(9) Kansas State (25-11) vs. (11) Loyola Chicago (31-5), 5:07 p.m. CT, Atlanta TBS
How they got here: After defeating Creighton in round one, Kansas State became the first team to play a No.16 seed after the Round of 64. The team from the Little Apple did what top overall seed Virginia was unable to do, and knock off UMBC 50-43 to claim a berth in the Sweet 16. Despite being ranked as the Sweet 16 team with the least likely chance to win the National Championship, the Wildcats continued to trek along with a 61-58 upset over No.5 Kentucky.
While Kansas State has managed to quietly advance into the Elite 8, Loyola Chicago has become the national darling of this year’s NCAA Tournament. In fact, they probably have received more love than UMBC. That is thanks to Sister Jean, a professor at Loyola Chicago who has immersed herself into the program for decades. As Sister Jean cheers on her Ramblers, the on court results have produced some of the most entertaining games in NCAA Tournament history. Three shots, all within the final 10 seconds, have sent Loyola Chicago to the next round. Against Miami (FL), it was a buzzer-beater. Clayton Custer sent Tennessee packing after a shot bounced off the front iron, off the top of the glass, and rattled down the net with three seconds remaining. With seven seconds remaining against Nevada, Custer found Marques Townes for the game winning three-pointer. This team has put on quite a show for the entire nation to see.
Expected starters and head coach
Loyola Chicago — G Clayton Custer (13.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg), F Donte Ingram (11.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg), F Marques Townes (11.2 PPG, 3.9 rpg), G Ben Richardson (6.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg), F Cameron Krutwig (10.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg). Head coach — Porter Moser (120-110 at Loyola Chicago, 225-211 overall).
Kansas State — G Cartier Diarra (7.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg 2.0 apg), G Barry Brown Jr. (16.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg., 3.3 apg.), G Xavier Sneed (10.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.8 apg), G Kamau Stokes (9.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.4 apg), F Makol Mawien (7.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.3 apg). Head coach — Bruce Weber (124-79 at Kansas State, 438-234 overall).
About Loyola Chicago: This team is much like Kansas State. It prides itself on defense. They are fifth nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 62.2 points per game. Ben Richardson is the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Believe it or not, Loyola Chicago does have some NCAA Tournament experience on this team prior to this season’s run. Marques Townes scored 13 points for Florida Gulf Coast in a First Four game. Graduate transfer Carson Shanks has scored five points for North Dakota in a loss against Arizona. Clayton Custer is a transfer from Iowa State, so he has Power Five talent. Like most Cinderella runs, there is overlooked talent that mainstream media doesn’t bring to the table until brackets are already turned in.
About Kansas State: They frustrated Kentucky. This team means business on the defensive end. Made shots come at a premium. A team that is 11th in the nation for steals, Kansas State knows how to take the ball away. The main advantage Kansas State has over Loyola Chicago is that Kansas State doesn’t shoot itself in the foot. Both have positive turnover margins, but Kansas State is up 2.4 in that category. Loyola Chicago is only up 0.8, and that doesn’t bode well when you’re trying to pull off an upset.
Prediction: Like any genie, Loyola Chicago has been granted three wishes. Their prayers have been answered three times. Sooner or later, your luck runs out. Kansas State may even see itself as the underdog, considering they’ve been told that they were the least likely Sweet 16 team to win the NCAA Tournament. Loyola Chicago was placed at the No.13 spot. Kansas State is the more talented team. They don’t make as many mistakes and pride themselves on defense. All season long, Kansas State has beaten the teams it’s supposed to beat. That doesn’t change here. The Wildcats knock down their free throws to ice a 62-52 victory, and cut down the nets. Kansas State is moving on to the Final Four for the first time since 1964.
Next up: The winner faces either No.3 Michigan or No.9 Florida State out of the West Region in the Final Four in San Antonio.