Category Archives: Game Previews

NCAA Preview vs. Michigan — 3-31-2018

Saturday, March 31, 2018 5:09 p.m.
The Alamodome, San Antonio, Tex.

For a discussion of the 1964 NCAA Tournament game between Loyola and Michigan, and the disputed traveling call, click here.

After reaching their first Final Four in more than five decades, the Ramblers had a chance to celebrate for about 2 hours before discovering their national semifinal opponent. The game between Florida State and Michigan showed that both teams bidding for a berth against Loyola in San Antonio had significant strengths and a few weaknesses. After watching the game, most Loyola fans are probably happy that they won’t have to face the length and athleticism of Florida State. Still, they have to face a Big 10 powerhouse in the 32-7 Michigan Wolverines.

Want to get scared and intimidated? In the NCAA Tournament national semifinal, Loyola faces a Big 10 team—the Power 5 conference in Loyola’s own backyard. They face a team that won their tough conference tournament and won 13 games in a row dating back to Feb. 3—the second longest winning streak in college basketball. They’re a powerful defensive team, allowing opponents an average of only 63.1 points per game (8th best in the nation). They have three players averaging in double-digit points per game and are among the best shooters in D1 basketball with a 47.0% field goal percentage (56th in the nation)– and their 351 threes rank 18th in D1 hoops.

Pretty scary, huh? Unfortunately for the Michigan Wolverines, they’re facing a Loyola team that won its conference regular season (by four games) AND its conference tournament. They’re facing a team that has won 14 games in a row dating back to Jan. 31, the longest current winning streak in men’s college basketball. They’re facing a powerful defensive team that allows opponents an average of only 62.4 points per game (5th best in the nation). Five Loyola players average in double-digit points, and Loyola has the third best field goal percentage in the nation (50.9%) while shooting 40.0% from behind the arc (16th best in the nation).

The Wolverines played a relatively weak non-con schedule, and nearly made the worst of it. Because they lost the opening game of their MTE against LSU, they ended up playing Division II Chaminade and VCU on their trip to Hawaii instead of Notre Dame and Marquette. They lost a road game at North Carolina, and split their first two Big 10 conference games, leaving them on December 5th at 6-3 overall and 1-1 in conference with their best RPI win at home against Indiana (125). Michigan’s RPI was 220 going into week 4, while Loyola’s was 183.

During the last three weeks of December, the Maize and Blue won four non-con games, including a home win over UCLA and a roadie at Texas. And when conference play resumed, Coach John Beilein’s squad won their first two games to get back above .500 in conference for good. Michigan took care of business in the Big 10, impressing everyone with a 10-point road win over Michigan State on Jan. 13, and knocking off conference leader Ohio State in their home game against the Buckeyes. But there were some chinks in the armor: U of M was swept by Purdue in the regular season, split with Northwestern, and lost by 20 at Nebraska.

The loss at Northwestern on Feb. 6 was their last. The Wolverines won their last five regular season games to surge to a tie for 4th in the regular season standings. Then 5th-seeded UM knocked off Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Purdue in four consecutive days to win the B1G Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Winning the B1G Tournament tends to go a long way with the committee, so Michigan got a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, two spots higher in the Big Dance than their seeding in their conference tournament. They beat 14-seed Montana, got a last-second 35-foot three-point prayer to beat 6-seed Houston, demolished 7-seed Texas A&M by 25 points, and ground out an ugly slog of a win against 9-seeded Florida State. They had whatever it took in several very different styles of play to get to the Final Four. And now one of these teams that was on no one’s radar as a serious, deep-run tournament threat after week four of the season is going to play for a spot in the National Championship game.

This is Michigan’s third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, and their 8th in the last 10 seasons. Their 3-seed in this year’s tournament is their second highest seeding after getting a 2 seed in 2013-14, the year after they lost in the title game. Loyola and Michigan met in the 1964 Sweet 16, with Michigan winning 84-80. Loyola won the last meeting between the two teams on Feb. 1, 1969 at Chicago Stadium, leaving U of M with a 2-1 advantage in the series.

