March Madness Round 64 Preview
Loyola-Chicago vs. Miami
Miami would love nothing more than to rebound from last year’s poor showing at the NCAA Tournament – and has already gone through plenty of big-game moments in preparation – as it faces Loyola-Chicago in the first round of the South Region on Thursday at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The sixth-seeded Hurricanes are also hoping to get a boost with the possible return of Bruce Brown Jr.
The Hurricanes gave fans more than their share of thrills to close out the regular season, winning each of their final four games by a combined eight points – a stretch that included a three-point triumph over North Carolina and a one-point victory over Virginia Tech. But whatever heroics Miami displayed over that stretch ran out when the ACC Tournament got underway as the Hurricanes were trounced 82-65 by the Tar Heels. Miami’s quest for a first Final Four appearance begins against the No. 11 Ramblers, who locked up their sixth tournament berth in school history – and first since 1985 – by claiming the Missouri Valley Conference title. The Ramblers won the national title in 1963, but have won only four tournament games since.
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ABOUT LOYOLA-CHICAGO (28-5): The Ramblers ended their 33-year NCAA Tournament drought by playing some of the most relentless defense in the nation – they allowed the fifth-fewest points in the country (62.2) while limiting opponents to fewer than 10 made free throws per game. And Loyola-Chicago’s offense wasn’t so bad either as it boasted a 57.8-percent effective shooting rate that ranked in the top 10 nationally. Five players averaged double figures in scoring this season, led by Clayton Custer’s 13.4 points as he’ll be looking to end a frightful offensive slump that has seen him held to a total of 23 points over his past four games while shooting 4-for-20 from beyond the arc over that stretch.
ABOUT MIAMI (22-9): Brown’s return would invigorate the Hurricanes’ offense and rebounding as he ranks tied for second on the roster in scoring at 11.4 points while contributing a team-best 7.1 boards. But Miami hasn’t had to worry much in his absence, boasting seven players who average between 8.7 and 11.5 points per game, but the Hurricanes will need to be much better from the free-throw line, where they ranked last in the ACC at 66.3 percent this season. Look for the Hurricanes to put plenty of pressure on Loyola-Chicago in the early going as Miami allowed just over 30 first-half points per game this season, ranking inside the top 30 in the country in that category.
1. Brown leads the team in average playing time at 33.7 minutes.
2. Loyola-Chicago enters the NCAA Tournament on a 10-game winning streak.
3. Custer reached double figures in 14 straight games prior to his four-game scoring funk.