Published March 20, 2019


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Calling the 2018 Loyola Chicago Ramblers a solid mid-major blueprint is like saying the Blues Brothers was a pretty good movie.

But here we are, changing the address of Fenway Park to Wrigley Field in order to throw off some Blue Blood rollers.

Drawing Kansas in the first round just sounds scary.

Yes, you may have heard that the Naismith’s haven’t lost in the first round since 2006.

They’ve made rattling runs deep down the Tournament track so often in recent years you might not have even noticed it, like three straight visits to the Elite Eight including the Final Four last year.

But did you also know that Bill Self’s Jayhawks have tournament losses to teams like Bucknell (No. 14), Bradley (13), VCU (11), Stanford (10) and Northern Iowa (9)?

JORDAN ROLAND (12), Shawn Occeus, Anthony Green (30) and the No. 13 Northeastern Huskies meet No. 4 Kansas in Salt Lake City for the NCAA Tournament’s first round tomorrow at 4 p.m. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

They’ve lost arguably their second (Udoka Azubuike, 13.4 ppg) and third (Lagerald Vick, 14.1) best players to injury and personal leave, respectively.

You want a quick laugh? Google “Northeastern Kansas” (add “basketball” if you get something about Topeka) and watch your screen get flooded with worried Rock Chalk bloggers.

Their No. 4 seed this year is the worst since…2006 when they lost to Bradley.

Which brings us to one of this year’s No. 13’s the Northeastern Huskies.

It’s 2,364 miles to Salt Lake City, we’ve got a mediocre defense, haven’t won a tournament game since 1982, it’s dark out and we’re wearing sunglasses…Hit it!

What the Huskies do have is an eerie similarity to last year’s Loyola team.

Quick, read these stats from before you shut this down to check and see if the new Oldsmobiles are in early this year.

Northeastern’s effective field goal percentage ((FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA) is 57.2 good for 5th in the country. That’s the same exact eFG national ranking Loyola had last year.

Other similarities include 3-PT percentage (NU: 38.8, LOY: 39.8), slow tempos (NU:253rd slowest in country, LOY: 316), no offensive rebounding (NU: 328, LOY: 332) and strong defensive rebounding (NU: 19, LOY: 58).

There’s also matching personnel with two leading singers in the backcourt, Vasa “Jake” Pusica (17.8 ppg) and Jordan “Ellwood” Roland (14.7) to Loyola’s Clayton Custer (13.2 ppg) and Marques Townes (11.1 ppg).

The biggest difference on paper, in addition to adjusted defensive efficiency (NU: 144th nationally, LOY: 30th), is that there doesn’t appear to be a Donte Ingram on Northeastern.

But look closer and you’ll find the X-factor for the Huskies against Kansas; their own Ingram and maybe even the reason for their subpar defense this season thanks to his missing 19 games. He’s even a lefty.

I have seen the light!

Last year’s CAA Defensive Player of the Year: Shawn Occeus. The same Shawn Occeus who recently told the Boston Globe’s Nicole Yang that “We’re a confident bunch, and we’re confident we can beat any team in this country.”

Occeus came roaring back in the CAA tournament with 17 points during the Huskies’ revenge win against College of Charleston in the semifinals.

Pusica’s control of the offense is staggering. You can’t speed him up or slow him down and he gets his teammates involved.

Roland, a transfer from GW hitting on 40 percent from deep, had Bean Town’s college hoop fans convinced they had the next Steph Curry when he lit up Harvard for 35 points to help Northeastern to their first win of the season on Nov. 9.

They’ve got great role players in Bolden Brace, Donnell Gresham, Anthony Green and Tomas Murphy, all willing to put the team first.

They have a veteran coach in Bill Coen who just gets it.

But it’s Occeus who many CAA opponents would point to as the most feared in Boston. The 6’4″ junior is a menace on defense with a cold-blooded shooting streak tailored to the type of confidence in March that allows him to saunter up to a blue blood and have this dance.

Even still, this ain’t no expressway for Northeastern.

Kansas is much better than last year’s Miami team who Loyola beat in the first round. In fact, both of the Rambler’s first two wins (they beat Tennessee to get to the Sweet 16) came against teams they matched up well against with similar tempo’s.

While there were two 13-4 upsets in last year’s tournament, those winners both played at much faster speeds than their opponents (Marshall (5th fastest) over Wichita State (135) and Buffalo (18th) over Arizona (229)).

Kansas doesn’t necessarily play at a breakneck pace; they’re 68th with an adjusted tempo of 71.5. But they have the athletes to where Self will want to push the ball.

Dedric Lawson is a 6’8” nightmare and young playmakers abound in typical Kansas fashion.

Yes, Northeastern doesn’t match up well with Kansas in today’s, get-as-many-possessions-as-you-can, guideline for an upset, and sure, they might have to hit half their 3’s to move on, but the Huskies have two more things in common with every mid-major’s dream team that just might make the impossible happen.

One: They play together.

Two: They’re on a mission from God.