LINEUPS

Michigan is likely to start 6’6” junior guard Charles Matthews, 6’4” senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, 6’0” sophomore guard Zavier Simpson, 6’11” junior forward Moritz Wagner, and 6’7” freshman forward Isaiah Livers. Abdur-Rahkman is the dynamic leader of the Wolverines, and leads the team in minutes (35.7) and assists while averaging 12.8 points per game. More than half of Abdur-Rahkman’s shots come from behind the arc, where he’s connected on 71 threes while shooting 38.8%. Wagner (cue Flight of the Valkyries) is UM’s top scorer and rebounder with 14.3 and 6.9; his really great three-point shooting for a big man (59 made threes and 39.6% shooting) has probably surprised many opponents. Wagner leads the team in fouls (115) and disqualification from fouls (3), but if you’re thinking that fouling him out is the answer to your troubles, don’t bother. Michigan is 14-3 in games where Wagner has four or more fouls, and 3-0 in his three disqualifications.

Chicagoan Charles Matthews (St. Rita) is a transfer from Kentucky, and averages 13.0 ppg and 5.6 rpg; he’s an acceptable three-point shooter (32%), but really excels at finishing around the basket. Matthews can be prone to turnovers, but he has taken better care of the ball lately, outside of a five turnover game against Montana. Zavier Simpson is the quick playmaker for UM, who leads the team in assists (3.7 per game) and scores 7.5 points on average. He’s not a great shooter from distance, but finishes well at the basket.

The top bench players are 6’8” senior forward Duncan Robinson, 7’1” center Jon Teske, 6’1” grad transfer guard Jaaron Simmons, and 6’5” freshman guard Jordan Poole. Robinson is a senior who plays starter’s minutes and takes most of his shots from the perimeter. Despite being 6’8”, he can play the 2 or the 3, which provides a lot of flexibility. Robinson averages 9.5 ppg and is the best foul shooter by far on one of the worst free throw percentage teams in the country. Teske is a sophomore big man who averages 3.5 points and 3.3 rebounds; he’s gone for two double-doubles and scored 14 in the conference tournament final against Purdue. Simmons averages only 1.5 points per game. Poole averages 6.2 points per game and hit the game-winning three-pointer against Houston. Few other U of M players see meaningful minutes.

(For a helpful scouting breakdown on all the U of M players, you can read these two reports from Michigan fans posted on Ramblermania.)

STATS

Loyola looks fantastic if you go by raw numbers, but most college hoops observers will downplay Loyola’s stats as primarily coming against inferior mid-major competition. However, Loyola averages almost the same or even BETTER against tournament quality teams than they have for the season, and all of Loyola’s tournament quality games (Florida, Miami, Tennessee, Nevada, Kansas State) have come on the road or at neutral sites:

P5/Ranked Overall
Points for/against 67.8/62.6 72.0/62.4
Field goal pct. 52.4 50.6
Opp FG pct. 41.3 41.4
Three point pct. 42.9 40.0
Opp Three point pct. 26.4 32.6

(Note: Loyola also defeated Wright State in non-conference regular season play; they were a 15 seed in this year’s tournament).

Loyola and Michigan play very similar styles. Michigan is a slightly better rebounding team, enjoys playing at a slightly faster pace, and has a small edge in steals, blocks, and taking care of the ball. Loyola is a slightly better shooting team, both from the field and from the line. Michigan tends to play their best in a game with the pace factor (possessions per 40 minutes) from 66-71, while the Ramblers play a more deliberate pace (59-67). KenPom.com ranks Michigan 4th in Defensive Efficiency, and Loyola at 18th. Michigan ranks 30th in Offensive Efficiency while the Ramblers rank 60th.

The Ramblers are a decided underdog yet again, as they have been for every game of the tournament. Loyola hasn’t seemed intimidated by the big stage up ‘til now, but the Final Four will kick all of the hype and hysteria up another notch or two.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Here are some things Loyola will need to do to beat Michigan:

Dictate the pace. Michigan has the ability to win playing slow or fast and loose, but they prefer to manage their scoring into the mid-70s. When the games are in the low 60s or below, they tend to have a little trouble.

Shoot better than 50%. Teams have beaten Michigan averaging less than 50% on field goals, like Northwestern (40%), Purdue (47.4%) and Ohio State (48.9%). But all four opponents who shot over 50% against Michigan won their game. And Loyola has shot 50% or better from the field 24 times this season, winning all 24 games.

