In what is one of the most unlikely sweet 16 matchups of all time Nevada will square off with Loyola Chicago with an Elite 8 birth at stake. Both teams faced double digit point spreads and long odds in their second round matchups and both found ways to win their respective games.
Loyola not only pulled off the huge upset over #3 Tennessee in the 2nd round but they also never trailed in the game until Gary Williams put Tennessee up by one with a three-point play with 20 seconds remaining in the game. The was followed by one of those “March Madness” moments when Clayton Cluster hit a jumper that bounced off the rim before landing in the net. Tennessee’s Jordan Bone got a good look for the win at the buzzer but it was no good and Loyola won the game 63-62. Cluster finished with 10 points and was oddly the only starter in double figures. Aundre Jackson came off the bench to lead the team in scoring with 16.
Somehow Nevada had an even more improbable ending to their second round matchup vs. 2 seed Cincinnati. Trailing by 22 with 11 minutes remaining they battled their way back and with 9.1 seconds left Josh Hall converted an offensive rebound into a putback to give Nevada its only lead of the game and its final margin of victory. Hall finished with 14 points while junior Cody Martin was the game high scorer with 25 points including multiple big scores during the comeback. Jordan Caroline and Kendall Stephens had 13 points each while Caleb Martin chipped in 10.
Nevada is making its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance in only its third season under Head Coach Eric Musselman. They have multiple non conference wins this season including Davidson, Rhode Island, and San Diego State so while this is an upset it cannot be considered a shocker. They play at one of the fastest paces in the country and exhibit a lot of versatility amongst their starting lineup with several players able to play multiple positions.
Loyola Chicago does not play at the same type of pace but makes up for it with steady production on both sides of the ball. They force their opponents into turnovers on 20% of their possessions and rebound the ball extremely well. There is a contrast in styles of play and the winner may be decided by who controls the pace. Loyola will attempt to keep the game at a slow pace while Nevada will look to push and run early and often.
Like many games in this tournament the game will likely come down to guard play where Loyola would appear to have a slight advantage. Nevada only played 6 players last game and that lack of depth could become a big issue in the event of foul trouble. With the close points spread oddsmakers are unsure about the game and they should be. There isn’t much separating these teams and the winner will likely come down to whoever shoots the ball better on Thursday night.
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