Scott Phillips

One factor could determine Loyola's chances at a Final Four run

One factor could determine Loyola's chances at a Final Four run

Loyola has already made plenty of national headlines during a thrilling run to the Sweet 16.

The Ramblers are fun underdogs thanks to a balanced team, two memorable game-winning shots and the off-court presence of international superstar Sister Jean.

Chicago has been starving for a college basketball team to be successful in the NCAA tournament. The No. 11 seed Ramblers' run into the second weekend comes at a great time. An area college hasn't been this deep in the men's NCAA tournament since DePaul advanced to the Sweet 16 in 1987. Loyola's winning streak comes at an absolutely perfect time to potentially capture the city's attention with Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup with Nevada looming.

Loyola's Sweet 16 run has been a lot of fun so far. But can Loyola make an unlikely push to the Final Four with two more wins? The key will be Loyola's ability to dictate tempo to keep things slow like the Ramblers did the first two rounds.

Loyola was able to advance to this point because Miami and Tennessee played at the slower pace ideally suited for the Ramblers' preferred style of play. Finding themselves down by an identical 62-61 score before knocking down game-winning shots in both wins, Loyola has been able to keep more talented and athletic teams like Miami and Tennessee playing at their tempo.

In fact, it's been a month since Loyola even scored in the 70s — a span of six games. With the No. 319 adjusted tempo rating (out of 351 teams) on KenPom, Loyola plays one of the slowest paces in the country. The Hurricanes (No. 233) and Volunteers (No. 281) also prefer to play on the slower side, according to KenPom numbers. That draw hugely benefited Loyola when it came out on Selection Sunday.

Playing at a slow tempo will be seriously challenged by a No. 7 seed Nevada team that can really put up points. Loyola struggles to score in the 70s. Nevada has only been held below 70 points twice all season.

Armed with five major weapons who can score all over the floor, the Wolf Pack have the No. 6 offense in KenPom in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency. In terms of pace, they're in the upper third of the NCAA at a No. 107 rating. Even after starting point guard Lindsey Drew was lost for the season with injury, this Nevada offense kept rolling.

With two double-digit, second-half comeback wins over Texas and Cincinnati, Nevada put up a serious amount of points in a hurry against two defenses that were even better than Loyola this season. The win over Cincinnati, in particular, was astonishing for Nevada. The 22-point second-half comeback was the second biggest comeback win in NCAA tournament history. And it came against the No. 2 defense in the county.

It means Loyola either has to put up more points than usual to stick with such an offensively-talented team. Or they have to do the best they can to keep the game in the 50s or 60s where they feel more comfortable.

Keep in mind that Nevada has also gotten off to slow starts in both of its tournament games — something that could come into play once again facing Loyola. A slow start for Nevada could give the Ramblers enough of a window to build a cushion for a potential second-half flurry. Even with Nevada's firepower, this is a winnable game for Loyola if they can knock down enough perimeter looks while slowing down Nevada's offense.

If the Ramblers can get past Nevada, then beating Kentucky and Kansas State also wouldn't be out of the question.

The No. 5 seed Wildcats and head coach John Calipari are the heavy favorites in the region after a strong stretch that includes an SEC tournament title. They're also one of the youngest teams in the country. There have been games where Kentucky has been extremely inconsistent this season. Loyola also won't be afraid of facing the SEC powerhouse. The Ramblers' two marquee wins of this season are against Florida and Tennessee — two teams that went a combined 4-1 against Kentucky this season.

Although Kentucky has offensive firepower and a lot of weapons, they're also one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country this season. The Wildcats became the first team since 2014 to win an NCAA tournament game without making a three-pointer during the first-round win over Davidson. So Kentucky's lack of perimeter shooting could easily rear its ugly head against Loyola and give the Ramblers a chance in a slower-tempo game.

No. 9 seed Kansas State would be ideally-suited to face Loyola because they are a limited offensive team who also plays an extremely slow tempo. Bruce Weber's team had a cringeworthy second-round win over No. 16 seed UMBC as both teams really struggled to generate offense.

And with the No. 303 adjusted tempo in the country, Kansas State will certainly oblige to the slower tempo Loyola desires to play. Kansas State still has one of the best defenses in the country. A potential matchup with Loyola would be a slugfest. It would also be a winnable game for Loyola if it came to that point.

