South Regional Final
March 23, 2018
By Brian Edwards
Editor's note: Brian Edwards cashed his guaranteed selection for Thursday easily by backing Michigan in its run-away-and-hide win over Texas A&M. Brian’s guaranteed plays are on a 47-35 run (57.3%, +9.7 Units!) since Dec. 8, so don't miss out on tonight's pay-if-it-wins-only selection!
And now’s the time, the time is now
To sing my song
I’m goin’ ‘round the world, I got to find my girl
On my way
I’ve been this way ten years to the day
I gotta ramble on
I gotta find the queen of all my dreams
-- Led Zeppelin
The great rock tune, “Ramble On,” from Led Zeppelin seems to apply to these Ramblers, who are seeking victory No. 32 and an invite to the 2018 Final Four in San Antonio when they take on Kansas State at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Saturday.
These are the most unlikely of participants in the South Region finals. Loyola-Chicago needed a buzzer beater to edge Miami and a go-ahead bucket with 3.6 seconds left to clip Tennessee in the first weekend. Then high-powered Nevada raced out to a double-digit lead early in the first half of Thursday’s region-semifinal showdown.
But Porter Moser’s team has yet to flinch. And at this point, why would anyone doubt this team, one that’s been a model of consistency all season?
I watched this squad go into Gainesville and put on a defensive clinic at the O-Dome on Dec. 6. The Ramblers led nearly the entire game in a 65-59 win at Florida as 16-point road underdogs.
But here’s the rub: The Gators were the only foe Loyola-Chicago faced that made the field coming into the Tournament. The Missouri Valley, a conference without Wichita State and Creighton any longer, clearly isn’t what it once was.
However, with wins over UF, UM, UT and now Nevada in its pocket, Loyola-Chicago need not fret about playing any “respect card” moving forward. This team can play and that’s been clear as day to all observers in its run to the Elite Eight for the first time since the school won the national championship in 1963.
Most books opened this game as a pick ‘em with a total of 126.5 points. As of Friday afternoon, most spots had Kansas St. (25-11 straight up, 16-17 against the spread) installed as a 1.5-point ‘chalk.’
KSU has an underdog story of its own, wearing that label in two of its three wins to get here. The other victory came over the ultimate ‘dog, the first No. 16 seed to beat a top seed in UMBC.
Bruce Weber’s squad started its run by ousting one that used to be its own. Marcus Foster began his career at KSU, leading the Wildcats in scoring (15.5 points per game) as a true freshman in 2014. However, the relationship between Foster and Weber soured to the point that Foster transferred to Creighton following his sophomore campaign.
After sitting out the 2015-16 season via transfer rules, Foster shined for the Bluejays over the last two years. After averaging 18.2 PPG as a junior, Foster averaged 19.8 PPG this year while shooting at career-best clips from the field (46.1%), 3-point land (41.3%) and the free-throw line (74.4%).
Foster had scored at least 12 points in 31 of Creighton’s first 32 games. His lowest scoring output was nine points coming into the first-round matchup with his former team. Kansas State held Foster to a season-low five points on 2-of-11 field-goal attempts.
Creighton had scored at least 70 points in 29 of its first 32 games and had produced 68 or more in 31 of its first 32 outings. The Bluejays were ranked 12th in the country in scoring with an 83.5 PPG average.
Nevertheless, KSU captured a 69-59 win over Creighton as a 2.5-point underdog, holding it to a season-low scoring output. The 128 combined points fell ‘under’ the 144-point tally. With star center Dean Wade sidelined with a foot injury the first weekend, Barry Brown stepped up with 18 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots. Mike McGuirl drained 3-of-5 attempts form 3-point range in a 17-point effort. The Wildcats hit 3-balls at a 9-for-19 rate (47.4%) to help overcome woeful FT shooting (14-of-25, 56.0%).
Kansas State failed to cover the number in last Sunday’s 50-43 win over UMBC as a 10.5-point ‘chalk.’ Brown led the way again with 18 points to help his club overcome 1-of-12 shooting from downtown (8.3%). Makol Mawien added 11 points, six rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
This sent Weber’s team to ‘Catlanta to face what was a virtually a road game against Kentucky in Thursday’s region semifinal. For decades, the UK fan base has been notorious for taking over the city of Atlanta for SEC Tournaments, which used to be played at the Georgia Dome nearly every year.
