Loyola-Chicago could bring Sister Jean back to March Madness

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Jean Dolores Schmidt was the unlikely off-the-court star of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Known throughout the college basketball world as Sister Jean, Schmidt, the now-99-year-old chaplain of the Loyola-Chicago men’s basketball team, was courtside for her Ramblers’ magical run to the Final Four.

While that magic was going to be tough to duplicate this season after Loyola lost three significant contributors, there was enough left to hope for better than a 10-7 start.

Guard Ben Richardson, who scored 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the Ramblers’ 78-62 Elite Eight win over Kansas State, and fellow seniors Aundre Jackson and Donte Ingram were gone.

But Clayton Custer, the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, was back, along with center Cameron Krutwig, who averaged 11.2 points per game on 62 percent shooting as a freshman, and Marques Townes, who’s 3-pointer from just in front of the Loyola bench lifted the team over Nevada in the Sweet 16.

That was enough to garner Loyola the 26th spot in the AP preseason poll. But the team matched its 2017-18 loss total (6) on Dec. 22.

The Ramblers’ first defeat, by two to Furman in their second game, didn’t look quite so bad after the Paladins also took down defending champion Villanova and raced to a 12-0 record and a spot in the Top 25.

Loyola was badly outplayed in a nationally televised rematch of that Sweet 16 win over Nevada. The Wolf Pack jumped out to a 29-12 lead and was never threatened, winning 79-65 in Chicago.

At least Nevada was the No. 5 team in the country at the time. Worse were losses to Boston College, Ball State, Saint Joseph’s and Evansville (by 19).

At season’s end in 2018, Loyola was No. 31 in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced analysis rankings – 63rd in offensive efficiency and 17th on defense. As of Tuesday morning, the Ramblers were 95th in KenPom’s rankings, and while their defense was a very respectable 37th, the offense had plunged to an abysmal 206th.

Is there hope for more magic?

Loyola is probably still the favorite to win the Missouri Valley. (The Ramblers, 3-1 in conference play, trailed 4-0 Valparaiso by a game before hosting the Crusaders on Tuesday evening). Sister Jean’s team already has a road win over Drake, the second-best team in the conference (No. 134), according to Pomeroy’s numbers. Valparaiso is No. 168, which trails Southern Illinois, Indiana State and Evansville.

Jacob Zinkula at the website Busting Brackets dug into the KenPom.com numbers and discovered some potential similarities between these Ramblers and last season’s: The 2018 team’s No. 63 offense was No. 7 in effective field goal percentage (EFG), which weighs 3-point baskets more heavily than 2-pointers, a difference of 56 spots. And while there has been a significant drop off on offense this season, the Ramblers are 29th in EFG.

Zinkula found that, according to Pomeroy’s numbers, there have been five tournament teams since 2001-02 with an effective field goal percentage rating at least 25 spots better than their offensive efficiency rank.

Two members of that quintet: last season’s Ramblers and 2006 George Mason team, both Final Four Cinderellas. The 2019 Ramblers fit that profile (177 spots better).

Perhaps Sister Jean has some magic left.

Wednesday

Iowa State at Texas Tech: Since their 77-60 win over Kansas, the Cyclones have lost two in a row. The Red Raiders don’t score enough to blow out good teams (KenPom.com projects them as a 6-point favorite), but they win games with defense. UNDER

Thursday

San Francisco at Pacific: For 36-plus minutes of their big showdown, the Dons played Gonzaga even. But the Zags outscored them 17-2 over the final 3:50 to take a 96-83 win. San Francisco is on letdown alert as it faces a Tigers team that has won and covered in four straight home games. PACIFIC

Saturday

Oregon at Arizona State: At one point, these two looked like the class of the Pac-12. But both the Ducks and Sun Devils have lost three of five coming in. Both have better-than-average defenses, but scoring has been up since conference play began. OVER

DePaul at Seton Hall: The Blue Demons, coming off six straight seasons of at least 20 losses, are 10-5 thus far, and they’re 4-1 ATS as an underdog this season. ­DePAUL

Last week: 1-3

Season: 12-15-1

 

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About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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