Final Four Fact Sheet: Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 26th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. First, #11 Loyola-Chicago, from the South Region.

How Loyola-Chicago Got Here

Seriously: #11 Loyola-Chicago is in the Final Four. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

South Region Champions. In arguably the most chaotic region ever, the Missouri Valley Champion emerged as this NCAA Tournament’s team of destiny. The Ramblers began their unexpected run with a buzzer-beating victory over #6 Miami (FL), followed by an equally dramatic takedown of #3 Tennessee in the Round of 32. After edging #7 Nevada by a single point in the Sweet Sixteen — its third straight win by two points or fewer — Loyola shot 50 percent from behind the arc en route to a lopsided win over #9 Kansas State on Saturday. The Ramblers now join LSU (1986), George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011) as the only #11 seeds to reach the Final Four in NCAA Tournament history, a remarkable feat for a program that went 7-23 in the Horizon League just six seasons ago.

The Coach

Porter Moser. After middling coaching stints with Arkansas-Little Rock (2000-03) and Illinois State (2003-07), Moser took over a Loyola program in 2011 with just one 20-win season on its record since 1985. In a matter of just four years — including a 7-23 campaign and a move from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley — the former Rick Majerus assistant led the Ramblers to the College Basketball Invitational title in 2014-15, their first postseason appearance in 30 years. Three seasons later, Moser has taken the program to its greatest heights since winning the National Championship in 1963.

Style

As a Majerus disciple, Moser stresses hard-nosed, meticulous team defense that’s enabled Loyola to rank among the top 20 nationally in efficiency for the first time in the KenPom era. The Ramblers do a masterful job of switching and hedging ball screens, closing out on shooters, and providing help defense near the rim, which has forced opponents into an 18.3 second average possession length this season — the longest of any remaining NCAA Tournament team. Offensively, Loyola runs a four-out, one-in system predicated on quick ball-movement, good floor spacing and versatile personnel. In Moser’s system, all four perimeter players should be able to dribble-drive and knock down perimeter shots, while the lone paint presence — often Cameron Krutwig — is expected to be a capable post passer. Among the slower-paced offenses in the country, Loyola works patiently to find the best possible shot on each trip.

Strengths

Does Cinderella have another surprise or two in store? (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Unselfishness and Balance. All five Loyola starters average between 10.3 and 13.2 points per game, including star guard Clayton Custer, who earned Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year honors despite ranking 13th in the league in scoring. Considering how well the Ramblers move the basketball (24th-best assist rate nationally), that balance prevents opposing defenses from keying on any one player. In each of its four NCAA Tournament games, in fact, a different player has led the team in scoring. What’s more, Loyola ranks among the top 11 teams nationally in both three-point shooting (40.2% 3FG) and two-point shooting (56.8% 2FG), meaning the Ramblers are equally dangerous from nearly anywhere on the floor.
  • Patience. There is nothing forced about Loyola’s offense. The Ramblers led their conference in offensive efficiency (by a mile) this season while ranking second-to-last in pace, the product of outstanding ball-movement — again, they’re among the nation leaders in assist rate — and extreme patience. Whether attacking the lane and kicking out, running a high-pick-and roll, or swinging the ball on the perimeter for a “hockey assist”, Loyola has no problem burning much of the shot clock before making an attempt. Against a defensively stout Michigan team that makes you work on every possession, patience will be necessary.
  • Defending without fouling. No other man-to-man defense ranked inside the top 20 nationally in adjusted efficiency fouls at a lower rate than the Ramblers, which is remarkable considering how hard they work on each possession. Through four NCAA Tournament games, Loyola’s opponents have attempted just 45 combined free throws, which is fewer than even zone-heavy Duke has allowed. Although Michigan doesn’t usually rely on the charity stripe for its success, the Ramblers’ carefulness could come in handy against a Wolverines team that scored 28 percent of its points at the line on Saturday night.

Weaknesses

  • Turnovers. Loyola turns the ball over at an 18.9 percent clip, which is easily the worst among the four teams heading to San Antonio. Against both Nevada (16 turnovers) and Kansas State (15 turnovers), the Ramblers surrendered far more points off turnovers than they generated, the one blemish on otherwise great defensive efforts. Several times throughout the tournament, Loyola’s pick-and-roll dishes to Krutwig and quick passing around the perimeter have turned into run-out steals for opposing defenses. Similar such errors against Michigan — already an offensively proficient team — could spell doom for the Ramblers.
  • Margin for error. Loyola’s patience and slow pace is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it often leads to wide open shots, which (as mentioned above) the Ramblers are well-equipped to make. On the other hand, Loyola generally finds itself in low-possession affairs in which its shot volume is exceedingly low. Before pounding Kansas State on Saturday, Moser’s group had won three sub-70 point games in a row by a combined four points. If any of its clutch shots against Miami, Tennessee or Nevada had rimmed out, Loyola would not be heading to San Antonio. The Ramblers are among the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country in large part due to their offensive system. In what’s sure to be a low-possession game against Michigan, the Missouri Valley champion simply can’t afford to have a poor shooting night.
  • Frontcourt depth. This team doesn’t really need much frontcourt depth, considering Krutwig’s excellence and Moser’s often-effective five-guard lineup. Still, Michigan forward Moritz Wagner — a 6’11” big man capable of knocking down perimeter shots and beating defenders off the dribble — will present an interesting challenge for Loyola’s 260-pound center. If Krutwig finds himself in foul trouble, the Ramblers might find themselves in a world of hurt on both ends of the court.

Go-To Scorer

Aundre Jackson’s scoring punch will be key in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Aundre Jackson (11.0 PPG). Part of what makes Loyola so dangerous is that doesn’t rely on any single player to shoulder the scoring load. Still, in the 6’5″ senior Jackson, the Ramblers have a player capable of producing instant offense off the bench. Despite playing just 19 minutes per game, the Missouri Valley Sixth Man of the Year takes a whopping 31.7 percent of his team’s shots while on the floor, which is why he averages double-figures despite limited run. Perhaps no Loyola player is more capable of getting to the rim, and Jackson’s presence against in San Antonio will be crucial.

X-Factor

Cameron Krutwig (10.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG). At 6’9″, 260 pounds, Krutwig serves as the anchor for Loyola’s four-out, one-in offense. His ability to pass out of the post and catch the ball cleanly in pick-and-roll situations will be more important than ever against Michigan’s defense. More importantly, Krutwig will need guard the Wolverines’ Wagner without getting into foul trouble, which will be easier said than done considering his ability to draw big men out of the paint.

Outlook

The Ramblers have knocked off opponents from the ACC, SEC, Mountain West, and Big 12 en route to their improbable Final Four appearance. Who’s to say the ride ends now? Loyola is stylistically similar to Michigan, which means it should find itself itself in another low-possession contest where half-court execution rules the day. If it continues shooting well, there’s no reason Moser’s group can’t win on Saturday night. A victory over Villanova or Kansas — both athletic, offensively explosive teams — would be an even taller task, but then so was an #11 seed mid-major reaching the Final Four. If Sister Jean is in San Antonio, anything is possible.

Tommy Lemoine (249 Posts)


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