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
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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