We've reached the Sweet 16 of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. And one of the games in the Midwest Region is a matchup of Loyola Chicago and Oregon State, two teams that most didn't pick to make it this far. The Ramblers are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018, as they continue to be movtivated by the words and guidance of Sister Jean. They are taking on a hungry and eager Beavers team that's spent the entire month of March surprising everyone.
Loyola proved why it's the best defense in college basketball after holding top-seeded Illinois to just 58 points in their second-round matchup last weekend. The Ramblers forced the Fighting Illini to commit 17 turnovers, recorded 12 steals, and held the Big Ten champions to just 44 percent shooting. Loyola stuck to its game plan and displayed total fearlessness against the No. 2-ranked team in the country. The Rambler defense also paved the way to victory over Georgia Tech in the first round.
After a surprising run to the Pac-12 Tournament title, the 12th-seeded Beavers have continued their strong postseason play with wins over 5-seed Tennessee and 4-seed Oklahoma State. Now they look to end the Ramblers' dream season. Oregon State is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1982 when that Beavers team bowed out in the Elite Eight. Loyola is hoping to copy 2018's Final Four run.
Midwest Region: No. 12 Oregon State Beavers (19-12) vs. No. 8 Loyola Chicago Ramblers (26-4)
Time: Saturday, March 27 at 2:40 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
Spread: Loyola -7.0
Keys for Oregon State
Against Oklahoma State, the Beavers were led by Ethan Thompson (game-high 26 points), Jarod Lucas (15), and Maurice Calloo (15 off the bench). Oregon State didn't shoot the lights out (41.2 percent) against the Cowboys but big men Warith Alatishe, Dearon Tucker and Roman Silva did their job on the glass (25 combined rebounds) and on defense (10 blocks). The Beavers also held Oklahoma State to just three points over the final three minutes.
It will take a similar collective effort, if not a bigger one, against Loyola, who is holding teams to 56 points per game. The Ramblers may not be the most explosive team offensively (71.5 ppg), but they are fifth nationally in field goal percentage (.504) and play with extreme focus and discipline on both ends of the court.
Keys for Loyola Chicago
The Ramblers showed how serious they were as they held Illinois, the nation's 17th-best scoring offense (80.5 ppg), to their lowest point total of the season (58) in the second round. The lone bright spot for the Fighting Illini was center Kofi Cockburn (21 points, nine rebounds), but the Ramblers shut down the rest of the Illinois offense. They held consensus All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu to just nine points while forcing him to commit six turnovers. They limited Jacob Grandison and Trent Frazier to just five combined points on 2-of-11 shooting, forced Andre Curbelo to make four turnovers of his own, all while Illinois missed 31 total field goal attempts.
On many occasions, the Illini couldn't penetrate Loyola's tough zone defense. Dosumnu had a very difficult time getting into a rhythm, and the team didn't have any solutions for the Ramblers' efficiency. Center Cameron Krutwig posted his sixth double-double of the season (19 points, 12 rebounds), guard Lucas Williamson was efficient once more (14 points, 5-of-8 field goals), Marquise Kennedy provided extra offense off the bench (14 points in 18 minutes), while Keith Clemons, Braden Norris, Tate Hall, Aher Uguak, and Jacob Hutson took care of the rest (combined for 24 points, 8-of-19 field goals, 11 boards). The Ramblers' ability to get production from multiple players has been a difference-maker.
This game will mark the first time that the Beavers and Ramblers have ever played one another. Oregon State is 9-5 all-time against the Missouri Valley Conference, but its last game against the league was a 2018 loss to Missouri State. Loyola Chicago is 4-12 all-time against the Pac-12 but won its last game against the conference back in 2016 (Washington State). The Ramblers have held their own against "Power Six" schools (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC), going 5-6 in their last 11 and their defense has been on point. Oregon State keeps it close but Loyola advances.
Prediction: Loyola Chicago 72, Oregon State 66
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.