The Patriot League made a surprise announcement Wednesday morning, teasing us first, and then going full bore with the addition of Loyola (Md.) as the 10th member of the conference starting in 2013-2014.
The Greyhounds will join Boston University, which made its announcement in June, as the two new members.
The move is a strange one for Loyola, a team coming off its own surprising season, and a MAAC Tournament championship that earned them a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994 and the second time ever. Plus it introduced the rest of the country to Jimmy Patsos, a favorite among mid-major fans and locals in the Baltimore/Washington area.
The reason that the move seems odd is that unlike Boston University's move from the America East, Loyola appears to be taking a step back in terms on conference strength. The Patriot League might have been extra strong last season with Lehigh (and we probably over-estimate them based on the Duke win), and Bucknell battling for the title.
But the MAAC has consistently been looked at as the better conference, and has the numbers to back it up. As John Templon pointed out, the MAAC has rated about five spots higher on average over the last five seasons:
For what it's worth. Average KenPom ranking of MAAC is 16.8 last 5 seasons. Patriot is 24.2.— John Templon (@nybuckets) August 29, 2012
The move is a strong one academically though. The Patriot League could be seen as sort of an Ivy League lite, and Boston University definitely made it clear that the academics were as much a part of the Terriers move as were the athletics. Loyola joins a number of strong universities with great educational traditions, at least ones that are stronger on paper than what they are leaving in the MAAC.
Speculation has already begun on which school would be a fit to bring the MAAC back up to 10 teams for next year. There is no clear favorite, although Bryant was getting a lot of buzz on Twitter.
As far as this season goes, Loyola will be allowed to compete in the MAAC Tournament as of now, according to CBS' Jon Rothstein. The Greyhounds should be among the favorites to repeat, especially with Iona down slightly this season. Templon has already pegged them as such when he named two Loyola players to his top 10 for this coming year.
So, all surprises aside, it looks as though Loyola has set itself up for good things both on and off the court in the next few seasons.