March Madness

5 Thoughts: Loyola Makes Massive Statement in NCAA Tournament Win Over Illinois

Loyola came into Sunday’s game against the Illinois Fighting Illini with something to prove, and they made a massive statement in a 71-58 victory in Indianapolis.

The win vaults Loyola into the Sweet 16, and it sends Illinois packing after being picked as one of the favorites to ultimately cut down the nets in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Here are five quick thoughts on the massive showdown between two state powerhouses.

Loyola Proves it Was Badly Under-seeded

When the brackets were released last week, many experts were surprised to see Loyola securing an eight seed in the NCAA Tournament, and their surprise was validated on Sunday in a strong effort against the Illini.

A wide variety of rankings showed that Loyola was one of the top teams in the country heading into this tournament. The famous KenPom rankings, which use advanced statistical analysis, had Loyola ranked as the 9th-best team in America heading into the tournament, and the NET rankings, which take into account the quality of competition a team has faced in a season, had Loyola ranked 10th in Division I-A.

The Ramblers also had one of the country’s best defenses by a wide variety of metrics, and they showcased all of that in this game.

While it may have been misfortune for Illinois to have to face an under-seeded team in the second round, it was equally unfortunate for Loyola to have to face a top seed in the second round, and they didn’t let that slow them down whatsoever.

Ayo’s (Possible) Final Collegiate Game One to Forget

Illinois star Ayo Dosunmu had a season to remember, but he had a Sunday to forget as what could have been his final collegiate game ended with a whimper rather than a flourish.

Dosunmu, an AP First-Team All-American and USA Today’s Player of the Year, had six turnovers in the game, with nine points and two assists to his credit in the contest. He also went 4-of-10 shooting, a common problem among Illinois’ top scorers.

The coronavirus pandemic likely helped convince Ayo to stay another season at Illinois after the 2019-20 campaign, and if he decides to head to the NBA now, he’ll do so after one of the toughest games of his collegiate career.  

Cameron Krutwig Dominates Illinois’ Bigs All Afternoon

Many observers felt that Illinois would have a distinct advantage in the paint with Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili, but Cameron Krutwig once again shut down the doubters, as he has so many times in his collegiate career at Loyola.

Krutwig showed off his deft scoring touch, with 19 points to his credit, and he showcased his athleticism and strength at will, with 12 rebounds and five assists in the contest.

The senior center, a key component of the 2018 Final Four Loyola squad, is hoping to get back to the sport’s showcase event this season, and he made a massive statement in this game for the Ramblers.

Lack of Adjustments Prove to be the Downfall of the Illini

Loyola’s speed and tenacity on defense were both on full display in this game, and Illinois couldn’t quite figure out how to make adjustments to their game to cope with those issues.

Cockburn was routinely bullied on the inside with double and even triple teams, and he couldn’t find outlets for the ball to force Loyola to scramble to cover the perimeter. When Illinois tried to run screens, Loyola would fight through them and immediately get support on the other side, preventing the Illini from getting open shots.

In all, Illinois turned the ball over 17 times, with Loyola racking up an impressive 12 steals in the victory.

Lucas Williamson Proving to be a Force to be Reckoned With

While a ton of the attention in this tournament will be focused, rightly, on Krutwig, Williamson is showing that his game translates to the big stage too, as he had 14 points, two steals and two blocks in Sunday’s win over Illinois.

Williamson averaged just 8.6 points and 3.9 rebounds a game during the regular season, but he has been a force in both tournament games so far for the Ramblers. In the opener against Georgia Tech, he made four three-pointers and scored 21 points, with six rebounds and four assists to his credit as well.

His ability to make plays on both ends of the floor will be a key ingredient for Loyola moving forward, and he will be a player worth watching against either Oklahoma State or Oregon State later this week.

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