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Studying the Opponent: Breaking down the Loyola-Chicago offense

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Miami’s first-round opponents are no joke.

NCAA Basketball: Loyola-Chicago at Wichita State Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

When Miami drew the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers as their Round of 64 opponents, many thought back to their memorable road upset of Florida early in the season. Since then, the Ramblers have gone on to win the Missouri Valley Conference and earn an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 1985.

This has resulted in Miami becoming a popular upset pick among college basketball analysts (and just about everybody else filling out a bracket), but what is it about Loyola that makes them so threatening? Well, in this article we’ll focus on their offense.

The Ramblers didn’t get to this point through luck. The team's cohesion is evident in many ways, but most of all through their assist numbers. Despite being ranked just 216th in the country in points per game, they rank 45th in assists per game. This means a heavy bulk of their scoring is coming off of ball-movement.

The play designs aren’t revolutionary, but the Ramblers do generate a ton of open looks. Their offense is centered on spacing and constant movement, and features guard-heavy lineups. In fact, they start four guards and one big.

Clayton Custer, the team’s leading scorer, usually initiates the offense but doesn't hold the ball for long. Dribble hand-offs and pick-and-rolls are the base of what they do, but they do it relentlessly. They set and reset almost immediately and allow the defense no time to breathe. Through this method they consistently exploit driving lanes as defenders are often off-balanced and struggling to keep up. Usually, this results in either good looks at the rim, or a kick-out to an open player on the perimeter.

Again, this is all made possible by their four-guard lineups. The advantage comes in the form of having four players on the court who can effectively handle the ball and dribble into space. The driving lanes are also available because the defense is stretched out to the perimeter by the guards’ shooting ability and timely off-ball cuts. The players seem to have a keen sense of space as they consistently rotate into appropriate areas both on and off the ball.

The entire roster has seemingly bought into the system and allowed it to flourish. When watching the Ramblers, one of the most eye-catching features of their offense is that the ball never sticks. The offense is initiated upon crossing half-court, and the ball rarely stops moving after that. No Loyola player dribbles aimlessly; instead, their dribbles are reserved for either penetrative movements or movements towards other players for the aforementioned hand-offs.

NCAA Basketball: Loyola-Chicago at Wichita State
Loyola-Chicago head coach Porter Moser has seemingly gotten everyone to buy into his system.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The fruits of this selflessness are evident in the even distribution of the team’s scoring. They have five players averaging over ten points per game (Custer, Donte Ingram, Marques Townes, Aundre Jackson, and Cameron Krutwig) and nobody averaging more than 9.4 field goal attempts per game.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Ramblers, however, is the efficiency with which they score. As a result of their play style, they shoot 50.7 percent from the field as a team. This ranks third in the entire country. As a team they also shoot 39.8 percent from three, which is good for 20th in the country. The open looks generated from drive-and-kicks play a large role in this feat.

Also of note is the fact that their one true big man receiving consistent minutes - Cameron Krutwig - is shooting 60 percent from the field on almost seven shots per game. This is relevant because it provides Loyola a legitimate interior threat to counter-balance their guards.

The Loyola-Chicago offense is an admirable collection of willing players that is greater than the sum of its parts. The well-oiled machine has given opponents problems throughout the season and will look to continue to do so in the postseason. If the Hurricanes are to best the Ramblers, they will surely need extra discipline on the defensive end.