Loyola still has a lot of work to do if they want to be the third double-digit seed to advance to the Final Four in the last 12 years. But the bracket has also given the Ramblers an opportunity at more winnable games during the weekend.

If Loyola can keep things to its slower pace, then they could be the next surprise team to make college basketball's biggest stage. 

2018 NBC Sports Chicago Boys Basketball All-Area Team

2018 NBC Sports Chicago Boys Basketball All-Area Team

The end of the IHSA boys basketball season means it's time to unveil the fifth annual NBC Sports Chicago All-Area team.

Unlike some other postseason awards, we wait until after the high school season has finished so that we can take postseason accomplishments into account. The three teams are broken up similar to the All-American teams you see at the college level: three teams of five players each. Only players from our main Chicagoland coverage area are considered.  

FIRST TEAM

Talen Horton-Tucker, Simeon senior guard (Player of the Year) -- The Player of the Year award was an easy choice as Horton-Tucker had the strongest season of any area player from start to finish. Although the Wolverines came up short of a Class 4A state title, they became a nationally-ranked powerhouse during the season thanks in large part to the emergence of Horton-Tucker as a go-to player. Putting up 23.0 points, nine rebounds, six assists and 2.1 blocks per game, Horton-Tucker was dominant at times on both ends of the floor. A back-to-back city champion and the A.C. Williamson award winner at Pontiac, Horton-Tucker seemed to elevate his play in the biggest of games. When the Wolverines played nationally-ranked teams this season, Horton-Tucker averaged 21 points per game. The 6-foot-5 Horton-Tucker is headed to Iowa State next season.

Ayo Dosunmu, Morgan Park senior guard -- The Illinois commit closed out a great IHSA career with a Class 3A state title with the Mustangs. Dosunmu would have been in serious contention for Player of the Year had he not missed a critical stretch of 10 games in the middle of the season. Dosunmu averaged 25.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 3.0 steals per game this year as he's been selected to participate in the prestigious Jordan Brand Classic All-Star Game in New York. Dosunmu also had games of 60 and 52 points this season -- the area's only player with multiple 50-point outings. 

Javon Freeman, Whitney Young senior guard -- Starting this season as the talk of the town after some monster scoring games, Freeman and the Dolphins just missed winning back-to-back Class 4A state titles. The Valparaiso commit put up 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game this season as the 6-foot-4 Freeman was one of the area's most gifted offensive weapons. Also winning MVP of the Rockford Tip-Off Classic and making All-Tournament honors at Proviso West, Freeman also elevated his play in the biggest of games. 

Drew Peterson, Libertyville senior forward -- The uncommitted senior was the area's most consistent go-to scorer this season as Peterson put up 25.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game. A lethal perimeter shooter at 38 percent from distance, Peterson was a matchup nightmare at the high school level because of his 6-foot-8 size on the perimeter. A North Suburban All-Conference selection, Peterson was held under 20 points only five times all season. Division I schools from all over the country have tracked Peterson's play this season as he will be a fascinating spring recruit.

Ryan Davis, Conant senior center -- The area's best big man this season, the 6-foot-9 Davis was a force on the interior for the Cougars. The Mid-Suburban League's Player of the Year averaged 24.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.3 blocked shots per game this season while facing double- and triple-teams in almost every game. Davis also shot an impressive 61 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line. The Vermont commit is Conant's all-time leader in wins while scoring 1,542 total points in his career. Davis was also MVP of the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York -- leading the Cougars to the title there. 

SECOND TEAM

Zion Griffin, Hinsdale South senior forward -- After a breakout campaign as a junior, Griffin became a star as a senior. The 6-foot-6 Iowa State commit averaged 21.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.2 assists per game this season while shooting 55 percent form the floor. An All-Tournament selection at Lyons and Jack Tosh (York), Griffin has as much upside as any player on this All-Area list. 

Camron Donatlan, West Aurora senior guard -- A three-sport star who is headed to Wyoming for football and track, the 6-foot-3 Donatlan finished out a stellar career on the hardwood this season. Helping the balanced Blackhawks to a Class 4A sectional title, Donatlan averaged 18.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.0 steals per game while shooting 56 percent from the floor. The Upstate Eight Valley co-Player of the Year finished fourth in West Aurora history with over 1,500 points.

