SAN ANTONIO, Texas — In today’s media world, there are millions of ways to consume the game of basketball.
Many watch the NBA and college game live. Others seek Hoopmixtapes, highlight videos filled with the most demonstrative blocks and dunks of top-ranked recruits. Heck, 10-second Snapchat highlights give some their fill.
But Cameron Krutwig? Well, he’s a bit retro.
After practices and AAU Tournaments, the Loyola center watched NBA Hardwood Classics growing up — a series that features full replays of pro ball’s greatest historical matchups. He’d consume every minute of Magic against Bird, Michael Jordan versus the Bad Boys and so on.
“I just have a respect for the past just as far as the guys who played the game before me,” Krutwig said.
His game is a reflection of that. Standing at six-foot-nine and 260-pounds, Krutwig won’t beat you with a dead-eye shot or athleticism and length. He’ll leave all that to Hoopmixtapes’ five stars.
Slower than the average NCAA-Tournament big, Krutwig instead maximizes what he was given: a court-awareness that’s second-to-none. It all starts with positioning.
“If I pin him in and get a wide-open layup, for example, (the defender) can’t really scout that,” Krutwig said. “I think it’s a lot about the physical part of the game and how I can get in a spot to get easy buckets.”
But Krutwig is much more than a simple post-up player. From the low block, he’ll slip through passes that would leave Tom Brady impressed. Next, he’ll move the defender two feet out of position with a simple ball fake. Like his entire team, he makes enough fundamentally-sound plays that put the Ramblers ahead before you know it.
“I definitely heard people say that I’m a little bit of a throwback,” Krutwing said. “… I liked Hakeem Olwjuan, just all his fakes, dream shake and how he used his pivot so well.
“I definitely use his mantra, ‘You’re never dead in the water, you can always get a better angle.’ When you pick your dribble up, it’s another game.”
And therein lies the most distinct difference between Loyola and Michigan. For two teams compared to each other for their team-defense approaches and offensive efficiencies, Saturday’s frontcourt matchup presents a true dichotomy.
Krutwig, of course, is the throwback. The Wolverines’ Mortiz Wagner, however, is a rare stretch-center who makes 39 percent of his 3-pointers — emblematic of the direction basketball has taken recently.
“We’ve never seen a guy that can shoot it at such a high level off the pick-and-pop and drive,” Krutwig said. “We’ve played bigs who are more perimeter oriented, but we’ve never seen guys who can shoot it like (Wagner).”
To contrast, the Ramblers will show a formation mostly foreign to Wagner.
Loyola isn’t afraid to go small. 48 percent of the time per KenPom, coach Peter Moser plays without Krutwig, forcing the Ramblers to lean on six-foot-five forward Aundre Jackson at the ‘5’.
Wagner is 6-foot-11. Forwards Isaiah Livers and Duncan Robinson both stand over 6-foot-7. It would seem like, if the Wolverines wanted to work the paint, they could — easily.
But Jackson isn’t your typical undersized forward.
“He plays like a big man,” Krutwig said. “He has such a versatile game with regards to being able to score on the perimeter and then go down low.
“I think (he) works to our benefit, especially on the defensive side. We can switch 1-5, and that kind of takes teams out of their actions a lot.”
That might sound familiar. A week ago, Florida State threw a wrench in Michigan’s offense with its length and versatility. And when they chose to go without a traditional center, the Seminoles’ quickness took over, shrinking the Wolverines’ lead. It eventually forced Michigan coach John Beilein to use Livers at the ‘five’ and pull Wagner.
It’s a look the Wolverines seldom use. January’s win over Michigan State, when Wagner and centers Jon Teske and Austin Davis all fell into foul trouble might be its most prominent example. Still, Livers said he’s comfortable playing the position.
“They told me at the beginning of the year, if someone gets hurt or in foul trouble, you’re going to be our third five,” Livers said. “It’s definitely different, but (Beilein) said don’t think about it like you’re playing the ‘5’, think about it like you’re playing the stretch ‘4’ and just rebound and guard bigger guys.”
Jackson’s speed could force Michigan into small ball. Krutwig’s positing could give Beilein a headache. Wagner’s shooting could return the favor for Moser. The Final Four’s frontcourt battle holds an abundance of mysteries.
But Krutwig knows one thing for sure: “It’s definitely gonna be a chess match.”