Get to the free throw line. Michigan is 14-6 when putting their opponents on the free throw line 16 or more times, which sounds like a pretty good record. But that accounts for all but one of their losses. And three of those wins came in overtime, and one came on Jordan Poole’s last-second bomb for the win over Houston. When opponents shoot fewer than 16 free throws, they’re 18-1. The Ramblers average 17.4 trips to the line in their wins, but only 15 in their losses.

Hold Michigan to less than 30% three-point shooting. The Wolverines are 7-5 when shooting less than 30% on threes, and the Ramblers are 15-0 when holding opponents under 30% from behind the arc.

Move the ball! The Ramblers have gotten away with being sloppy with the ball the past few games, averaging 12.8 turnovers in the tournament and 15.5 in the past two games. Meanwhile, Michigan has averaged only 9.8 turnovers in the tournament and only 8.3 over the last three games. Assists are especially important, as the Ramblers are 31-0 when making more or equal assists than their opponents, and the Wolverines are 1-4 when opponents win in assists.

LINKS

NCAA Preview vs. Kansas State — 3-24-2018

Saturday, March 24, 2018 5:07 p.m.
Phillips Arena, Atlanta, Ga.

This NCAA Tournament has featured inspired play by several teams that were considered by some bracketologists and experts as undeserving, only minimally qualified, or lucky to be invited. Florida State, Syracuse, Loyola, and Kansas State have all made deep runs despite being written off by some as “lucky to be there.”

Just before the Big 12 Tournament, in which Kansas State was a 4-seed, the Wildcats were in danger of missing the tournament entirely. With an RPI about 56 and showing up as a 10 seed in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, a one-and-done in the Big12 tourney might have caused K-State to sweat out Selection Sunday after Syracuse, UCLA, USC, and Davidson played their way into the field. But a first round Big 12 Tournament win over TCU was enough for the committee to elevate K-State to a 9-seed, and the Wildcats have responded with wins over Creighton, UMBC, and Kentucky to reach the Elite 8.

The ‘Cats will be matched with 11-seed Loyola, who defeated Miami (FL), Tennessee, and Nevada to constitute the lowest-seeded Elite 8 matchup in history. The Ramblers have been cardiac kids in the tournament, winning three games by a total of four points, each of them with a big shot in the final 10 seconds.

The Wildcats are a big team that focuses on defense. K-State is last in the high-scoring Big 12 in points per game (71.1), but they’re 2nd best in points allowed (66.7). The Wildcats also rank 2nd best in the Big 12 in other defensive stats, like turnover margin and steals. KenPom.com ranks K-State 14th in the country in defensive efficiency, just 10 spots ahead of Loyola. The Ramblers, meanwhile, are ranked 67th in KenPom’s offensive efficiency, just 11 spots ahead of Kansas State. This will be the first time in the NCAA Tournament that Loyola will be facing a team that plays with a similar style and pace. KenPom puts K-State at 307th in Adjusted Tempo and the Ramblers come in at 319.

Kansas State is likely to start 6’3” junior guard Barry Brown Jr., 6’ junior guard Kamau Stokes, 6’5” sophomore forward Xavier Sneed, 6’4” freshman guard Cartier Diarra, and 6’9” sophomore forward Makol Mawien. Brown averages 16.0 ppg and leads the team in assists, field goal attempts, steals, turnovers, and trips to the free throw line. He loves to drive to the basket, and he hits more than 50% of his two-point shots. He’s not as accurate from three-point territory (32.8%). The other big scoring threat is Sneed, who averages 11.0 points per game and leads the team with 61 made threes. Sneed does huge damage when he’s hot; he’s had four games with 20 or more points this season, including 22 against Kentucky. But he’s also had six games with 3 points or less.

Stokes and Diarra have traded off starting roles for most of the season, but both have been pressed into starting together because of a foot injury to forward Dean Wade. Stokes is a point guard who averages 8.9 points and Diarra is a two who averages 7.1. Mawien is a rim protector and a very accomplished shooter inside. He leads the team with 42 blocks, and averages 6.9 points per game on 61.4% shooting.

