Conference schedule tips off: At least on paper, the Loyola boys basketball team looks like the favorite when it travels to Chicago on Friday to play St. Rita in the opener of the Catholic Blue.

The Ramblers (6-1) won their fourth game in a row Tuesday by beating Notre Dame 40-37 at home. On the same night, the Mustangs (4-6) lost their sixth consecutive game, falling to Marian Catholic 53-51. They haven’t won since Nov. 24.

But Loyola head coach Tom Livatino said his team won’t be taking St. Rita lightly. The Mustangs are led by senior guard Jordan Matthews. He’s the younger brother of Charles Matthews, a St. Rita graduate and junior guard at Michigan.

“They have a lot of length and athleticism,” Livatino said. “They give you full-court pressure and want to dictate the tempo.”

The league has another new look this season, with the two divisions are divided on success and not geography.

The Blue features Brother Rice, De La Salle, DePaul Prep, Fenwick, Loyola, Mount Carmel, St. Ignatius, St. Joseph and St. Rita. The White has Bishop McNamara, Leo, Marmion, Montini, Providence Catholic, Providence St. Mel, St. Francis, St. Francis de Sales and St. Laurence.

Joe Henricksen, of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, recently rated the Catholic Blue the third best conference in the Chicago area behind the Public League’s Red-South Central (Bogan, Curie, Morgan Park, Simeon) and Red-North West (Orr, Young).

Offense remains work in progress: After Tuesday’s game, Livatino continued to harp on his team’s need to improve offensively.

The Ramblers didn’t score a field goal in the final 4 minutes, 59 seconds, and they went long stretches in the first quarter between baskets.

“We have good offensive players, but our offense is built on five guys functioning together,” he said. “We all have to be in tune with each other. It’s like running the spread offense in football. There are a lot of moving parts that need to be on the same page. If we don’t move quickly enough or anticipate our movements, we get in trouble.”

Loyola is averaging 47.1 points and has scored 50 or more points twice in seven games. Its season high of 58 came Nov. 25 against Lincoln Park.

Long layoff: The Loyola girls team beat Argo 52-42 on the road Tuesday for its eighth consecutive win. It was the team’s first game since Dec. 5 when the Ramblers beat Trinity 50-42.

The Ramblers don’t play again until Dec. 21 when they host Taft.

“I think it’s exciting because there is a lot of learning to be done,’ Loyola head coach Jeremy Schoenecker said. “There are things we can put in that are new, and things we know and can correct.”

But Schoenecker knows practice can get stale quickly, which is why he said he makes sure each day is different.

On Friday, all three levels of the program will practice together. It’s a tradition he started shortly after arriving at Loyola in 2008.

“It’s nice to get all of the coaches and all of the players in the same gym at the same time,” he said. “We put on music and run drills together. It’s great for everybody to get to know each other better.”

Senior guard Adie Morrill said it’s important for the program to be inclusive.

“I remember being so nervous as a freshman, but girls like Sarah Elston and Liz Satter reached out and helped me,” Morrill said. “That was really cool. Now that I’m a senior, I hope to be a leader to the younger girls and reciprocate what was done for me.”

Pictured above: Senior Kevin Cunningham (left), senior Pete Mangan (right)

Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola