WHAT: Miami Hurricanes (6) vs Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (11)
WHERE: American Airlines Arena, Dallas, Texas
WHEN: 3:10 ET p.m.
WHERE TO WATCH: TruTV, NCAA March Madness Mobile App, NCAA.com
This marks the Hurricanes third straight tournament appearance, and fourth in six years under Coach Jim Larranaga, while Coach Porter Moses has the Ramblers dancing for the first time since 1985.
Miami enters the tournament without star guard Bruce Brown Jr. who has missed the past 11 games. During that stretch, Miami gutted out a 7-4 record while playing six games against teams in the field of 64. Meanwhile, Loyola-Chicago travels to Dallas on a 10-game winning streak, including winning three games in the MVC tournament to punch their ticket.
Experience could play a defining role in the game as the Ramblers boast a veteran rotation of mainly seniors and juniors that features five players averaging double-figures, while Miami is a younger group with only one senior and two juniors in the rotation.
The Ramblers are led by Iowa State transfer, Clayton Custer, who averages 13.4 points per game and shoots 44% from three. The team is 26-2 when he plays. The four other players averaging double figures are Donte Ingram (11.6 PPG), Marques Townes (11.2 PPG), Aundre Jackson (10.9 PPG), and Cameron Krutwig (10.5 PPG). Though don’t overlook the X-factor of the Ramblers, senior guard and MVC Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Richardson, who averages 6.7 points per game on 40% shooting from three. Collectively, Loyola shoots 40% from three and 72% from the charity stripe.
The Canes are no short of talent or offensive balance as six active players average between 8.7-11.5 points per game. The lone senior in the rotation, Ja’Quan Newton (8.7 PPG), has enhanced his play down the stretch in his final games as a Hurricane averaging 10.2 points per game in the last 10 games, scoring double figures in six of those games. All eyes will be on freshman phenom Lonnie Walker’s (11.5 PPG) first, and maybe only, tournament appearance as he’s flashed NBA moves all season long. Miami will also rely on Chris Lykes (9.6 PPG), Anthony Lawrence II (8.9 PPG), Dejan Vasiljevic (9.0 PPG), and Dewan Huell (11. 4 PPG).
Expect this to be a lower scoring game as Loyola-Chicago is ranked 23rd in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com and only allows 62.2 points per game, which is fifth fewest in the nation. Miami fans know their team is accustomed to scoring droughts for extended periods of time during games and could be in a similar situation if they can’t get out in transition.
Miami has a definite size advantage with forwards Huell (6’11”) and Ebuka Izunda (6’10”0 while Loyola only features Krutwig, a 6’9” freshman center. No other player in Loyola’s rotation is over 6’6” and with Krutwig only averaging 24 minutes per game, Miami should have the advantage in the post. Another possibility Coach Larranaga could experiment with is matching Loyola’s small ball when Krutwig is out by having a lineup of Newton, Lykes, Vasiljevic, Walker, and Lawrence II on the court.
Despite finishing third in the ACC regular season standings and going 7-4 without star guard Bruce Brown Jr. down the stretch, many “experts” are picking Loyola-Chicago as a trendy upset over Miami.
PREDICTION: Miami 67-Loyola 63