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No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 1 Illinois vs. preview, picks for second round of 2021 NCAA Tournament

The Illinois Fighting Illini and Loyola Chicago Ramblers meet in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. We’ve got everything you need on both teams ahead of the game here.

Illinois Fighting Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu dunks during the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Tuesday, March 19, 2019, at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Ind. IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a Battle for The Land of Lincoln as the Second City-based Loyola-Chicago Ramblers take on the Downstate Illinois Fighting Illini for bragging rights and a spot in the Sweet 16 on Sunday at 12:10 p.m. to open up the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The game will be played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and broadcast on CBS.

No. 1 Illinois: 24-6 (16-4 Big Ten):

First round result: 78-49 win over No. 16 Drexel
KenPom rating: 2 Overall, 8 Offense, 4 Defense
NET ranking: 3, (12-5 VS Quad 1)
Leading scorer: Ayo Dosunmu (20.7 ppg)
Key stat: The Illini hold opponents to just a 22.1% offensive rebounding rate (4th in D-1).

They’ve got the best inside-outside tandem in college basketball in Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. They can shoot the three (37.5%), they can bang it inside (55.5% on two-pointers), and they can get stops with anyone. They’ve also won eight in a row, and despite the facial injury to Dosunmu, they continue to play at a truly elite level.

This might be the hottest team in college basketball right now, but with the possible exception of Michigan, they haven’t played a defense like what they’ll see today.

No. 8 Loyola Chicago: 25-4 (16-2 Missouri Valley):

First round result: Defeated No. 9 Georgia Tech 71-60
KenPom rating: 8 Overall, 37 Offense, 3 Defense
NET ranking: 10 (3-2 VS Quad 1)
Leading scorer: Cameron Krutwig (15.0 ppg)
Key stat: The Ramblers hold opponents to just a 20.7 offensive rebounding rate (2nd in D-1).

Do you know how many stops you have to get to be the third-best schedule adjusted defense in college basketball when you’re playing an MVC schedule? The Ramblers don’t foul, block out, and play a cohesive system that gives opponents fits. They also force a steal once every nine trips, and take away the three-ball very effectively.

But the haven’t seen a post presence like Kofi Cockburn, and defending the big man from Kingston, Jamaica will be the key to victory. Cockburn averages 17.6 points and 9.6 rebounds a game while shooting 65.5% from the floor. Denying him the ball in the first place will probably be the plan for Loyola.

March Madness Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

Point spread: Illinois -7
Point total: 133
Moneyline: Loyola +255, Illinois -315

The Pick

Against The Spread Pick: Illinois -7
Point total pick: Under 133
Pick to Win: Illinois

We want no part of putting our own money on this game, but if you hand us a free dollar that we must wager we’ll take the under. The defense of Loyola is simply outstanding, but they haven’t had to matchup with the athleticism I-L-L has everywhere, much less a duo like Dosunmu and Cockburn.

We’re super curious to see if they can pass the test, and if so they’ll be a candidate to get back to the Final Four for the second time in three tournaments, but it is one tall order.

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