INDIANAPOLIS (CBS) — Many hoped Illinois and Loyola would meet a little later in the NCAA Tournament, but they’re meeting on Sunday.
A trip to the Sweet 16 is on the line in the all-Illinois matchup.
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This is the schools’ second ever meeting in the NCAA tourney. Loyola won in 1963 en route to a national title.
The Illini are a No. 1 seed, who have won 15 of 16 and have been overpowering their opponents – with their two All-Americans Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, and a number of great role players like Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo, among others.
The No. 8-seeded Ramblers have also been red hot, winning 18 of 19. They get it done with the number one scoring defense in the country, and their own third-team All-American Cameron Krutwig.
It should be a fun one for all basketball fans in the state.
“It’s great for our state. I think it speaks volumes to their program and the job Porter (Moser) has done,” said Illini Coach Brad Underwood. “I’m excited to be back in the tournament for our program, and where I think it should be.”
“Good teams getting good recruits, the right coaching staff, a great culture – Loyola has a great culture – and that’s what it takes to, you know, be successful at this level,” Dosunmu said.
“It’s been a lot of excitement,” said Loyola guard Keith Clemons. “The guys, including myself – we’re all ready for it, even, I had trouble sleeping last night just because I’m so amped up.”
“They want the challenge. They want to play. And they know how good the challenges are in front of them, but they’re excited, and you’ve got to harness it, but you’ve also got to let it go a little,” said Loyola Coach Porter Moser.
The Illini will certainly be tested by the Ramblers, who have the best scoring defense in the country.
“I would say their defense is tough because, one, they’re connected. They’re a connected group of guys. Anytime you have a team that is well-connected; on the same page, whatever defensive scheme they may be running is going to be successful,” Dosunmu said. “They’re well-coached and they’re a veteran ballclub, so they don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Of course, that great defense has not faced anyone quite like Illinois this season. The Illini are very good defensively and possibly even better offensively, and Moser knows it’s going to be a bigtime challenge.
“We’ve created a lot of things off our defense, and we’ve got to be who we are. We’ve got to be us. We’re not going to change now, and it’s just, in life, you have different levels of challenges. And this is going to be a great challenge with that, and our guys are ready for it. But defensively, we’re going to come out. I think Lucas (Williamson) and Aher (Uguak) — those guys are the lead defenders; Braden Norris — so, you know, I won’t be the biggest team out there, but I love the way we play together. I love our schemes,” Moser said. “But here’s the thing about the NCAA Tournament. It’s not a best of seven series. It’s not a best of seven series. It’s just a one game deal. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re here to compete, and advance. That’s why we’re doing this.
You can watch the game on CBS 2 at 11 a.m. Sunday. The A-Team of Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery will be on the call for CBS Sports.