But Big Blue Nation was of no help to the ‘Cats on Thursday, nor was the abysmal FT shooting of freshman P.J. Washington, who had 18 points, 15 rebounds and three steals but went 8-of-20 at the charity stripe.
Kansas State won a 61-58 decision as a 5.5-point underdog, hooking up money-line supporters with a payout in the +210 range. The 119 combined points dropped ‘under’ the 136.5-point total.
Xavier Sneed was the catalyst, scoring 22 points to go with nine rebounds, two steals and one assist without a turnover. He wasn’t available at crunch time after fouling out, though. In fact, overtime would’ve been real scary for KSU with three players fouling out with time to spare in regulation.
But as it has throughout the Tournament to date, KSU got the stops when it needed them most. Brown added 13 points, three boards and three assists. Wade finally played but the foot injury slowed him down and limited him to only eight minutes of playing time. He had four points, one rebound and one steal.
Wade is listed as ‘questionable’ against the Ramblers. He averages 16.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocked shots per game. Brown (16.0 PPG) averages team-highs in assists (3.3 APG) and steals (1.8 SPG), while Sneed averages 11.0 points and 5.1 RPG. Mawien (6.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG) is the team’s rim protector with 1.2 blocked shots per contest.
Loyola-Chicago (31-5 SU, 22-9 ATS) has tasted defeat just once since Jan. 5, winning 20 of its past 21 games with the lone defeat coming by a 69-67 count at Bradley on Jan. 31. Since then, the Ramblers have won 13 games in a row while producing a 10-3 spread record. If the line holds and leaves them as underdogs, they’ll feel perfectly comfortable in that role that’s resulted in a 6-1-1 spread record with six outright victories.
Moses’s team beat Miami 64-62 as a 1.5-point ‘dog thanks to Deonte Ingram’s 3-ball from well beyond the top of the key to beat the horn. Clayton Custer scored 14 points and handed out four helpers without committing a turnover. Ingram had 13 points and seven rebounds, while Aundre Jackson had 12 points. Cameron Krutwig chipped in 11 points and four boards on 4-of-6 FGAs.
Loyola-Chicago needed Custer’s go-ahead basket with 3.6 ticks left to nip third-seeded Tennessee by a 63-62 count as a five-point underdog in the Round of 32. The Ramblers had balanced scoring with seven players producing six points or more. Jackson had a game-high 16 points on 5-of-7 FGAs, while Custer tallied 10 points on 4-of-5 FGAs and 2-of-2 shooting from long distance.
In a Loyola-Chicago section at Philips Arena on Thursday, there was a sign reading, “Mission From God.” This was obviously referencing the Chicago-centric movie, “The Blues Brothers,” featuring star actors John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. It also had to somewhat elude to one of this Tournament’s beloved characters, 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, the nun and team chaplain whose popularity continues to rise.
Sister Jean had Loyola making the Sweet 16 in her bracket, but she didn’t pick her school to advance further. Well, her pre-tourney prediction was off the mark as the Ramblers beat Nevada 68-68 thanks to Marques Townes’s 3-pointer from the right wing off a shot fake and a dribble just before the shot-clock buzzer to put his team up four with 6.1 seconds remaining.
Townes stole the show in the ATL, scoring 18 points on 6-of-10 FGAs. He had five assists, four rebounds and one steal while also hitting both of his attempts form downtown and all four of his FTs. Custer added 15 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals, while Jackson also finished with 15 points.
Custer paces the Ramblers in scoring (13.4 PPG), assists (4.2 APG) and steals (1.5 SPG). All five starters average in double figures, with Ingram, Jackson and Townes averaging 11.2 PPG apiece. Krutwig (10.4 PPG) paces Loyola in rebounding (6.3 RPG) and FG percentage (60.0%).
The Ramblers are extremely efficient at both ends of the floor, ranking fifth in the nation in scoring defense (62.4 PPG) and third in field-goal percentage (50.7%). They are 19th in the country in 3-point accuracy (39.7%).
After cashing in their eighth straight game in Thursday’s win over UNR, the ‘under’ improved to 20-12 overall for the Ramblers.
The ‘under’ has been a winner in all three of K-State’s Tournament games and is now 21-11-1 overall.
TBS will have the telecast with the tip scheduled for 6:05 p.m. Eastern.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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