Busting Brackets

Loyola-Chicago vs. Drake: 2020-21 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Drake head basketball coach Darian DeVries talks with sophomore Roman Penn in the first half against Northern Iowa at the Knapp Center in Des Moines on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020.20200229 Drakevsuni
Drake head basketball coach Darian DeVries talks with sophomore Roman Penn in the first half against Northern Iowa at the Knapp Center in Des Moines on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020.20200229 Drakevsuni /

One of the biggest mid-major showdowns is set for the weekend, with the first of two tilts set between Loyola-Chicago and Drake in the Missouri Valley Conference.

TV schedule: Saturday, February 13, 12:00 pm ET. ESPN2

Arena: Knapp Center in Des Moines, Iowa

In one of the most highly anticipated mid-major battles of the regular season, the previously nationally-ranked Drake Bulldogs will host the 22nd-ranked Loyola-Chicago Ramblers in the first of back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference showdowns to be held over the weekend.

The Bulldogs (19-1) are a bit of an enigma, to say the least.  Previously one of the last undefeated teams in the nation – alongside Gonzaga and Baylor – Drake maintains one of the best records in all of college basketball but is in a bit of a difficult situation where none of their wins have been over anyone of note.  They are just one of two teams among the top 50 in the latest NET rankings to have not played a single Quad 1 team.

What also ails the Bulldogs is their February 7th loss to Valparaiso – but Drake, at the very least, responded in convincing fashion, dismantling Northern Iowa on Wednesday, 80-59.  The Bulldogs feasted inside, recording a 51.1% clip on two-pointers to finish with 1.18 points per possession – all the while outrebounding UNI, 42-26.

Despite seeing their leading scorer on the season, ShanQuan Hemphill, score just eight points, the Bulldogs had no issues finding production, with Tremell Murphy and Joseph Yesufu – the latter off the bench – pouring in 18 points apiece.  For Yesufu, that was a career-high – while Murphy continued a dominant stretch, now having recorded double-figures in five of his last six games after just scoring double-digits in five of Drake’s previous 14 tilts.  Rounding out Drake’s double-digit scorers was DJ Wilkins with 15 points.

Loyola-Chicago (17-3), meanwhile, has found itself in a better situation of making the tournament, having been nationally ranked for the first time since 1985.  Where the Ramblers’ resume differs from Drake’s is that, although Loyola-Chicago does not necessarily own a season-defining win – their best, arguably, is over North Texas – the Ramblers own losses to two NCAA Tournament caliber teams in Wisconsin and Richmond.

But also like Drake, the Ramblers own a blemish on their record in the form of a January 10th loss to Indiana State.  A 10-game winning streak has erased any concerns regarding Loyola-Chicago, however, and their most recent win – a 69-58 rout of Evansville – showcases why.  The Ramblers were incredibly efficient inside, shooting 61.3% on two-pointers while going 22-30 (73.3%) from the charity stripe to record 1.10 points per possession.  Additionally, they outrebounded Evansville, 31-19.

Loyola-Chicago has been led by the stellar play of Cameron Krutwig, one of the best players in all of college basketball who was a starter on the 2018 Final Four team as a freshman – and he continued his stellar career against Evansville, tallying 17 points, six rebounds, and six assists.  Joining him were Braden Norris – who poured in a game-high 19 points – and Aher Uguak (14 points, 11 rebounds), as well as fellow starter Keith Clemons (11 points).

This will be an intriguing clash of differing styles – and it, truthfully, could go either way.  In MVC play, there is not a better defensive team than the Ramblers, who rank first in 3P% defense (30.3%) and 2P% defense (44.2%), as well as defensive efficiency – all the while their defense forces a turnover on 23.5% of opponents’ possessions, the best mark in the MVC.  On top of that, on the offensive end, Loyola-Chicago maintains the most efficient offense – while draining a league-best 61.8% of their two-pointers.

On the other end, the Bulldogs are second in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and are just a spot or two behind the Ramblers in several of those categories – including third in 2P% defense (47.0%), second in 3P% defense (31.8%), and third in 2P% (53.5%).  Where Drake stands out, however, is in their turnover percentage and offensive rebounding percentage.  While Loyola-Chicago leads the league in turnover percentage on the offensive end, the Bulldogs are the best in the MVC in taking care of the ball, turning it over on just 15.8% of their possessions.

On top of that – in what could be the most critical area of the game, particularly as the Bulldogs line-up against the frontcourt of Uguak and Krutwig – is that Drake leads the conference in offensive rebounding percentage, hauling down a carom on 32.3% of their attempts.  Contrarily, they also maintain the best mark on the defensive end, allowing teams to bring down an offensive board on just 21.0% of their attempts – for context, the Ramblers rank fifth offensively, bringing down an offensive rebound on 24.2% of their attempts.

Even at 19-1, the Bulldogs desperately need a win to keep their at-large hopes alive – and there could not be a better win on their resume than one over a Loyola-Chicago team that ranks 15th in KenPom and 12th in the NET rankings.  A Rambler win could, almost assuredly, shut down the hope for a two-bid MVC.

On top of all of this, these two teams will meet twice this weekend, with a second tilt set for Sunday afternoon.  Barring a meltdown to close out their regular season, a sweep by Drake would almost guarantee them a spot in the tournament – while a sweep by Loyola-Chicago may be the difference in keeping them out.

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Again, this one could go either way – and there is much on the line, to say the least.  Despite being a mid-major matchup, this game – as well as the rematch on Sunday – should absolutely not be overlooked, and both games could produce two all-time mid-major classics.  Or, at the very least, it could yield a preview to a potential bracket buster come March.

Prediction: Loyola-Chicago 69 – Drake 64