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: … ll-men/d1/

Loyola game notes: Pending

Nevada game notes: Pending

TV/Streaming video: CBS / … every-game

Vegas odds: Nevada by 2.5

NCAA Preview vs. Tennessee — 3-17-2018

Saturday, March 17, 2018, 5:10 p.m.
American Airlines Center, Dallas, Tex.

Last October, the Tennessee Volunteers were picked to finish 13th (second to last) in the 2017-18 SEC Preseason Men’s Basketball Poll. It wasn’t the first time Rick Barnes was underestimated. In 2017-18 the longtime coach with 661 victories won a share of the SEC regular season crown in his third year at Tennessee. With a record of 26-8, the 3-seed Vols enter the Round of 32 after beating Horizon League champions Wright State in a 73-47 thrashing in the first round.

If you aren’t familiar with or haven’t followed Coach Rick Barnes’ career, you might be surprised to learn that he coached five different teams to 23 NCAA Tournament appearances in 31 seasons, including a trip to the Final Four and six Sweet 16s. Since 1988, when he signed on to right the ship at Providence, Rick Barnes has been bouncing from one difficult, underappreciated major conference coaching gig to another. George Mason, Providence, Clemson, and Texas all took him for granted, and now he’s landed at another tough men’s basketball coaching gig, Tennessee.

Being the well-paid men’s basketball coach at a football school is not an easy gig. The Vols have only been to the tournament once since Bruce Pearl crashed and burned in scandal in 2011. That was Cuonzo Martin’s 2013-14 season that allowed him to bail out and take the head coaching gig at Cal Berkeley. A year later, in March 2014, Texas fired Barnes (their winningest coach of all time) because his team was beaten by Butler in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Tennessee was happy to get him, and after two more years out of the Tournament, this year the Vols are the top seed out of the SEC.

The 2017-18 Volunteers have had a very stable lineup since the beginning of the season. The starters are 6’5” sophomore forward Grant Williams, 6’5” junior forward Admiral Schofield, 6’3” sophomore guard Jordan Bowden, 6’1” sophomore guard Jordan Bone, and 6’9” junior forward Kyle Alexander. Two bench players play key minutes: 6’1” sophomore guard Lamonte Turner, and 5’10” senior guard James Daniel. John Fulkerson and Derrick Walker, two freshman forwards, play most games under 10 minutes to play defensive matchups.

Williams and Schofield lead the Vols in scoring at 15.3 and 13.8 points per game respectively. Williams does most of his scoring inside, and Schofield is a dangerous three-point shooter at 39.5%. They’re neck-and-neck for team leaders in rebounding, with Williams slightly better on the offensive glass and Schofield way out in front on defensive boards. Schofield is from Zion, Illinois, where he played on the same Zion-Benton team as Illinois State’s Malik Yarborough, so he’s used to playing alongside a similar, complementary player in the frontcourt. You might think of Williams as Aundre Jackson, and Schofield as Donte Ingram, only more muscular and willing to bang down low. Forward Kyle Alexander is a rim protector on defense (55 blocks ranks 8th in the SEC), and shoots for high percentage when he gets the ball at point blank range.

The UT backcourt features Jordan Bone as the playmaker, averaging 7.3 points and 3.6 assists per game. Jordan Bowden is the shooting guard, and averages 9.3 points per game. Both are dangerous from three-point territory, shooting 38.8 and 39.5% respectively. The real three-point threat comes in the form of Lamonte Turner off the bench. Turner shoots 40% behind the arc, leads the team in threes, and averages 10.7 points per game. James Daniel is the backup point guard averaging 5.8 points and 2.9 assists in an average of 20.1 minutes per game.

Both the Ramblers and the Vols were underestimated by prognosticators at the beginning of the season. Neither team has much height, and both teams faded at the end of last season to a mediocre finish. Both teams had promising freshmen, but only Loyola’s freshmen made an impact. Nevertheless, both teams rose to the top of their leagues.

Tennessee dismantled Wright State 73-47 Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, doing most of their damage after WSU’s big man Loudon Love got his third foul in the first half. The Vols limited WSU’s savvy senior Grant Benzinger to five points on 2 of 16 shooting. The Vols limited the Raiders to 19% three point shooting, and 31.7% shooting overall. And UT won the rebounding battle 44-32, and forced 13 WSU turnovers. Lamonte Turner led the Vols with 19 points off the bench, and Schofield had a double-double with 15 points and 12 boards.

The Ramblers are coming off one of the most emotional days in the school’s athletic history. The dramatic winning shot at the buzzer by Donte Ingram to capture their first tournament game in a generation and a half will be remembered and talked about for a long time. Loyola’ Sr. Jean Dolores Schmidt became a national celebrity over the past few weeks. The Blers Mafia, the Maroon N Gold scarves, Bo Rambler, and the Wall of Culture are hot topics in Chicago and around college basketball. Longtime Loyola fans knew that the team and the school had the potential to be here. But going forward to the next step—a Sweet 16 appearance against even higher odds—is going to take some flawless performances, shrewd game planning, and probably some luck.

Real-time NCAA Tournament bracket: … ll-men/d1/

Loyola game notes: Pending

Tennessee game notes: Pending

TV/Streaming video: TNT /

Vegas odds: Tennessee by 6.5

NCAA Preview: vs. Miami 3-15-2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018 2:10 p.m.
American Airlines Center, Dallas, Tex.

