Loyola Chicago might have another Cinderella run in store because of one important statistic.

Loyola Chicago punched its ticket back to March Madness on Sunday, topping Drake 75-65 in the MVC title game. With the Sister Jean and the Ramblers returning to the NCAA Tournament limelight, Porter Moser’s group figures to be a popular Cinderella choice next week, and for good reason.

As of Monday, Loyola Chicago ranks ninth in the country in KenPom. The Ramblers are outscoring opponents by 24.7 points per 100 possessions, a rate higher than the likes of Final Four contenders in Virginia, Arkansas, Kansas, Purdue, Florida State and several others. Much of the efficiency success can be predicated to Loyola’s suffocating defense, which leads the nation in points per possession allowed and also sits No. 4 in defensive rebounding percentage and No. 6 in opponent free-throw attempt rate.

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But even though Loyola Chicago is near the top of the country in several advanced metrics, most projections have the Ramblers between the No. 8 and No. 10 seed lines. Of course, this is due to Loyola’s conference affiliation in the Missouri Valley, where mid-major programs have limited opportunities to secure resume-boosting victories against quality opponents. Loyola’s only NET top 40 result during the regular season was a 77-63 loss to Wisconsin in December.

This pits the Ramblers in a similar situation as its former MVC counterpart Wichita State, which entered the 2017 tournament with the eighth-best efficiency margin among tournament teams but was handed a No. 10 seed due to a lack of signature wins. The Shockers took down No. 7 Dayton in the first round and nearly upset No. 2 seed Kentucky and its star trio of Bam Adebayo, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox in the second round.

From 2013 to 2019, No. 10 seeds, on average, entered March Madness with an efficiency margin of plus-15.9. The 2017 Wichita State team’s efficiency margin was plus-26.4, and it still remains the widest gap between a team’s efficiency margin and a seed’s average efficiency margin over the last seven tournaments.

If Loyola Chicago is a No. 9 seed (as it’s currently projected on BracketMatrix.com), the Ramblers would have the second-largest positive efficiency margin vs. their seed since 2013. Loyola’s plus-24.7 efficiency margin would be 9.1 points higher than the average No. 9 seed.

The table below shows the teams that currently have the widest positive gap in efficiency margin (EM) vs. their projected seed on BracketMatrix.com.

On the flip side, the teams below have the widest negative gap in efficiency margin vs. their projected BracketMatrix.com seed, which could strike fear into the hopes of two Big 12 contenders.

So how much of a difference is it between a team that is over-seeded vs. one that’s under-seeded? Quite a bit, actually.

The chart below shows the average number of tournament wins by seed based on teams that were over-seeded, seeded fairly, and under-seeded.

Here are the distinctions:

  • Over-seeded: Efficiency margin at least 2.0 points worse than seed average
  • Under-seeded: Efficiency margin at least 2.0 points better than seed average
  • Seeded fairly: Efficiency margin between 1.9 points worse and 1.9 points better than seed average

Starting at the top, No. 1 seeds with efficiency margins at least 2.0 points higher than an average No. 1 seed won an average of four games. No. 1 seeds with efficiency margins at least 2.0 points lower than an average No. 1 seed won an average of just 2.29 tournament games, a difference of 1.71 tournament wins. The gap is even wider for No. 4 seeds, where under-seeded teams won an average of 2.38 games and over-seeded teams won an average of 0.57 games.

Let’s go back to Loyola Chicago and use its 2018 Final Four run as an example. Despite being a No. 11 seed, the Ramblers were actually one of the stronger teams in the field by efficiency measures. Loyola Chicago entered the tournament 46th on the selection committee’s 1-68 seed list but was 35th among the tournament teams in efficiency margin. Miami, which was Loyola’s first-round opponent, was 22nd in the seed list but 31st in efficiency margin among the 68 teams. Even though it was a matchup between a No. 6 and No. 11 seed, from efficiency standards, it was much more like an 8/9 contest.

Keep an eye on efficiency margin when filling out your bracket. Seeds can be deceiving and could make a team appear much weaker (or stronger) than its efficiency margin would suggest. Loyola Chicago might be the latest example later this month.

Eli Boettger
Eli Boettger

Heat Check CBB founder, editor