Loyola Chicago: From underdog to Final Four
A game-winning shot by Donte Ingram put the Ramblers passed the Miami Hurricanes in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Nine days later, the Ramblers punched their ticket to the Final Four with a win over Kansas State in the Elite Eight.
What does the future hold for the most surprising team in the NCAA Tournament? Can they cut down the nets come early April?
Loyola has given up 62.4 points per game this season, which is fifth in Division I basketball. They have played less-talented offensive teams, but allowing under 65 points per game is still impressive. They struggle on the glass (326th in rebounds per game in all of Division I), but are sound on both offense and defense.
They also share the ball extremely well. Loyola averages 15.9 assists per game, which means they are not dominated by scoring off the dribble. They pass to get an open shot and are a balanced scoring team.
How they got here
The Ramblers have won four games in this NCAA tournament. The first three of them were won by a total of four points before beating Kansas State in the Elite Eight by 16 to get to the Final Four.
They are doing it through balance. Loyola has had six different double-digit scorers in their four wins in the NCAA tournament. They have had just one player over 18 points in any of those four games. The most impressive thing is how efficient they have been on both offense and defense.
In their most recent game against Kansas State, they held the Wildcats to 34.8 percent shooting from the field and just 23.1 percent from behind the arc. They won the rebounding battle by eight against a bigger team. Had they not turned the ball over nine more times than the Wildcats, they could have truly run away with the game in Atlanta.
The Ramblers have shot over 47 percent in each of their four tournament games. Despite a lack of forced turnovers, the Ramblers have battled on the glass, and have made each possession count on both ends of the floor. They have turned in solid performances and made teams grind out possessions. The Ramblers are a team that wears their opponent down and comes up with big plays because they are built to outlast other teams.
Michigan is the team that stands between the Ramblers and the championship game. The strength of Michigan is their spacing. They force teams to spread the floor on defense, which makes a team more vulnerable to cutters and to open shooters. Defenses tend to help and tend to leave open players. Michigan has five guys on the floor at all times that can shoot the three and make a team pay for helping too much.
If Loyola can contain dribble penetration to avoid helping and leaving open shooters, they can limit the threes that the Wolverines have poured in. Michigan struggled against a smaller and more athletic Florida State team, shooting just 4-for-22 from behind the arc. The Ramblers are a smaller team that can mimic what the Seminoles have just previously done.
Their team tends to mimic Florida State more than they mimic Texas A&M, a team that Michigan beat by 27 points less than a week ago. Texas A&M uses two big men, which the Ramblers do not have and do not use. The Ramblers match up well and could cause some problems for the Wolverines.
Can a Cinderella to win a National Championship?
At this point, we really cannot call the Ramblers a Cinderella. They are a very balanced team and not one that is just playing out of their element. The Ramblers clearly belong and are proving that to teams like Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State. Three of those teams have been ranked at some point this season. Loyola has a balanced attack and continues to prove that they belong.
They are no longer a Cinderella and proved that no matter the team they play, they are going to be a tough out.
Featured image from The Star.
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