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.