Loyola-Chicago’s 2018 Final Four run is one of the better cinderella stories of March Madness. This year, the Ramblers are back in the NCAA Tournament and look to replicate their 2018 success. Ranked ninth in Kenpom, Loyola-Chicago is one of the better teams in college basketball this season. Their success is primarily from their great defense and slow pace of play. Loyola-Chicago is no pretender, they are a legitimate threat to go deep in the NCAA Tournament.
The Ramblers’ success is due to their outstanding defense. They are first in defensive efficiency and first in allowing a stingy 55.8 points per contest. Also, opponents shoot only 41.1% and 45.5% on two-point attempts. Loyola-Chicago only allows 21 baskets per game, which is sixth in the country.
In addition, Loyola-Chicago rarely fouls opponents. Opponents only shoot 11.5 free throws per game. If teams are struggling to make shots, free throws can keep them in the game. However, since the Ramblers barely foul this only makes things tougher.
Loyola-Chicago’s identity is a slow pace of play. They rank 343rd in possessions per game at 65. On the other hand, their slow pace also limits their opponents shot attempts. Rambler opponents only get 51.2 shots per game, this ranks eighth. Many of the nation’s best offensive teams score so much due to a fast pace. If these offenses can no longer play their style, they may struggle to score. This is why it is so difficult to beat Loyola-Chicago.
Additionally, the Ramblers are 170th averaging 70.5 points per game. In contrast, due to their slow pace the Rambler offense is actually sneaky good. For example, ranking 333rd in field goal attempts would lead people into thinking they are a bad offensive team. However, a lot of Loyola-Chicago’s shooting stats are great. They are ninth with an effective field goal percentage of 56.3%. Also, the Ramblers shoot 58% on two-pointers, which is fourth in the country. Ranked seventh, Loyola-Chicago shoots 49.7% from the field. The Ramblers are one of the most efficient and fundamental teams in the entire country.
Their star player is the senior center Cameron Krutwig. As a freshman, he was a key contributor on the 2018 Loyola-Chicago Final Four team. Now Krutwig is the leader on the 2020-21 Ramblers. Using his experience, he could lead Loyola-Chicago to another magical run in March. Krutwig does everything for the Ramblers averaging 15 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks. The senior center is very efficient as well shooting 57.9%. Krutwig was named a third team All-American this week, this is rare for a mid-major player.
Keith Clemons is a marksman that must be accounted for. Even though he only averages 7.4 points, Clemons is still extremely dangerous. By shooting a staggering 46.7% from three, defenders cannot give Clemons any room to shoot. Adding a knockdown shooter alongside an inside presence like Krutwig creates an affective one-two punch.
As a No.8 seed, Loyola-Chicago will be in close games only. Their first opponent is the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets. Georgia Tech is coming off an ACC Tournament championship win against Florida State. The Yellowjackets are a great defensive team and forced Florida State into over 20 turnovers. Loyola-Chicago versus Georgia Tech should be a slugfest with great defense on both ends. The Ramblers are the favorite as of now, but it will be a close one.
If Loyola-Chicago advances, they will face the one seed Illinois. The Ramblers will be huge underdogs against Illinois. However, if Loyola-Chicago can control the pace of the game they have a chance. The key to stopping high-scoring teams is slowing the pace down and limiting their possessions. If the Ramblers get past Illinois, who knows how far they can go. With past Final Four experience, Loyola-Chicago could be a dangerous team this March.
All stats courtesy of ESPN, Kenpom, NCAA and Team Rankings.