State’s leading scorer, 6’10” forward Dean Wade, has played only eight minutes in the NCAA Tournament, all off the bench in the game against Kentucky; he suffered a foot injury in the Big 12 Tournament and missed three full games. Wade might be able to play double-digit minutes off the bench against Loyola if needed. Wade averages 16.2 points per game and can hit from behind the arc at a high percentage (44%).

The other bench players likely to see time are 6’2” guard Mike McGuirl, 6’2” junior guard Amaad Wainright, and 6’8” freshman forward Levi Stockard III. McGuirl played significant minutes against Kentucky and chipped in three points and two assists; he averages 3.2 points per game on the year. Wainright averages 2.8 points and 2.3 rebounds.

Brown has scored 18 points or more 15 times on the season, and K-State is 12-3 in those games. He plays almost every minute of every game, averaging 36.3 minutes per game since December 5 (he played only one minute in State’s Big 12 tourney game against Kansas). Brown can be prone to getting into foul trouble, which limits his effectiveness. Mawien is also foul prone, and with K-State’s limited depth, taking advantage of aggressiveness and overplaying can be good strategy.

Real-time NCAA Tournament bracket: https://www.ncaa.com/interactive-bracket/basketball-men/d1/

Loyola game notes: http://www.loyolaramblers.com/documents/2018/3/23//Kansas_State_NCAA_Tourney_Notes_3_24_18.pdf?id=6933

Kansas State game notes: http://www.kstatesports.com/documents/2018/3/23//Notes_Update.pdf

TV/Streaming video: TBS / https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/article/2018-03-15/march-madness-2018-live-stream-tv-schedule-watch-every-game

Vegas odds: Pick ’em

NCAA Preview vs. Nevada — 3-22-2018

Thursday, March 22, 2018 6:07 p.m.
Phillips Arena, Atlanta, Ga.

The Ramblers are back in the Sweet 16 after 33 years– and for the fourth time in school history. With a win over Miami (FL) on Thursday and Tennessee on Saturday to reach the 2018 Sweet 16, Loyola raises its all time NCAA Tournament record to 11-4. LU’s current winning percentage (.733) in NCAA Tournament games ranks second only to Duke’s .750.

Loyola’s take down of two higher seeds is de rigueur for the South Region this year, where the #1, #2, #3, #4, and #6 seeds have gone out in the first or second rounds. The four teams striving for the South Region’s Final Four berth in San Antonio are #5 Kentucky, #9 Kansas State, #7 Nevada, and #11 Loyola. Astounding. Only Kentucky wasn’t a dicey prospect to even make the tournament two weeks before Selection Sunday.

Nevada looked to be all but packing for home midway through the 2nd half of their Round of 32 matchup with Cincinnati. The Bearcats, a #2 seed and the winner of the American Athletic Conference auto bid, were in total control of their game against the Wolfpack for every bit of the first 28 minutes. With Cincy in charge at 65-43 and only 11:37 left, Nevada closed out the game with a furious, stunning, powerful 32-8 run that ranks as the 2nd biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history. The Wolfpack also came back from 14 down in their Friday win over Texas.

Two years ago, Coach Eric Musselman’s Wolfpack won the CBI, the year after Loyola did the same. Last year, led in scoring by Missouri State transfer Marcus Marshall, they won the Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament to make the Big Dance as a 12 seed. This season, they are 29-7, with wins over Rhode Island, Davidson, Illinois State (by 30 points), Boise State (twice), Texas and Cincinnati. The Wolfpack cruised to a national ranking and regular season conference title before stumbling a bit at the end of the year. A loss at San Diego State in the regular season finale and another loss to the Aztecs in the conference tournament semifinal threw up some question marks for the tournament selection committee, but Nevada was still one of only a handful of mid-major teams to get an at large bid.

As a nickname, Wolfpack is apropos for this Nevada team, because they work as a unit. The starting players are led by twins Caleb and Cody Martin, a pair of 6’7” junior forwards. Another 6’7” junior forward who might be familiar to Rambler fans is Jordan Caroline, a transfer from Southern Illinois who made the MVC all-freshman team the year Donte Ingram and Ben Richardson were up for that honor. Chicago-area senior guard Kendall Stephens, a 6’6” senior, and 6’3” senior guard Hallice Cooke round out the starting lineup.

