Ten things I think I know going into Loyola’s Sweet 16 matchup with Oregon State

For example: The hardest part for the Ramblers is over. It’s not like they’re going to run into another team as good as Illinois in the Midwest Region.

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Loyola Chicago v Illinois

Marquise Kennedy and Keith Clemons party like a No. 1 seed just went down.

Sarah Stier/Getty Images

During the 1987 Chicago teachers strike, high school football games were being canceled left and right. Classes? Oh, yeah, those, too. But no football was outrageous! So we donned our jerseys, took to the streets and protested outside City Hall while William Bennett, Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, glared into any TV camera he could find and called the city’s public schools the worst in America.

All of which is to say I wouldn’t understand the mechanics of Ken Pomeroy’s renowned “Pythagorean expectation”-based college basketball ratings if you spotted me a slide rule, a scientific calculator and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses held together by strips of masking tape.

But even I am capable of grasping this: Loyola got jobbed.

Of the top eight KenPom teams heading into the NCAA Tournament, four were deemed No. 1 seeds by the selection committee, three were No. 2 seeds and the eighth was — wait, what? — a No. 8 seed. Yes, the Ramblers. If you believe in KenPom at all (and to be clear, I’m not smart enough to know if I do), you can clearly see that something here is amiss.

I didn’t think much about the Ramblers’ seeding when the bracket first came out. I was too excited about a potential second-round matchup against top-seeded Illinois. I wanted my two hours of college basketball fan bliss. I even wrote that the Ramblers and their supporters should let the disrespect roll right off their backs and just enjoy the moment.

But now that Georgia Tech and the Illini have been left in crumpled heaps, I’m seeing it: I was wrong. And that’s just one of 10 things I know as we get ready for Saturday’s Loyola-Oregon State tilt in the Sweet 16.

2. The hardest part for the Ramblers is over. As poorly as Illinois played in a 71-58 loss, it’s still unquestionably better than Oregon State, Syracuse and Houston, the other teams left in the Midwest Region.

That’s not to say getting all the way to another Final Four should happen. There are no “shoulds” at this point in the season. Everybody still alive is playing too well. Besides, we’re still on Planet Earth, and any Loyola “W” in the tournament is still a huge deal in and of itself.

3. In a sense, the hardest part for the Ramblers has been over since a week before the season was scheduled to start. That’s when “the whole team,” as coach Porter Moser put it, came down with COVID-19, leading to a three-week pause. But there would be no derailing this team.

Loyola Chicago v Illinois

Aher Uguak shows how a close-out is done.

Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

4. Senior center Cameron Krutwig is a tremendous player and an absolute delight, but his teammates still aren’t getting nearly enough attention. Lucas Williamson, Aher Uguak and Keith Clemons are the best defensive trio in the tournament.

As Illini coach Brad Underwood put it last weekend, “We tried everything in the bag.”

Until there was nothing left but lint. 

5. ESPN’s Jay Bilas likened Illinois’ strangely passive defense against Krutwig to electing not to send a pass rush at Tom Brady. So Krutwig and Brady are basically equals now, in case you were wondering.

6. For the second straight game, the Ramblers will face an all-major-conference lead guard and a 7-footer in the middle. Not that the Beavers’ Ethan Thompson and Roman Silva are as good as Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn — they aren’t — but that kind of one-two punch is always a lot to contend with.

7. His name is Tom Hitcho. He’s the longtime Loyola associate athletic director who pushes Sister Jean’s chair, sits with her during games and fist-bumps her after victories. And it’s high time America fell in love with him, too.

No, not really.

Oregon State v Oklahoma State

Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle with his best player, Ethan Thompson.

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

8. No one ever chased the dream more than Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle did as a player. He played professionally in Belgium, Sweden, Spain, Italy and Greece, made three stops in the old Continental Basketball Association and even logged time in the former International Basketball League.

As a coach, the 55-year-old took Montana to the Big Dance three times and, now, the Beavers twice. His wife and three kids all played big-time college ball, too. What a basketball story his life has been.

9. Some betting numbers: Oregon State is +700 to reach the Final Four, Syracuse is +500, Loyola is +170 and Houston is +115.

In case you were thinking of the Ramblers as the favorites now to come out of the Midwest, the answer is nope.

10. “It’s more than the wins. It’s the journey of spending time with a great group.”

Those were Moser’s words after the Final Four loss to Michigan in 2018. They’re as true as ever now. Win or lose Saturday and beyond, all the current Ramblers will come to this realization.

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