Loyola Chicago is the fourth 11 seed to reach the Final Four and could be the the first to break through to the NCAA championship game. Yes, the last three 11s lost in the semifinal game by an average of 11.3 points. Before we write off the Ramblers though, consider that this team has two big things going for it that none of the previous 11 seeds had: its record against Top 25 teams and its performance in tight games.
First, let's look at how those three previous 11 seeds went down:
An unfortunate end for each Cinderella run. But did anything in their regular seasons hint at this result? Let’s take a look. Pay particular attention to those last two columns:
|Year||Team||Tight games (≤ 6 pts)||Tight game winning %||Record v. Top 25 before NCAAT||Record v. Top 25 before Final Four|
Loyola is the only one of the four to have won against a ranked opponent before the NCAA tournament, and the only to have zero losses against ranked teams heading into the Final Four.
The Ramblers took down No. 5 Florida 65-59, in Gainesville, back in December.
Loyola then took down three ranked teams (Miami, Tennessee, Nevada) to start the NCAA tournament.
And in case it wasn’t clear before the tournament, Loyola is very good in tight games. The Ramblers won those first three games of the tournament by a combined four points.
If we look at all games decided by two possessions (six points or fewer), Loyola has the best winning percentage of the four teams by almost 10 percent.
So what went wrong for the previous 11 seeds?
Here’s how the stat lines looked in each of their Final Four games:
Every single 11 seed shot worse than their opponents from the FT line, had fewer rebounds, and more fouls. VCU and George Mason each had worse 3-point field goal percentage than their opponents (the three-point line wasn’t implemented in the NCAA tournament until 1987, so it didn't exist in LSU's game).
How does Loyola compare in those categories this tournament?
Loyola’s biggest advantage this tournament has been its three-point shooting, but the Ramblers have outrebounded their opponents and managed to commit fewer fouls. But free throw shooting, while still solid, is the one major category where Loyola falls behind.
By just looking at these handful of stats, Loyola’s chances do seem better than the 11 seeds who came before. But Final Fours are anything but predictable.
Still, there is one more stat that is surely on the Ramblers’ side:
Loyola Chicago: 1
Everyone else: 0