Men's Basketball

‘You Have to Pick Your Poison’: How MVC Coaches Game Plan Against Loyola Big Man Cameron Krutwig

Loyola junior Cameron Krutwig is the men’s basketball team’s “unicorn” — a big man who can score and pass.

Loyola’s offense seems to run through the 6-foot-9 center even though he plays down low. Because of this, teams have to get creative to defend him. If he’s double-teamed, he can kick it out to an open teammate who might have a better look. 

But if teams play him one-on-one, like Missouri State University did Jan. 4, he could torch them on his own.

“If you guard him one-on-one, you put yourself at a risk for him to score [or] getting fouled,” said Missouri State head coach Dana Ford. “Then, if you double-team him, he’s going to find the open man, so I think you have to pick your poison. He’s just such a dual-threat.”

That versatility is a big reason why “The Big Fella” was named the 2019 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Preseason Player of the Year. He can cut through defenses with his hook shot and his bounce pass.

Neil Beran | The Phoenix Cameron Krutwig goes up for a layup against St. Joseph’s. Krutwig finished with a game-high 24 points.

In 13 non-conference games, Krutwig averaged 16.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. During MVC action, his numbers have dipped a bit to 12.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Overall, he’s averaging 4.3 assists per game, which ranks third in the MVC behind two guards — who stand at 5-foot-11 and 5-foot-10, respectively.

Krutwig has struggled the last two games, though. Southern Illinois University and Illinois State University held him to two of his lowest scoring games of the season at eight points and seven points, respectively.

But even when his shot isn’t there, Krutwig is still making an impact away from the box score, according to Loyola head coach Porter Moser. He said the Algonquin native was still an essential part of the Ramblers’ victories over Southern Illinois and Illinois State because of his leadership.

“You could really hear Krutwig talking on defense,” Moser said after Loyola defeated Illinois State Jan. 19. “Everyone around heard Krutwig yelling out different stuff. He was really loud defensively.”

Larissa Paseta | The Phoenix

The last two games aside, coaches still struggle to build a defensive game plan around him because he could heat up from the field or find open teammates at any given time.

“He’s one of the best players in the league,” said Southern Illinois head coach Bryan Mullins, who coached Krutwig for two years at Loyola. “He can pass, he’s shooting the ball better this year … he controls the game on both sides of the ball.”

Even though the Salukis held Krutwig to eight points, he still had eight rebounds and five assists.

Southern Illinois’ game plan was to double-team Krutwig down low and take away his shot. But Missouri State went a different route, putting 6-foot-9 junior forward Gaige Prim up one-on-one against him when the two teams faced off.

Krutwig finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and just one assist in that game, a 62-58 Loyola victory. Although he only dished out one assist, Krutwig managed to beat Prim one-on-one to score on his own and noticed the different strategy.

“He can pass, he’s shooting the ball better this year … he controls the game on both sides of the ball.”

Bryan Mullins, Southern Illinois head coach

“It wasn’t our typical game of assists,” Krutwig said. “We usually move the ball a lot more. … [But] there was really nowhere for me to pass the ball. It was just go [and] score.”

Against Illinois State Jan. 19, Krutwig was held to a season-low seven points while also grabbing seven rebounds in Loyola’s 62-50 victory at Redbird Arena. Last year, Krutwig averaged 12 points and 9.5 rebounds in two matchups against the Redbirds.

“When he gets the ball and starts dribbling in the paint, [we] just try to swarm him,” said Illinois State forward Zach Copeland. “He’s a big body. He’s pretty hard to stop.”

Prior to Loyola’s matchup with Illinois State, Redbirds head coach Dan Muller also mentioned Krutwig’s passing skills as a separator from other big men in the conference. But he added one more aspect of “King Krut’s” game: ball-handling.

“I’d be surprised if every coach didn’t say this as their first response: His ability to pass the ball is what makes him so hard [to guard],” Muller said. “And he’s such a good ball-handler. … Great players make everybody else better, and he does that.”

Krutwig will look to continue his dominance into the last two-thirds of conference play, starting with a matchup against Indiana State University Jan. 22 at Gentile Arena. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN+.

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