Kansas State shocked Kentucky and Loyola Chicago continued its magical run with yet another one-point win on Thursday night over Nevada to set up the most improbable Elite Eight matchup we’ve seen in some time.
Kansas State looked good at times in the regular season but it was matched up with the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers in the Round of 32 and then a powerful Kentucky team in the Sweet Sixteen. Not only did the road look tough, but Dean Wade, K-State’s leading scorer and rebounder was out with a foot injury.
Except that matchup with UVA never happened. The first 16 over a 1 upset happened instead and the Wildcats handled UMBC in the Round of 32. Then they won a defensive battle with UK.
Loyola has beaten better competition to get to this point, but by the narrowest of margins. The Ramblers beat #6 Miami by two, #3 Tennessee by 1 and #7 Nevada by 1. A +4 scoring differential for a team in the Elite Eight must be good enough (or poor enough) for a record.
So what do you do if your the oddsmakers for this one? Make it a pick and see what happens seems to be the answer. There’s no favorite in this game and the total is a lowly 126.5.
Kansas State has transformed its identity from a run and gun style to a defensive, grind-it-out team. Rarely will you see such a stark transition happen in the middle of a season, but Bruce Weber’s team has done it.
The transition didn’t happen until late in the regular season, right before, or even at the start of the conference tournament. In the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, K-State lost 86–77 in a shootout against Oklahoma. It’s hard to imagine a score getting that high these days.
Since that game, KSU has given up 66, 67, 64, 83 in a big loss and then 59, 43 and 58 in its three NCAA Tournament games. It’s playing slower but it’s also turning it over less and clearly directing more of its energy on the defensive end.
The Wildcats should find it easier to score in the half court on Saturday than they did on Thursday. Kentucky’s length was imposing in that Sweet Sixteen game, something Loyola doesn’t have. However, UK made far too many live ball turnovers that turned into layups for K-State, easy baskets that the Ramblers won’t allow.
Loyola scored 69 on Thursday, which would push this game over the total. But that was against Nevada, a team that plays fast and focuses more on offense than Kansas State does.
Neither one of these teams will push the pace; neither one of these teams will take many risks that could lead to run-outs for the other; and neither of these teams have one guy who is likely to take over the game for long stretches offensively. The total is low, but I think it ought to be lower.
Free Pick: Under 126.5