Morgan Taylor, Marist senior guard -- Marist had another great season as the 6-foot-3 Taylor's contributions were a huge reason why. Finishing with the single-season school scoring record, Taylor averaged 21.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game while shooting an impressive 53 percent from the field. Taylor will go down in Marist history as the sixth leading scorer all time. 

Messiah Jones, Simeon senior forward -- One of the most active players in the area, the 6-foot-5 Jones was a double-double machine for the Wolverines this season. Putting up 17 points and nine rebounds per game, Jones was an All-Tournament selection at Pontiac while also garnering MVP honors at the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest. The Drake commit was often playing out of position by having to go in the post, but he always handled his assignment with productive games. 

Dannie Smith, Orr senior forward -- A two-time Class 2A state champion, Smith has been one of the area's best all-around players the past two seasons. As a senior, Smith shined by averaging 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game for the Spartans while being named to the IBCA 1A/2A All-State first team. Smith was also critical in helping Orr capture the Proviso West Holiday Tournament while going undefeated in the loaded Public League Red North/West. The 6-foot-5 forward is uncommitted. 

THIRD TEAM

Perry Cowan, DePaul Prep junior guard -- One of the area's most efficient offensive players, the 6-foot-4 Cowan had a strong junior season for the Rams. The All-Catholic League selection averaged 19.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 51 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free-throw line. Cowan was also an All-Tournament selection at DePaul/Lane and Hinsdale Central. Another uncommitted prospect, Cowan has scholarship offers from local programs like DePaul, Loyola and UIC. 

D.J. Steward, Fenwick sophomore guard -- The state's top sophomore this season, the 6-foot-1 Steward was named the Catholic League's Player of the Year after helping the Friars to another conference title. Facing opposing defenses that were often geared to slow him down, Steward showed impressive poise for a sophomore this season. Putting up 18.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game, Steward was one of the best all-around players in the area. Steward remains uncommitted as high-major programs should be all over him during the spring and summer.

Damaria Franklin, Niles North senior wing -- A powerful 6-foot-3 wing who can score with the best of them, Franklin was one of the premier go-to guys in the area this season. Playing in the loaded CSL South, Franklin was an all-conference selection while averaging 17.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 2.2 assists per game as a senior. Capable of pumping in points from all three levels of the floor, Franklin is second in Niles North history with 1,508 points. The uncommitted Franklin was also an All-Tournament selection at DePaul/Lane, Wheeling and Lake Zurich this season. 

Raekwon Drake, Orr senior forward -- A back-to-back Class 2A state champion with the Spartans, Drake has been a known presence in the city the past four years. An elite athlete and one of the best dunkers in the city in recent memory, Drake averaged 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game as a senior. Also named to the Associated Press Class 2A All-State first team, Drake was a dominant force in the state playoffs once again. The 6-foot-5 Drake is uncommitted.

Anthony Lynch, Larkin senior guard -- The Upstate Eight River Player of the Year this season, Lynch was a huge reason why the Royals made their first state appearance in school history. The 6-foot-3 guard was the catalyst behind Larkin's offense as he averaged 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game before the state finals weekend. Lynch and Larkin senior big man Jalen Shaw formed one of the area's best inside-outside combinations. Lynch is uncommitted. 

Orr finishes No. 1 in final Preps Power Rankings

Orr finishes No. 1 in final Preps Power Rankings

The IHSA boys basketball season is in the books as High School Lites has finished up another season of coverage. This season had plenty of drama until the end for the No. 1 spot as a group of Public League superpowers battled for area dominance. In the end, Class 2A champion Orr is the top team in the area, in a very tough decision over Whitney Young, Simeon and Morgan Park. Here's a look at the final top 25, with some season highlights and memorable moments. 

1. Orr (30-4, 9-0) -- The Spartans finish the season in the top spot as the only team in the area to capture a state, conference and major holiday tournament title this season. A special senior class that cruised to back-to-back Class 2A titles, Orr also won the loaded Public League Red North/West by going unbeaten. They also steamrolled the competition in the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. Orr is also the only team in the area with 30 wins. They beat another 30-win team in the 2A title game this year. Orr had a lot of tremendous accomplishments while beating a lot of good teams. Dannie Smith, Raekwon Drake and Chase Adams all had stellar senior seasons on a deep and loaded team.