Only two players from the Nevada bench have seen any minutes in this tournament, even as one of the games went to overtime—6’7” sophomore guard Josh Hall has played an average of 35.5 minutes per game off the bench in the two games, and 6’7” senior forward Elijah Foster played less than a minute in the Cincinnati game. That’s it. Six-four guard Lindsay Drew was a starter for much of the year but ruptured his Achilles in the mid February.

The 2017-18 Nevada team takes some experiments in team composition to new levels. Schools like Florida State, Dayton, and VCU have succeeded in trying to use a team of five versatile and interchangeable players as a cohesive and sharing unit. They eliminate mismatches, and they emphasize athleticism, helping and sharing. To some extent, Loyola has borrowed from this playbook from 2014 to 2017, when there were no starting players available over 6’7” who could outmatch the better big men in the league. The Ramblers used this method with players in the 6’2” to 6’7” range when Loyola made their CBI run in 2015. The team that won the CBI the following year was Nevada, with Jordan Caroline sitting on the bench waiting out his transfer year, and the Martin twins from NC State transferring the year after that.

The 2017-18 Nevada team isn’t deep at all, but they can create enormous matchup problems by putting out five 6’7” players at a time who all have superb speed, skills, and athleticism. They put the mismatch on small guards, and use length, double-teams, wing-span, help, or speed to overcome mismatches with big men. Caleb Martin leads the team in scoring at 18.8, Caroline averages 17.7 and leads in rebounding at 8.7 per game, and Cody Martin chips in 13.9 while leading in assists and steals, and snagging 6.3 boards per game.

Loyola has also cut their bench down to just three players besides the starters. Aundre Jackson, Lucas Williamson, and Bruno Skokna were the only three players to appear off the bench in the Tennessee game. All three contributed big plays, key points, and new looks to confound the opposition. Coming off the bench, Jackson has been the leading scorer for the Ramblers in this tournament, notching 28 points in two games. Williamson has played 20+ minutes in both games, scored 12 points, and made a key defensive play against Miami. Skokna has chipped in five points.

The Wolfpack is one of the most high-powered, fast-paced offenses in the country. They average 83.0 points per game (16th highest in the nation), and give up an average of 73.2. Despite their fast-paced style, they give up the ninth fewest turnovers in the nation. In their game against Cincinnati, they committed only TWO turnovers, which would be a season-low for almost every Division I team, even if it weren’t in an NCAA Tournament game against a tough defensive team.

Forcing Nevada into fouls and turnovers, and slowing the pace is the best way to have a chance to win. Keeping the Wolfpack off the free throw line is another key—they have shot the 18th most free throws in the nation, and at 73.9%, they’ve scored the 10th most points at the line in college basketball. Few teams can play close to Nevada’s fast and furious pace, even with their limited bench. In Nevada’s wins, they commit an average of 9.1 turnovers per game, and in their losses they average 11.9. In their wins, Nevada commits an average of only 16.17 fouls; in their losses, the average is 21.14.

Nevada has only lost seven times this year, to Texas Tech, TCU, San Francisco, Wyoming, UNLV, and twice to San Diego State. In the two games where San Diego State defeated Nevada, they did it by getting the Wolfpack into foul trouble. In both games, SDSU got four or more fouls on three Nevada players, and two Nevada players fouled out in their second matchup. In Nevada’s 82-76 overtime loss to Texas Tech, two Nevada players fouled out and two others had four fouls. In Nevada’s 84-80 loss to TCU, one player fouled out and one had four fouls. When the Wolfpack lost to Wyoming in double overtime, they had two players foul out and two more playing with four fouls. In Nevada’s 86-78 loss to UNLV at home, one player fouled out, one player had four fouls, and two players had three fouls.

The Ramblers need to take care against Nevada, a team not to be underestimated. They play a style the Ramblers haven’t often seen, and they come from the same league as Boise State, who handed Loyola their worst loss of the season– an epic, no-holds barred 34-point beatdown. And more significant, the Wolfpack have proven that no lead is ever safe against them.

Real-time NCAA Tournament bracket: https://www.ncaa.com/interactive-bracke … ll-men/d1/

Loyola game notes: Pending

Nevada game notes: Pending

TV/Streaming video: CBS / https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-me … every-game

Vegas odds: Nevada by 2.5