It may not create a lot of scoring, but Friday’s game in the Midwest Region between the no. 8 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers and no. 9 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets might be one of the most competitive games of the First Round. At Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, the Ramblers are 3-point favorites, with the over/under set at 126 points.
Loyola is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since reaching the Final Four in 2018. Players who were freshmen on that team are now seniors, and it showed during the team’s 24-4 season. The Ramblers finished the season, winning 17 of their last 18 games, capturing both the regular-season and tournament titles in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets also finished the season on a roll, winning eight straight games and winning the ACC Tournament. Before that run, Josh Pastner’s team was a modest 9-8 team that appeared to be going nowhere. But now, Georgia Tech is in the Big Dance for the first time since 2010.
Moses Leads the Way
Not only did Georgia Tech win the ACC championship, but the Yellow Jackets also have the ACC Player of the Year in Moses Wright. The 6’9’’ senior was a beast in the paint this season, averaging 17.4 points and eight rebounds per game while also letting his presence known on the defensive end. Late in the season, Wright was at his best, scoring 20.4 points and grabbing 9.3 rebounds per game over his last eight games.
In the backcourt, the Yellow Jackets have a formidable trio in Jose Alvarado, Michael Devoe, and Jordan Usher. Outside of Moses and that trio, Georgia Tech is a little offensively challenged. However, Alvarado is an outstanding point guard, Devoe shoots over 40% from three-point range, and Usher is brilliant at attacking the basket. Together, that trio averages better than 41 points per game to help balance the presence of Wright inside.
Much like Georgia Tech, the Ramblers win games on the defensive end more times than not. Loyola gives up just 55.5 points per game. In fairness, they’ve played mostly Missouri Valley teams this season. However, in three games against conference rival Drake, a team in the tournament that averages over 77 points per game, the Ramblers gave up less than 57 points per game.
Offensively, the Ramblers have a go-to guy in the senior center, Cameron Krutwig. He contributed 10.5 points per game to the team that reached the Final Four in 2018 and is now the focal point of the Loyola offense, averaging 15 points per game. The caveat is that he’s the only Loyola player who averages double figures. However, the Ramblers have six other players in their rotation who average at least seven points per game. They also shoot 36.8% as a team from the three-point range, so Krutwig is not the only scoring option.
This Might Sting
We know both teams are strong defensively and have a post scorer who can put up big numbers. But the Yellow Jackets have better athletes and better scorers in their backcourt. Containing Alvarado, Devoe, and Usher for 40 minutes might be asking a little too much of the Ramblers. Bet on Georgia Tech to eke out an ugly, low-scoring win over Loyola.
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