Loyola-Chicago Ramblers- South Region Champions (32-5) MVC
In a perfect world, I’d like to believe that a six-loss team from the Missouri Valley Conference would be able to earn an at-large berth in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. However, there were rumors that the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers would have been NIT bound if they fell short of doubling up the regular season title with the conference tournament title. Meaning, the Ramblers were almost a victim of numbers that has nothing to do with basketball playing ability. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that.
The Ramblers breezed into the Final Four with a huge Elite 8 victory over the Kansas State Wildcats. However, the other three wins were reminiscent of their quarterfinal win over the Northern Iowa Panthers in the MVC. Their tournament run was highlighted by game-winning shots and close calls. It was also highlighted by excellent passing and cutting. Oh yeah, the Ramblers have played tremendous defense throughout the NCAA Tournament. Still, they have not played a perfect game, yet. Otherwise, a couple of the victories may have come a little easier after double digit leads in the second half.
Close Call: Shoot, when the first three wins came by a total of four points, they are all close calls. However, the one game that seemed closer than any was the second round game against the Tennessee Volunteers. The Ramblers had a 10-point lead with 4:04 left in the game. With 21 seconds left in the game, the Volunteers took the lead. However, Clayton Custer hit the game-winning shot with a few seconds left.
Easiest Victory: The Ramblers really were never threatened by the Wildcats in the Elite 8. They had their best start to any of their NCAA Tournament games. They had a 12-point lead at halftime. The Ramblers even pushed the lead to 23 points midway through the second half. As long as the Ramblers pushed tempo, they found open shots against the Wildcats. As a result, they scored their tournament high in the Elite 8.
First Round- No. 6 Miami 64-62
Second Round- No. 3 Tennessee 63-62
Sweet 16- No. 7 Nevada 69-68
Elite 8- No. 9 Kansas State 78-62
The Ramblers are the biggest story in the NCAA Tournament. You may want to call them a Cinderella team, but they really aren’t. They have won their four NCAA Tournament games by an average of five points. Yes, it’s the lowest margin of victory in the Final Four. However, if it wasn’t for an outlier game by Michigan, three of the teams would have won their tournament games by single digits.
Offensively, the Ramblers are scoring 72 points per game this season. They are holding opponents to 62.4 points per game. However, tournament play has been a little different. So far, the Ramblers are scoring 68.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. They are giving up 63.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. But here is the craziest part. The Nevada Wolf Pack scored 68 points in the Sweet 16 loss. The rest of the opponents scored 62 on the nose. Therefore, the Ramblers have been as consistent, defensively as any team throughout the NCAA Tournament.
They have five players that score double figures. Custer leads the way with 13.2 points per game. They have three players scoring slightly more than 11 points per game. Donte Ingram, Marques Townes and Aundre Jackson have provided great attacks at the rim with an assortment of layups. Meanwhile, Cameron Krutwig is providing 10.3 points per game. Now, it’s time to look out for Ben Richardson and his seven points per game. He scored a career high 23 points in the Elite 8 win.
The Ramblers dish out 15.8 assists per game. They are a top 15 team in that category. However, it’s their overall passing ability that really stands out. They don’t have a lot of size on the court. Yet, they still rank in the Top 25 in defensive rebounding. Ingram and Krutwig lead the Ramblers with six rebounds apiece. Krutwig is the only player with over one offensive rebound per game. It helps when the team shoots over 50 percent from the field.
Current Streak- 14 Games: The Ramblers have the longest winning streak in the Final Four. Their 14-game winning streak started in the beginning of February. They lost on the final day of January. However, the Ramblers did win seven straight games prior to that. Meaning, the Ramblers have won 21 of their last 22 contests. In all, their matchup with the Wolverines will feature 27 wins in a row between both teams.