The Round of 32 will get underway on Sunday afternoon with an in-state battle between the no. 1 seed Illinois Fighting Illini and the no. 8 seed Loyola-Chicago. The game in the Midwest Region will be played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, with Illinois favored by seven points and the over/under set at 133.5 points.
As expected, Illinois cruised to an easy win in the First Round over Drexel. The Illini started to pull away late in the first half, leading by 18 points, and never looked back. Ultimately, Illinois won 78-49, giving the Fighting Illini eight straight wins and 15 wins in their last 16 games.
The Ramblers were also impressive in the First Round, albeit in a different way. Loyola went back and forth with Georgia Tech for most of the game but started to seize control midway through the second half. Of course, the Ramblers are going for their second Sweet 16 birth in the last four years, although they didn’t face a no. 1 seed during their Cinderella run in 2018.
In a change of pace, Loyola did most of their damage with their backcourt against Georgia Tech. Only one player averages double-figures for the Ramblers, but they had four players score at least 10 points. Guards Lucas Williamson and Braden Norris scored 21 and 16 points, respectively, combining to make eight of 14 three-point attempts. Meanwhile, center Cameron Krutwig was limited to 10 points against the Yellow Jackets, although he’s capable of doing a lot more, averaging 15.2 points per game during the season.
Defensively, the Ramblers were far from their best against Georgia Tech, even with the Yellow Jackets playing without ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright. Georgia Tech ended up shooting 57.4% from the field, which is a concern despite Loyola having one of the best defenses in the country. On the bright side, the Ramblers were able to defend without fouling, only allowing five free-throw attempts, which bodes well for their chances against Illinois.
Don’t Give Up the Fight
There was no semblance of complacency for Illinois in the opening round. Ayo Dosunmu was four assists shy of a double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Center Kofi Cockburn also had an efficient game against a lesser opponent, scoring 18 points on just 11 shots from the field.
Of course, the Illini’s biggest strength right now might be their depth. Trent Frazier and Adam Miller also scored in double figures against Drexel, while freshman point guard Andre Curbelo had eight points and five assists off the bench.
Illinois was like a well-oiled machine offensively, shooting 57.1% from the field and scoring 78 points despite taking their foot off the gas late and making just two shots from three-point range. Even against a no. 16 team, it was in line with what the Illini has done all season offensively.
While Loyola has had a great season, the Ramblers are a little out of their league against Illinois Krutwig will have his hands full with Cockburn at both ends of the floor while Loyola’s guards don’t match up well against the Illinois backcourt. Bet on the Fighting Illini to pull away and cover the 7-point spread.
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