2. Whitney Young (28-8, 7-2) -- Peaking in March once again, the Dolphins just missed winning back-to-back state titles in Class 4A with an overtime loss to Belleville West. Knocking off Lincoln Park, Curie, Simeon and Evanston all in a row is a ridiculous postseason accomplishment. Senior Javon Freeman was a Player of the Year candidate and his hot start was one of the big early storylines of the season. Other seniors like Xavier Castaneda, Justin Boyd and Jake Kosakowski made an impact as well. It'll be interesting to see who steps up alongside Myles Baker and Tyler Beard next season. 

3. Simeon (29-4, 9-0) -- Simeon fell short of winning a Class 4A state title after suffering a stunning overtime loss to Whitney Young in the Chicago State Supersectional. The Wolverines were No. 1 nearly the entire season. The loss to the Dolphins was their only IHSA loss of the season. A nationally-ranked juggernaut that at-times played like one of the best teams in the area of the last decade, the back-to-back city champions still won at Pontiac and won the Public League Red South/Central as well. Senior Talen Horton-Tucker morphed into a superstar and Player of the Year favorite while Messiah Jones, Xavier Pinson, Kenny Pittman, Zion Young and Bakari Simmons were also key ingredients. Junior Kejuan Clements could be a breakout star next year as well. 

4. Morgan Park (25-9, 7-2) -- Claiming a second consecutive Class 3A state title, the Mustangs ended the season on a high note as the dominant team in that field. Senior guard Ayo Dosunmu is one of the Player of the Year favorites while senior Cam Burrell had an outstanding season as a double-double machine. Sophomores like Adam Miller and Marcus Watson also emerged as the wave of the future for the program. While the Mustangs had a great end to the season, they had to fight through injuries to Dosunmu and senior center Tamell Pearson -- who missed most of the season with an eye injury. One of the big "What Ifs?" of the 2017-18 season is how good Morgan Park might have been this season with all of its pieces all of the time. 

5. Evanston (27-6, 8-2) -- Exceeding expectations with a Class 4A third-place finish, the Wildkits had a tremendous season. With a balanced team that featured a lot of non-seniors playing big roles, this young Evanston team knocked off many of the area's best teams during the season. Evanston also finished tied atop the loaded CSL South this season. Junior guards Ryan Bost, Jaheim Holden and Lance Jones are all noted talents while senior big man Matt Hall provided a huge presence on the interior. 

6. Marian Catholic (26-6, 5-4) -- Another team to exceed expectations this season was Marian Catholic. The Spartans advanced to state for the first time in capturing a Class 3A third place win. Junior guard Malik Tidwell knocked in a memorable buzzer-beater to win a supersectional and guard Ahron Ulis started to look like a star in the making towards the end of the season. The interior play of Chris White and Alec Dinwiddie was also underrated for this team as they featured a balanced roster. Many of the key pieces of this team are expected back, and this is a close-knit team. Marian Catholic will likely be Class 4A next season as well. 

7. Larkin (24-10, 11-1) -- Larkin had huge expectations this season after making a supersectional last season. They lived up to the hype by making it to Peoria in Class 4A. The duo of Anthony Lynch and Jalen Shaw was one of the best combinations in the area this season and they helped lead the Royals to an Upstate Eight River title. 

8. Curie (26-5, 8-1) -- Curie didn't claim a lot of the team hardware of many of the top 10 teams, but the Condors had some great wins over Orr and Morgan Park during the season. One of the Public League's best teams once again, the Condors also had convincing wins over sectional title teams like North Chicago and North Lawndale. Seniors Treavon and Tyree Martin both had solid careers while Maurice Commander and Marquise Walker had a lot of bright moments during the season.  

9. North Chicago (22-10, 14-0) -- The Warhawks flew under the radar of a lot of people this season. But they went out in convincing fashion after going undefeated in the Northern Lake County conference taking fourth place in Class 3A. Tyrek Cooper and Pierce Coleman led a strong senior group while Ishaun Walker played well in the state playoffs. 

10. Benet (27-5, 8-1) -- Benet had a great season in winning a sectional title in Class 4A. Winners of 18 straight games at one point this season, the Redwings claimed the Wheaton-Warrenville South MLK tournament and Fenwick Thanksgiving events as well. One of the area's best defenses, Benet held 14 opponents to 40 points or less. This unsung group had a solid senior class led by David Buh. 

