By Lenn Robbins
Where was Sister Jean when Loyola Chicago needed her? For the first time since capturing the nation’s attention as a program on the rise – not merely an endearing story – the Ramblers found themselves in role they are not accustomed to – favorite.
The No.8 Ramblers were a six and one-half point favorites over Pac 12 champion Oregon State, which was 11-11 in mid-February. Maybe it was the Beavers defense, which held Tennessee to 58 points, Oklahoma State to 70 points, that locked in again.
Or maybe the pressure of being the favorite in a game with an Elite Eight berth on the line was a burden. It could be a little of both but Loyola Chicago struggled mightily on offense in a 65-58 loss to the No.12 Beavers.
Center Cameron Krutwig, playing in his ninth NCAA Tournament game, was the only Loyola Chicago player to turn in a quality offensive game scoring 14 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing four assists. Krutwig was 6-of-12 from the field. The rest of the team was 12-of-42 (28-percent). And the Ramblers were 5-of-23 on 3’s.
Oregon State heads to its first Elite Eight since 1982 to face the winner of the Houston-Syracuse game. Maybe it’s time to give the Beavers, picked to finish 12th in the Pac-12, some credit. Especially on defense.
QUOTE EM: Here’s hoping Loyola Chicago coach Porter Moser doesn’t take a “big name” job and keep building what he started. Loyola Chicago is driven to be the next Gonzaga.
It’s hard to imagine any school dominating its conference the way the Zags have owned the West Coast Conference but there’s no reason the Ramblers can’t turn the Missouri Valley Conference, which has a tradition of good programs (Northern Iowa, Bradley, Valpo, etc.) into a two-bid league.
After the loss to Oregon State, Moser asked his distraught players to remove the towels from their heads and look up as he spoke to them.
“We’ve established a culture that there’s a lot that goes into representing that,” Moser said. “They did everything on and off the floor you could ask for representing that.”
No.1 Gonzaga vs No. 5 Creighton
The Blue Jays are the last remaining Big East team after Baylor beat a game Villanova team that was missing co-Big East Player of the Year and point guard Collin Gillespie, 62-51. They seemed to have overcome the late-season controversy, when coach Greg McDermott told his players he need everyone on the plantation.
They have some terrific talent, led by point guard Marcus Zegarowski, one of five players averaging in double figures. Creighton (22-8) is particularly strong in the backcourt. But the Blue Jays don’t have enough inside to match Gonzaga. Creighton is 185th in rebounding. Gonzaga is 10th.
Creighton likes to push the pace and score. No one does that better than the Zags.
Prediction: Gonzaga 87, Creighton 74
No. 6 USC vs No. 7 Oregon
Many fans here in the Northeast haven’t seen the Mobley Twins – Evan and Isaiah – in action, which is a shame. The 7-foot Evan is a generational talent. In winning the Pac-12 Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, he joins former Kentucky star Anthony Davis as the only conference player to win all three awards. Isaiah is his 6-foot-10 sidekick, giving USC the Twin Towers of college basketball.
No team can match USC’s size but Oregon creates headaches of its own. The Ducks boast a bevy of players in the 6-4 to 6-8 range who are athletic and interchangeable. They also have an East Coast intensity with Rutgers transfer Eugene Omoruyi, St. John’s transfer LJ Figueroa and the super confident Chris Duarte of the Dominican Republic.
Oregon (14-4 in Pac 12) edged USC (15-5) by percentage points for first place in the league. The Trojans won the only meeting, 72-58, despite USC not having Isaiah, who was out with a strained calf. The Trojans dominated the boards, 39-25. If the Ducks can hold their own on the boards, we like coach Dana Altman to find a way.
Prediction: Oregon 76, USC 73
No.1 Michigan vs No. 4 FSU
In Saturday’s article, we raved about Eric Musselman’s ability to bring his NBA background to Alabama. The same is true for Juwan Howard at Michigan. They are so well-coached and execute so well it’s no wonder he was voted Coach of the Year. One of the most underappreciated coaches in college basketball is FSU’s Leonard Hamilton, who spent one year in the NBA that he’d like to forget.
Howard and Hamilton share a close relationship and there are similarities in their teams. The Wolverines went eight deep until the March 13th injury to Isaiah Livers, a true glue guy who did a lot of everything. FSU goes nine deep. Both are terrific defensively. Michigan allows 65.9 points; FSU gives up 68.9.
So what’s the difference? We saw Gillespie’s injury finally catch up with Nova in the second half of the loss to Baylor. That’s what will happen to Michigan. Livers averaged 13.1 points, six rebounds, two assists and was a 43-percent shooter on 3’s, best on the Wolverines. That kind of lost production and intangible catches up to a program this deep in the tournament.
Prediction: FSU 72, Michigan 71
No. 11 UCLA vs No. 2 Alabama
This is not a great UCLA team but it is a solid one led by an excellent coach in Mick Cronin. The Bruins average 75.3 points per game but it would not be wise to get into a shootout with Alabama, which is tied for seventh in the country at 82.
The Tide play defense just long enough to go back on offense. They are 151st in the nation, allowing 69.5 points per game. If the Bruins are going to win this one, they have to be the better defensive team and must rebound the ball better than Alabama. That’s their biggest challenge. Bama is 8th in the nation in rebounding (40.5 per game; UCLA is 190th (35)
Prediction: Alabama 83, UCLA 78