Game Preview: (12) Oregon State vs. (8) Loyola Chicago

When Loyola Chicago has the ball

In a very minor way, Loyola’s win over Illinois was somewhat unique for them. The Ramblers only took 19.6% of their attempts from three, the second-lowest rate they posted all season. They attempted 22 free throws, something which was partially influenced by the end-of-game situation but was already unusually high for them. After averaging 18 spot-up possessions per game this year, per Synergy, they only had seven against Illinois.

However, you could’ve seen some semblance of this game plan coming had you watched the Ramblers play Drake two weeks prior. Against Drake, Loyola Chicago only had three spot-up possessions, didn’t have a single off-ball screen shot attempt, and ran a ton of hand-off and ball-screen actions. Most of these were absent in the Round of 64 against a Georgia Tech team that ran a lot of zone, which we’ll talk about shortly, but it showed just how adaptable these Ramblers are.

If Loyola chooses to keep the hand-offs/screens/rolls in the playbook against Oregon State’s switchy defense, it will be imperative for the Beavers to lock down the paint, which is not something they’ve done well at all this season prior to the last week. Oregon State’s season-long rim defense ranks in just the 25th-percentile nationally, per Synergy. However…in their two NCAA Tournament games, Oregon State held Tennessee and Oklahoma State to a combined 17-for-35 (48.6%) at the rim, in part because the Beavers were much better in forcing opposing guards to take tough shots down low:

That being said, I don’t know how many hand-offs we’ll be seeing in this game. The last two zone-heavy teams Loyola Chicago played were Georgia Tech (last Friday) and Indiana State (March 6), and combined, they ran a total of one true hand-off possession, per Synergy. Instead, these were spot-up heavy games, with a secondary focus on flash cuts to the paint and still finding ways to involve Cameron Krutwig both in post-ups and as a main screener.

Loyola Chicago played Georgia Tech once this season and Indiana State three times; combined across the four games, they attempted 45% of their shots from downtown. That’s a full 9% above their rate in all other games, and considering Oregon State allows an above-average amount of threes per game, it seems reasonable to expect Loyola to get somewhere from 40-45% of their shots from deep in this one.

If you’re Porter Moser, it’s kind of hard not to be encouraged by how well the team has created open shots as of late, especially against Georgia Tech. Synergy graded this out as one of the best Guarded/Unguarded performances of the year, with 20 of Loyola’s 24 catch-and-shoot attempts being open. Allowing a team that hits 36% of their threes (67th-best) to get that many open looks is certainly A Choice, and it shouldn’t come as any surprise to hear Loyola went 11-for-27 from deep that day simply by taking their time and moving the ball around against a Georgia Tech defense that couldn’t close out well enough to make a difference.

Oregon State’s defense is moderately difficult to describe. In general, they run a zone that looks like more of a man-to-man defense…but it’s also a matchup zone that can switch to man whenever they need it to. The zone side of things has been more successful this season, and it twisted Tennessee into a mental pretzel and forced Oklahoma State to miss a billion shots they generally hit pretty frequently. This season, they’ve done an above average job of closing out on threes and have benefitted from some minor luck of opponents only hitting 30.6% of unguarded threes to post the 35th-best 3PT% allowed.

That being said, I kind of wonder if they aren’t playing with fire here. Against Tennessee in particular, Oregon State leaned more on the matchup zone than usual, and it led to a lot of wide-open Tennessee three-point attempts. Of the Volunteers’ 19 catch-and-shoot attempts, 12 were deemed unguarded. Because it was Oregon State’s lucky day (and because Tennessee is a true enigma), the Vols went 1-for-12 on these looks.

I have a hard time envisioning Loyola doing the same thing, unless the rims are just super unfriendly. The Ramblers did have a few stinkers from downtown this year – ten games worse than 30% from deep – but those were counter-balanced by 15 games of 40% or better. The odds of this working out for Loyola are better than average; Oregon State simply has to close out harder and better than they did against Tennessee.

Lastly: cuts to the paint are important against any zone. The Ramblers had 17 possessions ending with a cut against the Georgia Tech and Indiana State zones; they only got 16 points from these. The good news, if you’re Loyola, is that the vast majority of these possessions ended in layup attempts, and against what’s generally been a porous rim defense, you should work the ball inside with frequency.

Oregon State’s done a bad job this year of defending cuts, whether it’s in man or zone; their basket cut defense ranks in the 28th-percentile nationally. Simply put, they can’t get caught giving up a lot of easy looks at the rim in a game with minimal possessions and pace.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, three predictions

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