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Mid-Major Madness Freshman of the Year: Cameron Krutwig’s emergence and persistence powered Loyola

The freshman had a productive season before the nation fell in love with Loyola University Chicago.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Loyola vs Kansas State Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

To get a glimpse of how impressive Cameron Krutwig’s freshman season really was, one would have to look back to Friday, Nov. 10 — Loyola University of Chicago’s opening win against Wright State.

In what was a glimpse of things to come, the freshman from Algonquin, IL came off the bench to chip in 17 points on 5-7 shooting and a team-high seven rebounds in 17 minutes.

Even though Krutwig and the Ramblers captured the minds of America in their historic run to the Final Four, the unheralded freshman was impressive all season. Toiling in the relatively obscure world of Missouri Valley Conference play, Krutwig was a top-10 offensive and defensive rebounding percentage player and shot 60.6 percent from the field — fifth in the conference and first among MVC freshmen, per KenPom.

Krutwig shattered expectations, which makes him our freshman of the year.

Krutwig didn’t have one-and-done expectations like fellow mid-major big Brandon McCoy, our preseason pick. Heck, he wasn’t even the highest-rated recruit in Loyola’s freshman class, according to ESPN (that honor goes to fellow freshman forward Christian Negron). Yet Krutwig stole the spotlight in the long run through his steady, cerebral play. Even though his stats don’t show it, his precise passing was often reminiscent of mid-major hero Przemek Karnowski; he was able to hang with the Ramblers’ experienced backcourt, giving Loyola yet another playmaker on an already well-disciplined team.

Although he wasn’t a shot-blocking rim-protector, Krutwig held his ground on the defensive end. He anchored the Ramblers’ defense and was a monster on the glass with 6.1 rebounds per game.

With wisdom seldom seen in freshmen, Krutwig knew his role on the court and excelled at it. This could be an understatement, as Krutwig made all-MVC newcomer team appearance and was named MVC Freshman of the Year. Consistency was his calling card. Or, as Loyola head coach Porter Moser said in an interview with Chicago Tribune writer Shannon Ryan:

“Sometimes bigs get in foul trouble because they’re trying to block so many shots,” Moser said. “Coach (Rick) Majerus had a great line: Know who you are. And Cam knows who he is. He’s not a shot blocker. He’s got to rotate and be big, rotate through the rim. He’s got to take some charges.”

Even on the biggest, brightest stage in San Antonio, Krutwig delivered his best half of basketball. Trapped in a defensive slog-fest with Michigan’s slow-paced approach, Krutwig paced Loyola with eight points, an assist, and a block. Thanks to his efforts, the Ramblers entered the locker room with a 29-22 halftime lead.

An argument can be made that without Krutwig, Loyola would not have made its Cinderella run. He went toe-to-toe with three Power-5 back lines and emerged victorious. He kept pace with a hyper-athletic, (nearly)-never-say-die Nevada squad in the Sweet 16. In a Final Four where pundits lauded experience over youth, Krutwig was quite the anomaly: A freshman on a mid-major team with a rare opportunity to not only start a Final Four game, but also lead his team within a few plays of winning the damn thing.

Evaluate Krutwig’s entire season, and his title of Mid-Major Freshman of the Year doesn’t seem so unexpected.

For this, and for plenty of highlights along the way, Krutwig is our official Large Adult Son. Surely under Moser’s direction, this is likely only the beginning of Krutwig’s decorated college career.