How to Watch
Location: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Tip Time: 12:15 p.m. EST
Television/Streaming: CBS/March Madness Live
DraftKings Betting Line: EVEN, O/U 132.5
(In the tune of Night Ranger classic, Sister Christian) Sister Jean, oh the time has come, don’t you know you earned another one of those, tickets.
The Loyola Ramblers have clinched themselves another appearance in the NCAA Tournament, facing off against Ohio State to open the Friday slate. It is their third appearance since 2018, the first without the likes of Cameron Krutwig and Porter Moser (now the Oklahoma head coach).
Stepping in to replace Moser is one of his long-time assistants who is now the youngest head coach in the country, Drew Valentine. If you know that last name, it is probably because of his brother Denzel, who not only starred at Michigan State but has enjoyed a couple of seasons in the NBA.
Coach Valentine has not changed much in terms of style, and it has turned out well for him and his squad.
The defense is still lockdown, finishing the regular season ranked 22nd in defensive adjusted efficiency. In four of its last six games, Loyola gave up 50 or fewer points, which included an 82-31 win over Evansville in the last week of the regular season.
A lot of the work is done with turnovers as the Ramblers are forcing one nearly every five possessions. To add to that, big man Chris Knight ranks in the top 100 of block percentage.
The main thing that keeps this team rolling is its offense. Ranking seventh in the country in effective field goal percentage, the last time they did that was 2018. Coincidence? I think not.
It’s not like they score in just one area of the court either, the Ramblers rank in the top 16 of the country in both 3-point and two-point shooting percentages. They can thank their stellar guards for that.
Braden Norris showed the country what he was made of last postseason, playing all but one minute of tournament action.
This season, he is one of the best three-point shooters in the country, draining them at a 43.5% clip. Both his effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentages are insane as well, ranking in the top 120 of the country.
Alongside him, Lucas Williamson is the team’s leading scorer, scoring 14 points per game. He has played through all the Loyola tournament runs and will look to close his tenure out on top.
In the front court, Aher Uguak and Chris Knight solidify the strong shooting, both hitting over 60% of their shots from inside the arch.
Can they get it done and get a chance at Villanova in the second round?
I’d say that Auburn and Ohio State are similar teams, size-wise. Loyola really struggled against the Tigers earlier this season. Although I believe that it will be a thriller to open the second day of the NCAA Tournament, I say that Ohio State gets its revenge after falling to Oral Roberts in the Round of 64 last season, with a 67-65 win. EJ Liddell is just an outstanding player who came back for games just like this. My pick in this one would be Ohio State pick-em.