The Georgia Tech men’s basketball team is preparing for their first NCAA Tournament game in over a decade and awaiting them on Friday afternoon is one of the county’s most efficient and underrated teams in the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers. Let’s take our first look at the Ramblers…
Head Coach: Porter Moser (10th season)
The Ramblers are now a decade into the Porter Moser era collecting a 186-140 record over his tenure. After winning just 32 games in his first three seasons in Chicago, the Ramblers have quietly become one of the best mid-majors in the country which includes four-straight 20+ win seasons.
What they’ve done this season:
The Ramblers enter the 2021 NCAA Tournament with a 24-4 overall record including 16-2 in Missouri Valley Conference play. They rank 14th in the country in RPI, which is 29 spots above the Yellow Jackets at 43. That being said, the Ramblers didn’t face an all too difficult schedule with a strength of schedule rating of 131. They faced just one power conference program this season, that being the then No.12 ranked Wisconsin Badgers back on December 15. The Ramblers took a 77-63 loss in that game.
The Ramblers would cruise through the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, picking up huge wins over Southern Illinois (73-49) and Indiana State (65-49) before defeating Drake in a bit of closer game in the tournament finals by a final score of 75-65.
Projected starting lineup:
- G: #5 Keith Clemons
- G: #4 Braden Norris
- G: #1 Lucas Williamson
- F: #30 Aher Uguak
- C: #25 Cameron Krutwig
The first thing to know about the Ramblers is their starting lineup like the Yellow Jackets is heavily experienced. Out of their five starters, four are seniors with Braden Norris being the lone underclassman of the group, as he’s just a sophomore. That being said, outside their starting lineup, they are rather young and as a team they only have on average about 1.8 years of experience per Basketball Reference. For comparison, the Jackets average years of experience is 2.5 and are one of the most experienced team in the tournament
Center Cameron Krutwig is the name to know as he leads the Ramblers offensively and was the MVC Player of the Year for his performance. The Algonquin, Illinois native has averaged 15.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game this season. Notably, he’s the only Rambler to average double-digit points this season.
But don’t be fooled by that stat, the rest of the Ramblers starters can shoot very effectively. Senior guard Lucas Williamson is averaging 8.2 points per game this season with a shooting slash of .423/.360/.795. He’s one of the Ramblers primary three-point shooters, averaging four attempts per game. He’s also decent on the boards bringing down 3.8 rebounds per game.
Sophomore Braden Norris, a transfer from Oakland, is averaging 8.1 points per game and is a promising young player. Like Williamson, he’ll be taking most of the Ramblers attempts from beyond the arc with 4.3 attempts per game. He’ll make you pay as well if you present him a quality shot opportunity, he’s hitting 40% from three-point range. Overall, he’s shooting a quality 43.6% from the field this season and 82.9% from the charity stripe.
Their other starting big man is Aher Uguak, boasting a respectable stat line of 7.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. The 6-foot-7 forward may only be averaging 7.6 points per game but he’s extremely efficient with a shooting percentage of 62.9% which rises to 71.3% when shooting inside the perimeter. The last starter, Keith Clemons is averaging 7.4 points per game this season and is shooting at a 46.4% clip this season. He doesn’t shoot deep range shots often but when he has this season, he’s been strong, draining 46.7% of his shots.
Compared to the Yellow Jackets, the Ramblers use their bench a bit more with three role players averaging 10+ minutes per game. In reality, they use upwards of nine to 10 players per game but those three alluded to above the are the ones to keep note of the bench.
The first one is senior guard Tate Hall who has appeared in all 28 games this season including 11 starts. He’s averaged 21.1 minutes per contest so far this season and is posting a stat line of 7.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Sophomore guard Marquis Kennedy is another top scoring option off the bench averaging 7.1 points per game over 25 games, however, he’s scored just six points in their last three games, albeit on limited shot attempts. The Jackets will have to keep an eye on him, however, as he has the ability to make quite the impact off the bench, dropping 18 and 16 points in games this season. The last consistent rotational player to note is senior forward Tom Welch. He likely won’t provide a huge offensive presence, averaging just 5.0 points in 10 minutes per contest but will provide some quality big man depth for the Ramblers.
Offensively, Loyola is averaging 71.5 points per game but don’t be fooled, this is a highly efficient offensive team. The Ramblers are very methodical team when they have possession, they look to drain the shot clock and move the ball around, looking for the best shot. This season, they’re only averaging 52 field goal attempts on 62 possessions per game but they make the most of them. As a team they’re shooting at a 50.5% clip from the floor which ranks fourth in the nation. They’re especially strong inside the perimeter where they’ve made nearly 60% of their shots this season with a shooting percentage of 58.7%. But you also can’t give them too much room beyond the arc either as they’re shooting 36.8% from long range. The final verdict offensively? They’ll take their sweet time when they have the ball but when they do shoot, they’re taking high percentage shots and making the most of every shot attempt.
That offensive philosophy feeds right into their defensive philosophy. The more time the Ramblers hold onto the ball offensively, the less time and possessions the opposing team will have in the process. Then once the Ramblers build comfortable leads, it forces the opposing teams to move at even faster pace and usually results in those teams shooting more low percentage shots than normal. It may not be the most glamorous way to win, but it’s an methodical and effective method to say the least.
With that, Loyola-Chicago enters the tournament with the countries top rated defense, allowing a mere 55.5 points per game. Opposing teams are only shooting 40.7% against them this season, good enough for 40th in the nation. Now, not only will Loyola-Chicago limit possessions but they will also suffocate you defensively. They’re forcing 13.9 turnovers per game this season including 6.9 steals per contest, highly comparable to the Jackets 15.9 forced turnovers and 9.2 steals per game.
Individually, each player on their team has a defensive rating of below 100, which is simply outstanding and unheard of in today’s game. It’s a true testament to the buy-in that head coach Porter Moser has from his players and into his system. Senior guard Lucas Williamson, will be one to especially keep an eye on as he’s averaged 3.3 steals per game this year and was the MVC’s Defensive Player of the Year award recipient.
Overall, this Loyola-Chicago team may not be the most purely talented team but they play to their strengths extremely well and buy-in to their system 100%. It’s what makes them so tough to beat.
They’re the type of team that will not only give the Yellow Jackets fit but will give fits to anyone they would face in the tournament and that includes a potential second-round matchup against Illinois. As it pertains to the Yellow Jackets, this is a pretty tough matchup but it also should be a fun one. These are two teams built on strong defensive play and it could end being a similar game to anytime the Jackets matchup with the Virginia Cavaliers. At times it’s going to be ugly basketball on both ends and it won’t be due to inept offensive abilities but more so two suffocating defenses going at it. We’ll talk more about how the two teams matchup on Friday in our game day preview.
But to wrap this all up, we’ll say this; this Loyola-Chicago Ramblers team is a very good team and have dominated most of their competition this season. It wouldn’t be shocking if they beat the Jackets and then gave Illinois a tough run for their money. That being said, they haven’t faced a team this season that is as strong offensively as the Jackets have been this season, especially of late. This one will will likely come down to not how well the Jackets can play offensively but how well their can contain the Ramblers on defense. If they can play the suffocating defense we’ve seen them play all season, this is very much a winnable game for the Yellow Jackets but in no way will it be easy.