If you watch one Sweet 16 game this weekend, make it the game between Loyola University Chicago and Nevada. The Wolf Pack and Ramblers are two programs that share countless similarities, yet could not be more different.
Loyola’s Porter Moser and Nevada’s Eric Musselman were the coaches of the year in their respective leagues. Nevada’s Caleb Martin was the Mountain West’s player of the year and Clayton Custer earned that award in the Missouri Valley. Cody Martin was the defensive player of the year in the MWC and Ben Richardson was the top defender in the MVC.
Their makeups are similar, but their differences will be what makes this fun. The Ramblers (30-5) have won 12 straight games and led the Missouri Valley in field goal percentage (.506), assists and assist/turnover ratio. They play stingy defense and meticulous offense.
The Wolf Pack play more of an NBA, up-tempo style of offense. Musselman wants the pace of play to be somewhat frantic. Nevada launches 10 more shots per game than the Ramblers.
Loyola runs players off of back screens, uses dribble-drive penetration and the high pick-and-roll action. Nevada is much more of a pro-style — look for the first good shot and fire-at-will offense. They average 83 points per game and take over 60 shots per game, while the Ramblers average 71.9 points attempting 50 shots.
Nevada is taller overall, but play without a true center. Loyola’s advantage might be in the post and in the depth of their rotation. Both teams boast a balanced scoring offense — Nevada has four players averaging double figures, while the Ramblers have five.
Loyola is the decidedly deeper team. Since the injury to guard Lindsey Drew, just six Nevada players play significant minutes. The Ramblers rotation includes eight. The Martin twins and forward Jordan Caroline all play more than 33 minutes per game. No Rambler plays that heavy a load.
The Martin twins are 6’7 small forwards that drive to the rack, fire the three and play with reckless abandon. Caleb averages 18.8 points per game and attempts seven three-pointers per game. Cody does more of the ball handling with Drew out of the lineup and averages 13.9 points per game. He scored 25 points in the Nevada win over Cincinnati.
6’7 guard Kendall Stephens broke the Nevada single-season three-point record (126), averages 13.4 points per game, and never misses a free-throw (.922).
The X-factor for the Wolf Pack in this game is the 6’7 power forward Caroline. The former Southern Illinois Saluki leads Nevada in rebounding (8.7 per game) and is second in scoring with 17.7 points per game. He is the kind of athletic leaper that could truly give the Ramblers problems.
Loyola’s scoring numbers are all lower, but more spread around. Custer (13.3), Donte Ingram (11.5), Aundre Jackson (11.1), Marques Townes (11.0) and Cameron Krutwig (10.4) all average double figures, and Jackson does so off the bench. As an undersized post player, he gives freshman center Krutwig a breather and gives Loyola a small lineup that presents distinctly different challenges for the opposition.
The X-factor for Loyola will be how its perimeter defenders hold up against the Martins. They are the passion and the fire-power of the Nevada squad. How Richardson can slow down one of the twins and how Townes and Ingram handle the other are the significant defensive issues for Moser’s plucky Ramblers.
Contrasting styles that both play efficient offense will make this a compelling television and whichever team can dictate the tempo will play for a spot in the Final Four on Saturday.