No. 11 Loyola Chicago stunned No. 6 Miami in the NCAA tournament’s South Region on Thursday in Dallas. Loyola’s Donte Ingram drained a three-pointer just before time expired to take the Ramblers from behind to ahead, for good. The final score was 64-62.
So! The Ramblers are moving on in the Big Dance. They’re going to play No. 3 Tennessee in the second round on Saturday in Dallas. They’ve already given us the best moment of the young tournament so far, and they’re a team for you to know going forward.
Loyola fits the profile of a tournament Cinderella.
Most low seeds who make deep tournament runs fit into one of a couple buckets. Maybe they’re stingy on defense. Maybe they create chaos with defensive pressure and a fast pace. Maybe they play so slowly that there aren’t enough possessions in a game for them to get blown out. Or maybe they just make tons and tons of shots.
That last bucket includes the Ramblers. The Missouri Valley champions entered the tournament with the eighth-best effective field goal percentage (57.8) in college basketball. That’s a metric just like standard shooting percentage, only it weights three-pointers 50 percent more heavily than twos. The Ramblers entered the tournament in the top 15 in both, including a lights-out 40 percent clip from beyond the arc.
This was never complicated. If a team has a great enough shooting day, it can beat anyone. For most teams from the MVC to beat a team from the ACC that isn’t Pitt, that requires getting extra hot. But for Loyola, sinking shots in bunches is just standard practice.
The Ramblers didn’t play many big-time opponents until the tournament, but there was already evidence that they could pull something like this off. In December, they visited now-No. 6 tournament seed Florida and left Gainesville with a 65-59 win. They posted a 58 percent effective shooting rate, right in line with their season average. They rarely went cold, shooting below the 51 percent national average seven times in their first 33 games.
That’s the only Cinderella bucket the Ramblers fit into, though. Loyola’s defense is even better than its offense. (Lackluster turnover and offensive rebound numbers have dragged them down on that side of the ball, somewhat.) The Ramblers entered the tournament 27th in opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency, at 96.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. Florida’s loss to Loyola was the Gators’ fifth-least efficient offensive game of the year.
The Ramblers’ approach to beating Miami was similar.
Shooting, obviously, was key. Did you see the shot at the top of this post?
Really, Loyola didn’t shoot as well as it usually does. The Ramblers had a 54.5 percent effective shooting rate, a few ticks below their average on both twos and threes and they were 7-of-20 from deep before Ingram’s long-range snipe to win. They were 52 percent from the field in the first half and just 43 in the second.
But that’s the benefit of being a good shooting team: You don’t have to shoot out of your minds to be a problem for a more talented opponent. Loyola’s relatively mediocre shooting day was almost the same as Miami’s. (The Canes’ eFG% was slightly higher: 55.1.)
Loyola’s defense was tough, too. Whether this was the Ramblers’ stinginess or a conscious choice by Miami to try to play more near the basket, the Canes only took nine three-pointers. They made four of them. The Ramblers lost the second-chance points battle 13-3, but that appears to have been a lot of bad luck. They only lost the offensive rebounding battle 9-8, and they had a 15-8 advantage in points off turnovers. Miami had 16 turnovers to the Ramblers’ 10, which was maybe Loyola’s most surprising advantage.
All of this is to say: Watch the Ramblers from here.
They might not be done.