Loyola win sets up juicy second-round matchup with neighbor Illinois

Jason Owens
·2 min read

Loyola Chicago has developed into a mid-major power under head coach Porter Moser.

The Ramblers won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season in three out of last four years and famously made a Sister Jean-aided run to the Final Four in 2018. Despite the success and increased prominence, the Ramblers can't seem to secure a date with Big Ten neighbor Illinois, which resides about a two-hour drive south in Champaign.

That is, until Sunday.

Stiff second-round test awaits Illinois

Loyola beat Georgia Tech, 71-60, in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, setting up a juicy second-round matchup with No. 1 seed Illinois. It will mark the first time the programs have played since a regular-season matchup that Illinois won in 2011 — Moser's first game as Loyola's head coach.

Moser hasn't had the opportunity to exact his revenge since. Now his Ramblers will look to spoil the hopes of a No. 1 seed on the short list of national title favorites with their own eyes set on another Cinderella run to the Final Four.

It adds up to tougher than normal second-round matchup for a No. 1 seed. Many pegged the Ramblers as under-seeded on Selection Sunday and a favorite to make a deep run from a lower seed.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 19: Braden Norris #4 of the Loyola (Il) Ramblers reacts during the first half against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the first round game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 19, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Braden Norris and the Ramblers are on a roll. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Loyola's a defensive power

To do so, they'll lean on their elite defense that gave up an NCAA-low 55.5 points per game and ranked fourth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. The traditional and advanced stats support the Loyola's case as a defensive powerhouse.

They'll enter Sunday's game riding a seven-game winning streak and boasting a 25-4 record. If they're going to pull off the upset, they'll need a big game from center Cameron Krutwig, who leads the team with 15 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

It won't be easy or expected, of course. Illinois is led by projected NBA first-round point guard Ayo Dosunmu and entered the tournament on a tear, winning 14 out of 15 games in the nation's toughest conference en route to the Big Ten tournament title.

Illinois probably deserves an easier second-round matchup. But it's stuck with Loyola instead. And that's a win for every neutral viewer planning to tune in on Sunday.

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