Loyola gets their first taste of the NCAA Tournament in 33 years on Thursday as an 11 seed facing the sixth-seeded Miami Hurricanes. It’s been a long time coming for the Ramblers, who assumed they’d be very good this year, but probably didn’t expect 28-5 record, an RPI of 22, winning the MVC by four games, and a relatively easy nationally-televised win at Arch Madness. At 22-9 overall, 11-7 in the ACC, and sharing a three-way tie for third place in the conference, the Canes had a very respectable season that probably didn’t quite live up to expectations.

This is the third straight year Miami has been in the tournament. Two years ago, Miami had probably its second-best team ever, led by a tight group of experienced seniors. Guards Sheldon McClennan and Angel Rodriquez lifted Miami to the top of the AP Top 25 for three weeks in February 2016. The Canes earned a 3 seed in the Tournament and defeated Buffalo and Wichita State before falling to eventual National Champion Villanova in the Sweet 16. Last year, a rebuilding Miami team surprised a lot of observers with a 21-11 record and a 10-8 ACC mark got an 8 seed; but they bounced out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Michigan State.

The Canes were picked to finish fourth in the ACC preseason poll and 13th in the preseason AP Top 25. Their 2016-17 season was strong, and impressive freshmen Bruce Brown, Dewan Huell, and Dejan Vesiljevic were expected to make a big sophomore improvement. NBA prospect and the country’s 11th ranked freshman recruit Lonnie Walker IV was going to be an impact player. Against a parade of not-as-good-as-expected, mediocre or bad non-con opponents, Miami reeled off 11 straight wins to begin the season. Before heading to their pre-Christmas MTE in Hawaii, they were 10-0 with a 86-81 win at then-undefeated and #15 Minnesota as their marquee win.

After winning their first game against tournament host Hawaii, the Canes lost to New Mexico State and eked out a three-point win against Middle Tennessee. Eight games into their conference season, with their record at 4-4, the U was dealt a big blow: sophomore point guard Bruce Brown (11.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG) suffered a season-ending foot injury. The young Hurricanes pulled together and won seven of their last 10 regular season games, including a crucial three-point win at UNC on a running 30-foot buzzer-beater.

Miami had maybe the easiest ACC schedule—only one game against Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Syracuse, NC State, and Virginia; two games against Pittsburgh (0-18 in conference, 217 RPI) and Boston College (7-11, 95 RPI). Only three of their 11 conference wins came against teams with an RPI better than 60; they were 3-6 on the season against teams with RPIs better than 50, including their one-and-out in the ACC Tournament. Against teams that made the NCAA Tournament this season, they were 5-7.

The 2017-18 Hurricanes are primarily powered by sophomores and freshmen. Their starters are 6’5” freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV, 6’3” senior guard Ja’Quan Newton, 6’7” junior guard Anthony Lawrence Jr., 5’7” freshman guard Chris Lykes, and 6’11” sophomore forward Dewan Huell. Walker and Huell each average 11.5 ppg, with Huell doing his damage in or near the paint and Walker driving and shooting from distance. Half of Walker’s shots are from behind the arc, and he hits on about 35% of them (though he’s hitting on 42% in the last five games). The loss of Brown for the season allowed for explosively quick freshman Chris Lykes to join the starting lineup, and he’s averaging 9.6 ppg while shooting most of his shots outside the arc. The most experienced players on the team are senior Ja’Quan Newton and junior Anthony Lawrence Jr., a long guard who averages 8.9 points and shares the rebounding lead with Huell at 6.6 per game. Newton averages 8.6 points per game and is the best playmaker, with 2.7 assists.

Major players off the bench are Dejan Vesiljevic, Sam Waardenburg, and Ebuka Izundu. Vesiljevic is the main three-point threat coming off the bench; the 6’3” sophomore guard averages 9.0 points per game and leads the team in made threes with 66 of them hit at a rate of 40.7%. Waardenburg is a 6’10” redshirt freshman forward who started earning regular playing time in late January; he averages 3.5 points and 2.9 rebounds. Izundu is a 6’10 junior center who averages 5.0 points and 3.7 boards. Sophomore 7-footer Rodney Miller also gets some minutes.

Like the Ramblers, the Canes share the ball well. They have six players that average between 8.9 and 11.5 points per game. Point guard Bruce Brown was averaging 4.0 assist per game before his injury, but the other guards have taken on a lot of the playmaking. Vesiljevic is the only guard on the bench who gets significant playing time, but the Canes usually keep out of foul trouble. Miami has a good team assist to turnover ratio (1.16). The Canes shoot well from three-point territory, and are one of the better defensive teams in a mostly offense-minded conference. Miami prefers to play at a faster pace, and has trouble against teams with a more deliberate pace. They are 16-2 when they score 72 points or more, but only 2-6 when scoring under 67 points.

Miami Coach Jim Larranaga has five members of his team (plus injured point guard Bruce Brown) who played in last year’s 78-58 loss to Michigan State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Larranaga himself has been to eight previous tournaments, including George Mason’s trip to the Final Four in 2006.

The Ramblers have been very consistent throughout the season. Except for two unmitigated debacles at Boise State and Milwaukee, the Ramblers have played cool, calm, collected and resolute all through the season. Even on big stages like the game at Florida and at Arch Madness, Loyola has looked confident and sure footed. But this is a different stage, and it will test Coach Porter Moser’s leadership and the power of the wall of culture to stay focused and keep the butterflies in check.

Loyola game notes: Pending

Miami game notes: Pending

TV/Streaming video: truTV /


Vegas odds: Miami by 2.5