Illinois has the size, the stars and all the hype, but it’ll take all that and more to beat Loyola
The Ramblers are no Cinderella. There’s nothing fantastical about winning 20 games by double-digit scores in one season. Only a team that knows how to win and is out for blood pulls that off.
Can we begin with the foolishness of Charles Barkley? Because we really should.
An NCAA Tournament studio analyst whose on-air prattle has long made it clear he doesn’t spend a moment of his free time watching the college game, Barkley went off the rails Friday in his praise of Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu.
Mind you, Dosunmu is one of the best players in the country. He is Illinois’ first-ever first-team All-American. The NBA-bound former Morgan Park star went big with 17 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and three steals in an opening-round romp against Drexel. But still.
“I think he’s got an amazing body,” Barkley began.
OK, that’s true. Dosunmu has sculpted shoulders, long arms, plentiful power and undeniable quickness. Though he is, by all signs, only human.
“As long as I’ve been around basketball,” Barkley continued, “I only met five to 10 people who [like Dosunmu] can outrun everybody, can out-jump everybody and is really strong. That’s a hard combination to get a body like that.”
So hard, Barkley then went all-in on his nonsensical jaunt by naming names. He likened Dosunmu’s physical prowess to that of — are you ready for this? — Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Kobe Bryant. Oh, and LeBron James, too.
Well, all righty, then. It seems Loyola isn’t going against merely a No. 1-seeded opponent in Illinois in its second-round matchup Sunday in Indianapolis. Loyola is going against one of the greatest athletes ever to walk the earth.
Should the Ramblers just give up before the game against the Midwest Region favorites even starts?
Dosunmu is a wonderful player. Teammate Kofi Cockburn — talk about a body — is a second-team All-American and one of the best 7-footers out there. They are surrounded by quality players, most notably four-star freshman guards Adam Miller, also of Morgan Park, and the dazzling Andre Curbelo. No team plays harder or is more fun to watch.
The Illini, winners of eight in a row, have put the pedal all the way down, won a Big Ten Tournament title, taken on a national-title-or-bust mission and created a world of hype around them. All of it is richly deserved.
No. 8 seed Loyola, on the other hand, has an unspectacular-looking third-team All-America center in Cameron Krutwig, a bunch of other players most fans around the country have never heard of and a 101-year-old nun who — bless her — only adds to the common perception of this school and team as a lovable underdog.
But is there really so much separating the Illini from the Ramblers?
If, for example, Cockburn looks the part far more so than Krutwig, from the towering height to the muscles upon muscles and the name of a 50,000-student school on his chest, does that really mean the Ramblers can’t outplay the Illini?
The NCAA Tournament reveals all possibilities. That’s how Ohio State loses to Oral Roberts in the first round. That’s how Purdue loses to North Texas. That’s how results like that occur each and every tournament, making it such a magical, intoxicating event.
But Loyola is no Oral Roberts or North Texas. Loyola is no Cinderella. There’s nothing fantastical about winning 20 games by double-digit scores in one season. Only a team that knows how to win and is out for blood pulls that off.
“To see two ranked teams go at it to get a ticket to the Sweet 16, it’s great for the state,” Ramblers coach Porter Moser said. “We have respect for them, knowing they’re one of the top, hottest teams in the country. But we’ve won 18 out of 19 ourselves and look forward to the matchup, look forward to the opportunity. It’s great for basketball.”
It’ll be a great two hours no matter which team wins.