One of the better matchups this whole season at any level. Two of the better mid-major teams in the entire country.
Porter Moser has a squad that may be top-to-bottom better than the one that made the final four three years ago.
Darien DeVries’s Bulldogs started the season 19-0 prior to falling last weekend to Matt Lottich’s Valpo team. That loss didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. Drake was flirting with disaster for a month. Drake defeated Missouri State twice, despite both games being tight, with Miz St, even leading by double-digits at the half in game one.
Disaster nearly hit Des Moines on January 31st when Illinois State took Drake to overtime. And then last week, Valpo outplayed Drake for the first 35 minutes before the Bulldogs went on a run to win. Game two was dominated by Valpo, with Drake leading for all of 20 seconds.
The Bulldogs are loaded with talent, with their conductor, Roman Penn leading the charge. Penn’s passing ability and the way he picks his spots to get himself going are part of what makes Drake so lethal. When you have an unselfish lead guard like Penn, it makes your life so much easier.
A guy like Tank Hemphill emerged onto the scene for Drake after playing just one game for UWGB last season before going down with an injury. Now, Hemphill leads the Bulldogs in scoring this season at 14.1. The Gary, Indiana native, is an intriguing player because he’s a wing/four-man who doesn’t shoot the ball from deep. With Hemphill, you get an elite athlete that possesses a big wing-span allowing him to score at ease inside.
I’m sure for the Drake coaching staff. There was a lot of thinking when Liam Robbins opted to transfer, how do you replace a guy with his impact? They decided to grab former Seton Hall big, Darnell Brodie. There’s a significant difference between the play-style of Brodie & Robbins. Brodie’s about seventy pounds heavier than Robbins and is a load to hold back inside.
Brodie’s averaging a near double-double per game this year, and the duel between Brodie & Loyola’s Cam Krutwig will be a blast. With everything Krutwig can do, it’ll be a tough matchup for Darnell Brodie.
D.J. Wilkins & Tremell Murphy continue to be the two most shooters for the Bulldogs. There’s no doubt they’ll need to be impactful in this series. In the lone loss of the season, Murphy had three points with one three and fouled out. Wilkins had five points with one three; those will have to change.
I mentioned earlier that this year’s Loyola-Chicago team might be better than the final four squads of three years ago. This year’s team ranks 15th in KenPom, with that one ranking 31st. Both being fantastic defensive squads, with this year being vastly better on offense. Rather than the offense running through Clayton Custer back in 2018, this year’s team runs through senior big Cameron Krutwig. The ball touches the post with Krutwig on most possessions, with him either driving to the rack or passing out to one of the shooters on the perimeter. Krut’s averaging 15.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 2.9 APG on 60% from-the-field. Potential conference POTY.
Outside of Krutwig, there isn’t a single player averaging more than 8 PPG. With that being said, seven players are averaging 6.4 or more PPG.
The Ramblers have the sixth-best effective field-goal percentage in the country, making them the most efficient offense in the Valley. The reserve bigs are extraordinarily efficient also, with Tom Welch & Aher Uguak both shooting above 74% from two-point-range. With all the pieces inside-and-out the Ramblers have it at their disposal is immense.
Guard, Braden Norris has emerged as the top shooter on the roster, shooting 38% on 78 attempts this season. Lucas Williamson is your ideal three-and-D player these days, a wing with elite defense with a shooting ability.
Two guards to watch for LUC in this series are Marquise Kennedy & Keith Clemons.
Kennedy is having a splendid season despite not being used a ton on offense, although he should be. Kennedy’s shooting 57% from-the-field & 38% from deep, the talent is evident, and I have no doubt that Kennedy will have his imprints all over this series.
STATS TO KNOW:
Loyola ranks eighth in defensive efficiency per KenPom, while Drake ranks 76th. That weighs way in favor of Loyola-Chicago.
Only 46% of Drake’s shots come from assists. There’s not much Catch & Shoot in this offense; this is a slow-paced team that try’s to score at the rack. Loyola assists on 59.9% of their shots. Krtuwig finds a shooter on the perimeter, and Braden Norris helps feed Krutwig inside for good looks.
Keys to the series:
During Loyola’s 11-game win streak, they haven’t allowed sixty points in any of those games. Drake will have to score more than sixty to win this game, especially with their significantly worse defense.
Loyola can put Drake in a bind if they get Darnell Brodie in foul-trouble. Get Drake’s starting big to foul, then go to work on Nate Ferguson.
Players to watch:
LUC: Braden Norris
Drake: Darnell Brodie
Game one prediction:
Loyola 64, Drake 58
Loyola 71, Drake 65