive outlook would have been foolhardy. But Schneider has been encouraged by a winning non-conference record, victories over all the Baltimore-area teams Loyola played and the tripling of wins overall.
"I'm not disappointed," he said. 'But I'm not pleased either because of the last four. I think anything can happen."
The tournament opens tonight at 8 with Fairfield and Canisius playing in the qualifying game for eighth and ninth seeds. If Loyola upsets La Salle, it will play Sunday night against the St. Peter's-Niagara survivor. The final, at 7:30 p.m. Monday, will be televised by ESPN.
Schneider is hopeful that the 12,000 to 14,000 Siena fans expected for the quarterfinal following his "will be in our favor. At least I hope my friends are."