NCAA Talk

Perimeter shooting is Loyola's key to advancing past Kansas State

Perimeter shooting is Loyola's key to advancing past Kansas State

Loyola and Kansas State are playing in the most unlikely Elite Eight in history when they face on Saturday night. A No. 9 seed has never played a No. 11 seed in the men's NCAA tournament.

The No. 11 seed Ramblers have generated national excitement as the double-digit seed one game away from the Final Four. But Loyola still has to win a tough matchup against one of the best defensive teams in the country in Bruce Weber's ballclub.

Tempo is still one of the major factors for Loyola playing in its ultimate comfort zone. Thankfully for the Ramblers, No. 9 seed Kansas State is an ideal tempo matchup. Both teams like to play very slow.

The new key for Loyola in the Elite Eight will come down to perimeter shooting. As a team this season, the Ramblers are just under 40 percent from distance. The long ball has been a big part of the team's unlikely tournament run through three games as well. With multiple floor spacers, Loyola has a lot of weapons on the perimeter.

Kansas State is going to seriously challenge the Ramblers on every shot from three-point range. The Wildcats are in the Elite Eight in-part because of their ability to defend teams off of the three-point line.

So far in the 2018 NCAA tournament, Kansas State has held opponents to 26 percent shooting (18-for-68) from three-point range. Kentucky was known as a shaky perimeter-shooting team this season. UMBC (38 percent) and Creighton (37 percent) were both respected groups who could space the floor at multiple spots. The Wildcats made all three teams shoot very poorly from the perimeter as Kansas State was able to win despite not playing its best on offense.

That means Loyola will have to work to generate open looks from three. And when the Ramblers get clean looks from the perimeter, they also need to knock them down to advance to San Antonio.

The magical run for Loyola has already made it to this point. And it could continue if the Ramblers can knock down enough threes to put the pressure on Kansas State.

Loyola, Valpo showdown in a big game early in the MVC schedule

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Loyola, Valpo showdown in a big game early in the MVC schedule

Loyola battles Valparaiso in a Missouri Valley Conference clash that airs on NBC Sports Chicago Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

The Ramblers (10-7, 3-1) are fighting for the top spot in the Valley with the Crusaders (11-6, 4-0) as the top two teams in the conference play an important early league game.

Coming off of an important home win over Illinois State on Saturday, the Ramblers are hoping to make another move by taking a crack at the Valley's only unbeaten team. Veterans Marques Townes, Clayton Custer and Cameron Krutwig are all having strong seasons for Loyola as the Ramblers attempt to position themselves for another potential NCAA tournament bid.

Valparaiso has put together a strong five-game winning streak, including a good road win at Southern Illinois over the weekend. The Crusaders have a balanced group of scorers, led by forward Ryan Fazekas, and center Derrik Smits -- the son of former Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits.

These two teams will also play on Feb. 10 as the Ramblers will make a trip to Valpo for the rematch. For now, this matchup could provide an indication of the team to beat in the Valley.

Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

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Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

It was a tale of two halves for Northwestern in Monday's Holiday Bowl.

After entering halftime trailing Utah 20-3, Northwestern mounted a huge second half comeback to knock off the Utes 31-20. Northwestern, which outscored Utah 28-0 in the third quarter, finishes the 2018 season 9-5 record.

Northwestern was just 3-of-14 on third down, though they forced six Utah turnovers (two interceptions) highlighted by an 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown by safety/linebacker Jared McGee.

Six turnovers forced is the most by Northwestern since Oct. 3, 2009 against Purdue, when the Wildcats also forced six turnovers.

Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson — who tore his right ACL on Dec. 29, 2017 in the Music City Bowl — finished 21-of-30 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. However, Thorson exited the game late in the fourth quarter after going down awkwardly near Utah's sideline.

Thorson is one of the top quarterback prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft. 

The win improves Northwestern's all-time bowl game record to 5-10. However, they have now three-straight bowl games; from the 1948-2012 seasons, they won two bowl games — the 1949 Rose Bowl and the 2013 Gator Bowl.

One of the biggest questions facing Northwestern is the future of head coach Pat Fitzgerald. According to a report, the Green Bay Packers are expected to request an interview with Fitzgerald for their head coaching vacancy.

Unlike Thorson, Fitzgerald leaving for the NFL is no guarantee. If he does leave, however, Fitzgerald would leave with the most all-time regular season wins (95) and bowl wins (4) in Northwestern history.

Fitzgerald's .576 winning percentage would also be best all-time by a Northwestern head coach, minimum five seasons. 

Fans likely will anxiously wait for news regarding Fitzgerald's future. Overall, though, fans should be appreciative of the job he has done into turning Northwestern into one of the better football programs in the Big Ten.

UPDATE: Here's what Fitzgerald said about his future after the game.