Consecutive double-digit victories against Power 5 conference tournament champions — the latest coming in Sunday’s takedown of No. 1 seed Illinois — would figure to serve notice that Loyola Chicago is no Cinderella in the NCAA Tournament this time around.
Still, the Ramblers got that sense as they toppled No. 9 Georgia Tech and No. 1 Illinois en route to Saturday’s Midwest Regional semifinal against Pac-12 tournament champion Oregon State.
Fine by the eighth-seeded Ramblers, who are surging with confidence as they prepare for the 12th-seeded Beavers in their first Sweet 16 trip since the program reached the Final Four in 2018.
“We feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country, and I think we showed that these last two games, definitely with the contrasting styles,” Loyola’s Cameron Krutwig, who averages a team-high 15 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, said. “Georgia Tech pretty much played all zone, tried to force us to make outside shots, whereas Illinois was physical, making us run our man sets and stuff.
“That’s the great thing about us; we can adapt to any style of play, really, and you can’t not think that you’re one of the best teams in the country. You’ve got to think that, and you’ve got to play like that, and we’re excited to get to the next one.”
While Loyola (26-4) returns a handful of players from three seasons ago — namely Krutwig, the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year — and Lucas Williamson, the team’s second-leading scorer at 8.8 points per game, many of the Ramblers are new to advancing in the NCAA Tournament.
Krutwig credited coach Porter Moser for instilling in the team “the confidence to go out and play and beat anybody,” and then go from there.
“As you go on, and as you get deeper and deeper, the media, your friends, your family, it’s going to get all up another level,” Krutwig said. “A lot of people are going to be hitting you up saying, ‘Hey, congrats,’ all this stuff. You’ve just got to try to find that balance between having the confidence in yourself, a respectful confidence for your opponent that you’re playing, and just knowing that, hey, we’re here, we’re ready to do this.”
Oregon State, which this month earned its first Pac-12 tournament title following a sixth-place regular season finish, has continued to roll, entering Saturday with victories in six of its past seven games.
The Beavers (19-12) have knocked off fifth-seeded Tennessee and fourth-seeded Oklahoma State en route to the Sweet 16. Behind leading scorer Ethan Thompson, who scored 26 points against Oklahoma State, the program has continued to show resiliency following early season losses to Wyoming and Portland.
“We knew it was in us, this success,” Thompson said. “We pictured it from the beginning. Being able to believe, again, and just take it day by day, staying positive every day, even with the tough losses early.
“Honestly, I’ll take the tough losses early because I think it taught us a lot of lessons on how to close out games, and we’re closing out games at the right time.”
Loyola and Oregon State have met just once previously, with the Ramblers winning 31-19 on Dec. 31, 1927.
–Field Level Media