11. West Aurora (25-5, 10-0) -- A great season for West Aurora as they won 17 straight games themselves at one point. The Blackhawks went unbeaten in winning the Upstate Eight Valley behind a balanced group. Senior Camron Donatlan is one of the area's best overall athletes in recent memory. Jared Crutcher also came on strong at the end of the season. 

12. Lake Zurich (26-8, 9-5) -- The Bears started the preseason in the Power Rankings and fought back in after a Class 4A sectional title and 26-win campaign. One of the area's better shooting teams, the Bears made history with talented players like Ryan Kutsor, Peter DiCerbo and J.R. Cison. 

13. North Lawndale (18-11, 3-6) -- North Lawndale made the most of its Class 3A run by winning a sectional title and falling to Morgan Park in the supersectional at Joliet Central. The Phoenix had a lot of close losses to elite teams during the season that prepared them for the deep Class 3A run as they were led by Demetrius Douglas and David Forrest.   

14. Marist (27-5, 7-2) -- Marist enjoyed another very successful season as a regional champion and one of the best teams in the tough ESCC. The RedHawks had a star in senior guard Morgan Taylor as this team won 27 games during the year. 

15. New Trier (25-6, 8-2) -- One of the biggest teams in the area, the Trevians used their elite size to share the top of the CSL South standings with rival Evanston. New Trier claimed a regional title while also winning some memorable games against conference rivals like the Wildkits and Niles North. Also winners of the Loyola/New Trier Thanksgiving event, New Trier junior Ciaran Brayboy will be a player to track heading into next year. 

16. DePaul Prep (24-7, 5-3) -- The Rams had a nice season as one of the strongest teams in the Catholic League. DePaul Prep came up short of winning a sectional title in Class 3A, but they beat a lot of quality competition during the season. Junior Perry Cowan was one of the area's top players and he could be a star next season. 

17. Bolingbrook (22-7, 7-3) -- Another good season for the Raiders as they nearly won another sectional title in Class 4A. With some of the better guards in the area in Kaleb Thornton, Joseph Yesufu and Tyler Cochran, Bolingbrook knocked off some really good teams, including a win over Morgan Park on Martin Luther King day.  

18. Willowbrook (26-6, 9-3) -- Willowbrook capped a great two-year stretch with the school's first regional title since 2004 and another 20-win campaign. Senior Ethan Schuemer is one of the best players in school history as he leaves as the program's all-time leading scorer. 

19. Niles North (26-5, 6-4) -- Niles North had a great season in the loaded CSL South while also claiming the Wheeling Hardwood Classic in December. The Vikings had a star in Damaria Franklin and other talented weapons like Jamal Stephenson and Drayvon Clayborn. 

20. Loyola Academy (24-7, 5-3) -- One of the area's strongest defensive teams, Loyola Academy had a great season in the Catholic League. Winning a holiday tournament in Naples, Florida, the Ramblers had a very good 10-game winning streak in the middle of the season. 

21. Homewood-Flossmoor (21-7, 9-1) -- The Vikings won the very tough SouthWest Suburban Blue by two games while also winning a regional title in Class 4A. After a decent start, the Vikings also deserve credit for an eight-game winning streak before losing in the playoffs to Marist. 

22. Joliet Central (23-6, 13-1) -- The Southwest Prairie champions had a very strong season before losing in a heartbreaker to Bolingbrook in the sectional semifinals of Class 4A. The Steelmen seemed to find themselves in a lot of memorable overtime games this season, including two against Romeoville, a triple-overtime win over Wheaton-Warrenville South and the double-OT playoff loss to Bolingbrook. 

23. Lincoln Park (19-10, 6-3) -- One of the Public League's biggest surprises this season, the Lions had some huge wins playing in the Red North/West. Taking down Whitney Young, Uplift, North Lawndale, Marian Catholic and Oak Park-River Forest, the Lions had some star power in senior Terrence Shannon.   

24. Lincoln-Way East (23-6, 7-3) -- The Griffins made history by winning the first regional title in school history for boys basketball. Also beating teams like Bolingbrook and Romeoville, Lincoln-Way East was led by very good senior class.

25. Brother Rice (19-11, 4-4) -- The Crusaders had a strong season while playing a solid schedule. Brother Rice had a convincing win over Kenwood for a regional title before putting up a battle with Simeon in the sectional semifinals. Brother Rice was also the runner-up in the 32-team Jack Tosh Holiday Classic.