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From NCAA Tournament hero to college basketball’s unicorn: How Cameron Krutwig passed his way into Loyola lore

The junior is one of four centers to average more than 4.0 assists per game since the 1992-93 season. And he’s just getting started.

Loyola University Chicago junior center Cameron Krutwig dribbles towards Vanderbilt sophomore Ejike Obinna during the second half of the Ramblers’ 78-70 win over the Commodores during the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase, held at the Talking Stick Resort Arena on Dec. 18, 2019.
Kyle Cajero, Mid-Major Madness

Two years removed from Loyola of Chicago’s Final Four run, not much has remained.

The players responsible for the Ramblers’ three NCAA Tournament buzzer-beatersDonte Ingram, Clayton Custer and Marques Townes — are gone. So is Ben Richardson and Aundre Jackson and Cameron Satterwhite, the latter of whom now plays at Northern Arizona. All that remains is head coach Porter Moser and four players, including now-junior center Cameron Krutwig, who burst onto the national scene with his rebounding, nimble post moves and uncharacteristically steady play for a freshman on the sport’s biggest stage.

Today, that freshman has grown into a statistical anomaly. For the second straight season, Krutwig is still a double-digit scorer (16.9 PPG) and Loyola’s best rebounder (7.9 RPG), but he’s now also the team’s leading passer at 4.7 assists per game. Those first two statistics aren’t surprising — after all he is the MVC Preseason Player of the Year — but few could have predicted that Krutwig’s passing would set him apart from most players in the MVC, much less the nation.

“He’s just a unicorn, you know,” Moser said after Loyola’s win over Vanderbilt on Dec. 18, in which Krutwig recorded a 22 point, 10 rebound and 10 assist triple-double. “He’s an old-school big-man who can pass, shoot, has very [high] IQ. He’s not an above-the-rim player. He just knows how to play the game.”

Krutwig is currently 30th nationally in assist rate, per KenPom. Of the 29 players ranked ahead of him, 28 are starting point guards and none are taller than 6’6. It’s worth noting that he’s a 6’9 center.

But Krutwig’s resurgence didn’t happen overnight. He kicked off the 2019-20 season with a career-best 11-assist outing over UC Davis, then notched the Missouri Valley’s first triple-double since 2017-18 against Vanderbilt. In that game, Krutwig’s full arsenal was on display, ranging from assisting on out-of-bounds plays, to posting up and kicking out to open shooters, to perfectly placed cross-court heaves that broke the Commodores’ press.

That triple-double wasn’t a fluke. Even though the Ramblers are 8-5, Krutwig has consistently been one of the biggest conundrums for opposing teams. He has reached double-figures in either points, rebounds or assists in all but one game this year.

Not only that, Krutwig is carrying a historical season into MVC play. By averaging 4.7 APG, he is not only fourth in the MVC in assists per game — behind three point guards, nonetheless — but also on pace to be one of four centers since the 1992-93 season to average over 4.0 assists per contest.

Some of this was born out of necessity. Now that Loyola’s backcourt of Richardson and Custer graduated, someone has to run the Ramblers’ offense. Enter Krutwig, whose 81 career starts make him the most experienced of the four remaining players from the Final Four team. Instead of two 22-year old vets running the point, it’s Krutwig, who is Loyola’s point guard despite operating out of the high post.

“We run a lot of good stuff,” Krutwig said. “As you can see, we have a lot of guys back-cutting and stuff. I’ve kind of always just had the mindset to distribute the ball from the high post area. Last year, we had a lot of veteran guards and they were handling the ball a lot, but this year it’s run through me more. And you can see that it’s working.”

One of the ways in which Krutwig’s passing has worked in the offense is with finding Tate Hall in transition. The former D-II University of Indianapolis standout has quickly become one of the Ramblers’ go-to players: He averages 14.2 PPG (just a tick above his 14.1 PPG average in his final year playing D-II ball) and is the Ramblers’ second-leading three-point shooter at 42.3%. But his most impressive plays have come in transition, courtesy of Krutwig. If Krutwig is Loyola’s quarterback, then Hall is its wideout.

Unlike most centers, Krutwig is a fast-break instigator. Whenever he corrals a long rebound — which is often, given his team-leading 7.9 RPG — expect at least one of either Hall, Lucas Williamson or Aher Uguak to bolt out of the frame. Usually all Krutwig needs is a fraction of a second to pivot before delivering cross-court outlet passes with the flick of his wrists. More often than not, his accuracy is astounding.

“He throws bullets,” Moser said. “He’s like Wes Unseld with the outlet pass — and the guys know it. The guys are constantly looking for it when he has the ball because they know when the defender turns his back, he’s going to zip it by you.”

Even though the Ramblers aren’t a fast-paced team, Krutwig’s effortless ability to start a fast break is an ace up Loyola’s sleeve. Take note of the time and scores in the following clips; with the exception of one, most are either in close games, or when opposing defenses turn up the pressure by using full-court presses to get back in games:

Not all of Krutwig’s passes are flashy and jaw-dropping, but they’re precise. In most of Loyola’s half-court sets, Krutwig operates from the elbows inward, patrolling the key to find one of Loyola’s myriad of cutters. Just ask Vanderbilt or UC Davis, Saint Joseph’s and they’ll say the same thing: Krutwig’s array of shovel passes, perfectly-timed bounce passes or kick-outs to open shooters make him lethal when he’s not scoring.

“He has a good feel on the block,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said after Krutwig’s triple-double. “He’s a good passer in the high post — they were running nice glass action off of him. He puts the ball right where they should have it. He’s definitely a matchup problem for most bigs.”

Put extra pressure on him or force him to post up, and he’s more than willing to defer — a trait rarely seen in a team’s leading scorer (which, by the way Krutwig is). In fact, if post-ups are really viewed as one of the sport’s least-efficient shots, then Krutwig can be viewed as an efficient, modern big because of the way he passes out of double- and triple-teams to find open three-point shooters.

His unselfishness pays off. Loyola has seven players with an 100% assist rate off of threes, per Hoop-Math — as in, all of their threes have been catch-and-shoot opportunities — while the Ramblers as a unit are 10th nationally with a 55.8 eFG%.

Perhaps the biggest influence Krutwig’s passing has is that it’s infectious. Look at Krutwig when he doesn’t have the ball, and he’s likely directing traffic, calling out what he sees from the defense or carefully monitoring open shooters as they orbit the three-point line. On paper, this year’s team three transfers and three freshmen shouldn’t have meshed this quickly. Yet Krutwig has led this group of majority first-year teammates to a 59.1 assist percentage, which is 40th nationally — a mere 0.2% off of the Final Four team.

“The guys are willing to share; we move it and space it,” Moser said. “That’s when Loyola basketball is playing their best.”

With defensive-minded teams like Northern Iowa, Bradley and Drake awaiting in MVC play, the Ramblers will need Krutwig to help them be the best versions of themselves — and potentially a return to the NCAA Tournament. If the Ramblers make it that far, perhaps Loyola’s next iconic moment will come off a pass from Cameron Krutwig.