#11 Loyola Ramblers vs. #6 Miami Hurricanes
3/15, 3:10 Eastern, truTV
Loyola Ramblers: 28-5, 15-3 in Missouri Valley Conference
Player to Watch: Donte Ingram, Forward
Clayton Custer is the leader of this Ramblers offense, but Ingram is my player to watch coming into this game. He can do it all for the Ramblers, averaging 11.6 points and boasting a 39.9% 3 point percentage. He also spends most games guarding the opposition’s best perimeter player, and he averages a steal a game doing so. Ingram is the anchor of the impressive Loyola defense, which can make up for a poor offensive performance with its ability to keep opponents under 60. Look for Ingram to be heavily involved on both ends.
The X-Factor: Cameron Krutwig, Center
The 6’9” true freshman center has been a force in the paint for the Ramblers, and he played a key role in their upset over Florida. Krutwig posted 14-8 in the 65-59 upset over the then-ranked #5 Gators out in Gainesville. Krutwig plays like a traditional post, but has also impressed coaches with his vision and passing ability. If the Ramblers want to pull off the upset, they’ll need a big day out of him. (Side note: I’m a little biased here because I had the displeasure of guarding Krutwig during his senior year at Jacobs High School last year. And I’ll take this opportunity to brag and let the fans of College Press Pass know that he only scored 6 on me.)
Miami Hurricanes 22-9, 11-7 in ACC
Player to watch: Donatell Walker
Walker, a 6’4” true freshman guard out of Reading, Pennsylvania, was a highly touted prospect for good reason. Walker is capable of scoring from anywhere. In his late 5 games that have featured 4 wins over Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Boston, and North Carolina, Walker has averaged 13.4. He’s also scored 25 against Florida State and 19 against Duke earlier in the year. If Walker can heat up, Miami can stay competitive with any team.
X-Factor: Miami’s shooting vs Loyola’s perimeter defense
Miami doesn’t have a guy who can absolutely take over a game at any point, but they do have depth in scoring. 7 guys are averaging over 8.6 a game. This includes four guys who can drain the 3 in Chris Lykes, Dejan Vasiljevic, Anthony Lawrence II, and Donatell Walker, who all shoot above 34% from the arc. However, consistency has been an issue offensively. Meanwhile, Loyola plays some of the best defense in the country. If they can keep Miami off the perimeter, it could turn out to be a long day for the Hurricanes.
Key Stat: Loyola’s hot defense
The Ramblers are riding a 10 game win streak, and this is in large part due to their defense. During their Missouri Valley Conference run, no team scored over 55 points. If this trend continues, the Ramblers could pull off the upset.
Matchup to watch: Ingram vs. Walker
I expect Ingram to be guarding Walker for the majority of the game. Ingram is a gifted scorer who can do it from anywhere on the floor, averaging 11.6 points a game and shooting 35% from behind the arc. Walker has to play aggressive and avoid foul trouble, keeping Walker off the free throw line and out of rhythm. Fortunately, Loyola is great at playing solid defense while avoiding fouls.
Prediction: Ramblers 68, Hurricanes 65
The Ramblers are everyone’s favorite Cinderella in their first Big Dance appearance in 33 years, and for good reason. They’re coming in hot off a conference title. In March it’s very common for teams to come out shooting cold. In this case, a team needs stout defense to grind out the win. The Ramblers have this, and that’s why I’m picking them to keep dancing.
By Kevin Herbst: First-time writer, lifelong shot blocker.
Photo: Loyola Ramblers