Loyola of Chicago’s Keith Clemons (5) and teammate Lucas Williamson (1) celebrate following a 75-65 victory over Drake in the championship game of the NCAA Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball tournament Sunday, March 7, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
- MidWest #8 seed Loyola Chicago dusted aside #1 seed Illinois in the second round
- The Ramblers are now a top-five favorite in the March Madness futures with 24 teams remaining
- See which other teams moved up the board after day three at the 2021 NCAA Tournament
Two minutes into the second-round game between #8 Loyola Chicago and #1 Illinois, Ayo Dosunmu – Illinois’ National Player of the Year contender – hit a mid-range jumper to tie the score at 2-2. That was the last time the Illini were level with the Ramblers, who raced out to a 33-24 halftime lead and never looked back, routing Illinois 71-58 in Indianapolis.
The masses are now learning what the advanced analytics were already screaming: Loyola Chicago is a legitimate national-title contender.
The title futures for the Ramblers improved nearly four-fold after the 7.5-point upset. They headed in as a +4600 afterthought and emerged at +1250 trailing only West #1 Gonzaga, South #1 Baylor, #MidWest #2 Houston, and East #1 Michigan.
The table below shows the movement in the national championship odds from March 19th to 21st for all teams remaining in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
2021 NCAA Tournament Championship Odds
|Team||Current Odds||March 19th Odds|
Odds as of March 21, 2021.
Ramblers Defense Is Smothering
Loyola Chicago came into the tournament rated 9th in the country at KenPom and 13th at Torvik, advanced analytics sites that rate all 357 Division I teams in the country, most of whom will never play each other.
The Ramblers boasted the most efficient defense in the country, by KenPom’s calculations. But doubters abounded.
“They ain’t played nobody,” was the common complaint. Loyola played exactly one team rated higher than 50th in the country this year (#13 Wisconsin back in mid-December) and they lost by 14 points (77-63). Three days later, they lost by two on a neutral court to 61st-rated Richmond, which dropped them to 56th at KenPom.
Since that time, they have gone 26-2 and, for the most part, absolutely obliterated their Missouri Valley Conference competition. After today’s 13-point win over Illinois, their average point differential dropped to 15.8 points per game. (They are scoring 71.5 PPG while allowing just 55.7.)
March Madness Final Four Odds Tracker
If you are looking to back a sexy team to win the title from here on out, the Ramblers are not for you.
They have one player scoring in double figures, senior center Cameron Krutwig (14.9 PPG). Behind him, six different players are averaging between 6.8 and 8.6 PPG.
On defense, don’t expect Shaka Smart’s “havoc”, don’t expect Tony Bennett’s “pack line”. Expect rigid discipline. The Ramblers would do Bill Belichick proud because everyone does their job, as evidenced by their 20.2% offensive rebounding rate on D, which ranks second in Division I.
In other words, they allow fewer second-chance opportunities than all but one team in the country (on a per-possession basis).
The Illini felt the effects of that on Sunday. Dosunmu and company shot a mediocre 44.9% from the floor – not great, but not disastrous – yet were held to their lowest point total of the year. Krutwig got the better of future pro Kofi Cockburn on the glass (12 rebounds to 9), and Loyola as a team surrendered only five offensive rebounds.
Two days before, they out-rebounded red-hot Georgia Tech (the ACC Tournament champions) 30-17 overall and allowed the Yellow Jackets just a single offensive board in a 71-60 first-round victory.
What’s Next for Loyola?
The road ahead eases up, in theory. The Ramblers will face #12 Oregon State in the Sweet 16, a team that has pulled off two of the most impressive upset wins in the tournament thus far.
The Beavers obliterated Tennessee 70-56 in the first round as 7.5-point underdogs, and the final score flatters the Vols. It was domination from tipoff to the forty-minute mark. On Sunday, they followed up with an 80-70 win over Cade Cunningham’s Oklahoma State Cowboys as six-point dogs.
But if the analytics are to be believed, Loyola Chicago has a significant edge. KenPom predicts a seven-point Rambler win, while Torvik has it as a six-point victory.
On the bottom half of the MidWest bracket, #2 seed Houston has held serve – though needed a pretty epic last-minute comeback against Rutgers – and will now face #11 Syracuse, which has put together its perennial Sweet 16 run from out of nowhere.
The Final Four odds still favor Houston coming out of the MidWest region. But if both the Cougars and Ramblers advance, the spread for their Elite Eight game is going to open and close at two or fewer points.
Sascha was a hockey player in his youth, a lawyer in his capricious mid-20s, and has now been an assigning editor, writer, and lead oddsmaker for SBD for over five years. He covers everything you can possibly put odds on, but specializes in football, baseball, hockey, and basketball.