After upsetting No. 1 seed University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 71-58 in the second round of the NCAA tournament March 12, the Loyola men’s basketball team is back in the Sweet Sixteen for only the fifth time in program history and the first time since the 2018 Cinderella run. The team will go up against No. 12-seeded Oregon State University March 27 to battle for a spot in the Elite Eight.
This is only the second matchup in history between the Ramblers and the Beavers, with their only other meeting coming on New Year’s Eve 1927 — where Loyola won 31-19. Although Oregon State made it to the Sweet Sixteen most recently in 1982, their last trip to the Final Four was in 1963 — the year Loyola won its only national championship.
Though the 2021 Pac-12 Champion Beavers went 9-2 in their non-conference games, they only went 10-10 against Pac-12 opponents. The Ramblers, however, managed a 14-2 record against non-conference opponents and went 16-2 against Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) teams.
The MVC Champions hold some statistical advantages over the Pac-12 Champions heading into the matchup. Loyola is currently shooting 50.4 percent from the field and 37.0 percent from three-point territory, compared to Oregon State’s 43.6 percent and 35.6 percent, respectively.
However, the Beavers have a bit of an edge when it comes to free-throws — they’re sinking 76.4 percent of theirs, while Loyola makes 71.9 percent.
When it comes to rankings, Loyola has an undeniable edge. Oregon State is ranked No. 91 out of 345 Division I teams in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, whereas Loyola currently sits 81 places up at No. 10. Loyola has also been ranked in the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 for four consecutive weeks this season — most recently at No. 17 March 15 — while the Beavers have not been ranked since the 1989-90 season.
Looking at individual players, Oregon State boasts two players averaging double digits — senior guard Ethan Thompson with 15.6 and sophomore guard Jarod Lucas with 13. Two Beavers also earned All-Pac-12 honors in this season, with Thompson named to the First Team and junior forward Warith Alatishe named All-Defensive Honorable Mention.
Loyola senior guard Lucas Williamson said one of the keys to winning against Oregon State March 27 will be to limit these two players and the Beavers’ three-point shots.
“They really look to get up and down, they really look to score early [and] score in transition,” Williamson said. “They shoot a lot of threes … we’re just gonna have to be us, do our thing and focus on our defense and let our defense translate into offense.”
Although the Ramblers only have one player putting double digits on the scoreboard each game, senior center Cameron Krutwig brings much more than just points. Krutwig is tallying an average of 15.0 points per game this season along with 6.9 rebounds while racking up the awards. This season alone he’s been awarded MVC Player of the Year and MVC Tournament MVP as well as named to First Team All-MVC and AP Third Team All-America.
However, Loyola’s big man isn’t the only player who could pose a threat to Oregon State. Redshirt senior forward Aher Uguak has been having a standout season for the Ramblers, named to the MVC All-Defensive Team and Third Team All-MVC and currently leading the “seven starters” in shooting 62.5 percent from the field. Redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris, who was named to the MVC All-Newcomer team, contributes 8.4 points per game while leading the team with 30.7 minutes per contest.
The Ramblers also boast the MVC Defensive Player of the Year with Williamson, averaging 8.8 points per game and playing 28.0 minutes per contest. Williamson was also named to the MVC All-Defensive Team.
The Beavers head into Saturday’s matchup off two upsets — a 80-70 win against No. 4-seeded Oklahoma State University in the Round of 32 and a 70-56 win against No. 5-seeded University of Tennessee in the Round of 64. The Ramblers were the higher seed in their first round, giving them a slight advantage in the 70-61 victory over the Georgia Institute of Technology.
However, fans have been skeptical of Loyola’s seeding and path to the Final Four since Selection Sunday.
The Ramblers and Beavers are set to play their Sweet 16 matchup March 27 at 1:40 p.m. CT. The game is scheduled to be broadcast on CBS Sports.