Even though Loyola has that #11 next to their name, they aren’t playing like it.

The Ramblers are coming in to the Sweet 16 matchup on a 12-game winning streak dating back to the beginning of February! While they did need that important Missouri Valley Conference Tournament win to lock in their position in the field of 68, they’ve been playing all year like they belong in this tourney.

With a huge win back on December 6th against the #5 ranked Florida Gators, they had their sights set on cracking the top 25. Unfortunately, senior guard and Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Richardson, broke his hand early in the season. Then, eventual MVC Player of the Year, Clayton Custer missed 5 games with an ankle injury and the Ramblers dropped 3 out of 4 games. But once they both returned, they hit their stride and went on a tear to finish their last 18 games of the season at a 17-1 record.

Both of these teams have their strengths and weaknesses that should make this an interesting matchup. Nevada averages only 16.1 seconds per possession and has the 3rd best offensive turnover percentage, while Loyola is the 24th most efficient defense in the nation, and forces turnovers on 20% of possessions. Both teams defend 3-point shots well and only allow opponents to shoot less than 32% from behind the arc. Conversely, they both shoot around 40% from 3.

One of the advantages that Loyola has is on the boards. Even though Nevada has one of the tallest lineups in the country, they were one of the worst rebounding teams throughout the season. At the free throw line, we can expect both of these teams to shoot well with Loyola at 72% on the year and Nevada at 74%.

Nevada and Loyola have been two fun teams to watch this March. Loyola has made it to where they are by playing a solid 40 minutes, and giving themselves a chance to win at the end. Not to mention a little luck!

But Nevada has been a different story. Against Texas, they were down by 14 at one point and had to go to overtime to take down the Longhorns. Then 2 days later, they were facing a 22-point deficit to #2 Cincinnati with less than 11 minutes to go, and pulled off the comeback victory.

This is one of the most even matchups ever to be played between a #7 seed and a #11 seed. Vegas is predicting a 74-72 win by Nevada.

Photo: Tony Gutierrez, AP
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