The 12th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers (4-1) are set to take on the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (3-0) at the Kohl Center on Tuesday night. The Badgers were initially set to take on Northern Iowa, but the program decided to cancel the remainder of their 2020 schedule, so the Badgers scheduled an even tougher mid-major team instead.
Like with Rhode Island, the Badgers had a few different options before the program was able to schedule the Ramblers and reschedule the Louisville Cardinals for Saturday. Head coach Greg Gard told reporters that traveling to Madison Square Garden for a marquee matchup against the Villanova Wildcats was an option once Northern Iowa was put on pause. Ultimately, the Badgers managed to schedule two home games this week and moved their Big Ten opener against Nebraska back by one day to accommodate for the schedule changes.
If one thing is certain in this fluid college basketball season, it’s that the Badgers are ready for a challenge.
“I asked [the team] a week ago… ‘guys, what do you want?’ and they said, ‘find us the best teams you can find us,’” said Gard. “If we could line up seven in a row that were heavyweight fights, we’d do it.”
The Ramblers fit the bill of a heavyweight fight as well as any mid-major team. Loyola is best known for their improbable 2018 Final Four run when Sister Jean and head coach Porter Moser became household names for college basketball fans. Two years later, the Ramblers still have the same identity they did during that run based on depth and scoring prowess.
Loyola-Chicago has blown through their schedule so far; they’ve taken down Lewis, Chicago State and the University of Illinois-Chicago by double-digits. The Ramblers average just over 80 points per game and have yet to score under 75. Moser’s squad is shooting 55% from the field as a team this season and have positive turnover and rebound margins as well. No matter how you slice it, this Ramblers team is a force to be reckoned with in the MVAC.
Perhaps the worst-kept secret on the Ramblers is senior forward Cameron Krutwig, who Gard likened to former Badger star Ethan Happ. Krutwig began his career with the Final Four squad in 2018 and has only grown his personal accolades since then. The 6’9” forward tallied 15 points and eight rebounds per game last season and has shown flashes as a prolific passer out of the post, much like Happ during his time in Madison.
“We know they’ve got a really good big and there’s shooters all around him,” said senior guard D’Mitrik Trice in reference to Krutwig. “We gotta be ready for a lot of different actions and cuts and obviously guard the three-point line.”
Krutwig is far from Loyola’s only threat, though. The team has nine players that average over five points per game and they boast a legitimately effective ten-man rotation. Moser’s squad has also shot over 41% from three-point range this season and has held their opponents to just 37% from the field.
The Ramblers protect the ball, shoot well, and are defensively sound. They burst onto the college basketball scene in 2018 and they have not left just because the masses forgot about them. Porter Moser’s team poses as legitimate of a threat to the Badgers as any other unranked team.
“It’s a lot like looking in the mirror in terms of how they play,” said Gard.
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. Central Time at the Kohl Center.