The Loyola men’s basketball team will be competing in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1985. The Ramblers’ opponent will be the University of Nevada Wolf Pack.
The Wolf Pack is 29-7 this season and received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament after losing to San Diego State University in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference (MWC) Championship.
With their canine-themed mascots, both the Ramblers and Wolf Pack have had special runs to the Sweet 16 this year. The Ramblers have beaten the University of Miami (Fla.) and the University of Tennessee on last second shots. Nevada beat the tenth seeded Texas 87-83 in the first round and came back from a 22 point deficit to beat the second-seeded University of Cincinnati.
The magic runs through the South region of the tournament might be the only similarities between the two teams, though. According to KenPom.com, a popular college basketball rankings website, the Wolf Pack has the No. 6 offense in the country and the No. 109 defense. Loyola has the No. 63 (naturally) offense and No. 27 defense.
Nevada is going to try to push the tempo as much as possible against Loyola, while Loyola is going to try to slow the game down. In Nevada’s win over Cincinnati, the Wolf Pack made 61 shot attempts. In Loyola’s win over Tennessee, the Ramblers made 44 shot attempts.
During the whole tournament, Loyola’s game plan has been to slow the game down and use the entire shot clock in order to neutralize the opponents’ advantage in athleticism.
Nevada doesn’t have much bench depth, though. Against Cincinnati, only six players logged meaningful minutes. The lack of depth hasn’t hurt Nevada’s conditioning at the end of games — they’ve been able to win close games in the final minutes — but if a player gets in foul trouble early or has an off shooting night, Nevada head coach Eric Musselman won’t have another option.
The Wolf Pack’s leading scorer is six-foot-seven forward Caleb Martin. He averages 18.8 ppg and 40.1 percent from three. His shot has been off recently and he’s only shot 31.5 percent from behind the arc in the NCAA tournament. Although his biggest strength is the deep ball, he can drive to the hoop.
Also on Nevada’s roster is Caleb’s twin brother, Cody Martin. Cody is almost the exact opposite of Caleb as a player. While both are six-foot-seven and 205 pounds, Cody is the Wolf Pack’s best defender and will score more from driving and a mid-range jumper. Cody averages 13.9 ppg.
Nevada’s second leading scorer is six-foot-seven forward Jordan Caroline. Caroline averages 17.7 ppg and is the closest thing the Wolf Pack has to a center. He will likely guard Loyola first-year Cameron Krutwig. Caroline transferred to Nevada from Loyola’s Missouri Valley Conference rival Southern Illinois University.
Nevada’s fourth leading scorer is St. Charles-native Kendall Stevens. Also at six-foot-seven, he averages 13.4 ppg. He will mostly shoot from deep, with his three-point field goal percentage at 44.4 percent.
Rounding out the starting five is six-foot-three guard Hallice Cooke. Cooke, like Loyola guard Clayton Custer, transferred from Iowa State University. Cooke won’t play many minutes but is a solid three-point shooter, especially from the corner. This season, he’s shooting 48.9 percent from three.
Nevada’s sixth man is six-foot-seven guard Josh Hall. Hall hasn’t been consistent at scoring all season — only averaging 6.8 ppg this season — but in the NCAA tournament, he’s averaged 14.5 points in two games.
Nevada will be bigger than most of Loyola’s lineup with almost all its players standing at six-foot-seven, but Loyola will have a weight advantage down low. Krutwig and senior Aundre Jackson will likely be able to win the rebounding battle. In the tournament, Nevada has been out-rebounded by an average of 9.5 rpg.
Loyola and Nevada will tip off the Sweet 16 March 22 at 6:07 p.m. in Atlanta on CBS.