Michigan has made it to the final four, and the darling of the tournament stands in their way to play for a championship. A few members of the Maize ‘n Brew crew assembled to go through what we’re about to see on Saturday night.
Kevin Bunkley: I admit I did not see Michigan as a final four team this year. I had them pegged as a contender next season with another strong Beilein recruiting class coming to Ann Arbor and few graduating seniors. But here they are, locked in and playing their best basketball of the year. Something was up midseason when Michigan won down at Texas, and then lost that close one to Purdue. During both the Big Ten tournament and their NCAA run thus far, it was obvious a switch was flipped and suddenly a fully operational John Beilein offense was in plain sight. And I’m sure the defensive awakening will be mentioned many times over.
Josh LaFond: I don’t think in my wildest dreams I expected this Final Four run, and as you eluded to, Kevin, it’s been because of their defense. The concern I always had about Coach Beilein’s team’s have been is the defense good enough to win games? But this year, this season, that’s how they’ve won almost every single game. And that’s how they’re going to win come Saturday.
Andrew Bailey: John Beilein and defense were never mentioned in the same sentence without contextual words related to “bad” or “absent”nearby until this season. It’s been a weird, yet welcomed year and I am still trying to figure out how this team even got here. At one point they had dropped four of nine games and sat in the middle of the Big 10. Now they are an unstoppable force on the verge of the winningest season in program history. The fact that Beilein and this team flipped the proverbial switch to this degree cannot go understated.
David Noe: It’s hard to determine the biggest surprise or reason this team has accomplished so much this year and are now playing in the Final Four. If I’d have to pick one reason, I’d have to go with their defense and how far they’ve come. Michigan kept Florida State to a season low in total points and kept themselves in tight matchups when the offense was not clicking. Also, their depth and bench play has allowed for some monster games from several players, along with Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year, Duncan Robinson.
We’ve seen a theme the last few years; players step up, mature through the season, and play their best in late March. That has resulted in back-to-back Big Ten tournament Championships and a 13-game run that’s not over yet. Sure, one of the rising stars as of late is Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews, but Coach Beilein also snagged Moe Wagner from Germany along with others who were not highly recruited. Zavier Simpson has matured in front of our eyes to fill a role that has seen some amazing talent as of late.
The Wolverines face Loyola-Chicago on Saturday night in the Final Four, but Michigan is up to the challenge. There are some saying that the path for Michigan to the Final Four was easy, and that’s flat out ridiculous. No path to the Final Four is ever easy, go ask any coach out there who has been there. It takes an enormous amount of preparation, talent, and sometimes great moments like we saw against Houston, but Michigan has been on the other side of that bad luck over the last few years and it just may be time to change that.
They are due for another huge game against the No. 11 seed Ramblers on a memorable run who want to crash the party with Sister Jean cheering and praying by their side. The entire Michigan athletic program is having an amazing 2018 so far, and Wolverine fans want that to continue with a National Championship on Monday that propels the victory streak to the fall for football.
I’ll be in Florida at a swim up pool bar with my family and five other couples, who are all mostly Kentucky fans, who would have loved to see our teams meet. They will definitely be a Michigan fan that night, they have no choice.
Andrew: For those of you that don’t know, on top of being the nicest person in the world, David is also the most interesting. Thank you for helping Kentucky fans find a soul.
Guys, it feels like there is an overwhelming confidence within the fan base and that always worries me. Recent history indicates that we’re not allowed to have nice things, so to play devil’s advocate, should we feel this confident?
Loyola is sizable, senior-laden, THEY HAVE SISTER JEAN, and proven (like Michigan), they can win in a variety of ways.
Kevin: Which is exactly why I made the now-false assumption Michigan wouldn’t make it this far this year! They’re perennially cursed when it comes to these games on the national stage. But then Jordan Poole’s shot went in, and it felt different. Forget the sentiment that defense wins championships. Teams that get those friendly rims in the tournament win championships. However, Michigan is FOURTH on the KenPom rankings for defensive efficiency, and the other three teams in front of them aren’t in the tournament anymore. Different team, different results.
Josh: You guys can go on about Sister Jean all you’d like but guess what? I ain’t scared. If she had a divine backing — as the BrewCast boys talked about in their podcast this week — why didn’t win in previous years? She’s a fun character backing a Cinderella team. But this Cinderella has problems and Michigan will exploit them come tip off.
The Ramblers lack a go to scorer and have relied on their ball movement to create good looks. Michigan has excellent perimitter defense and will shut down those passing lanes for the most part. Am I overlooking Loyola-Chicago? No. I’m just stating the facts.
David: Well, thanks for the kinds words there, Andrew.
Michigan fans have been on the wrong end of several close games over the last few years. I will save you from the agony and won’t bring up any of the exact moments. I’m sure a few come to mind very quickly and vividly, most that have happened on the football field against their biggest rivals. The last time Michigan made it to the National Championship game against Louisville in 2013, it was also very close. Yes, that was a clean block.
Kevin: Michigan wears Air Jordan slippers to bed every night. Besides, fairy tales are meant for dusty old books, right guys?
Silly-but-probable prediction: Charles Matthews puts Cinderella to rest.
Loyola is good, but Michigan has Luke Yaklich. I will say, though, that there are some good basketball players on the Ramblers squad. I’ll even name one of them since Sister Jean is all the national media are worried about. Ben Richardson. See? I pay attention.
I don’t want to have to hear Jim Nantz’s prepared one-liner if Loyola advances to the finals. David is right, Michigan has been cursed for too long. I believe.
And a quick note: be sure to flip over to TNT during the broadcast to hear the Michigan “teamcast” with Matt Park, Jay Feely, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta...for some reason.
Andrew: As much as I try to guard my confidence, I cannot. Facts don’t lie and this team’s multifaceted approach on both ends of the court is a rarity.
Loyola, granola, Ebola... Wolverines by at least 12. Sharpie. We will be a spared that Jim Nantz one liner, Kev!
Josh: Yeah, I agree, guys. I just don’t see the Ramblers getting out of this one. I know I took some shots at them a second ago, but they are still talented for a reason. What makes me so confident that Michigan wins, though? Loyola-Chicago has beaten Miami (FL), Tennesee, Nevada, and Kansas State. Please tell me which of those wins was against a legitimate threat to win the title.
Miami (FL)? VASTLY overrated. Tennessee might’ve been the most over-seeded team in the entire tournament. Nevada took advantage of an epic Cincinnati collapse to advance. And Kansas State? They beat one of the worst Kentucky Wildcat teams in recent memory.
With that being said, I fully expect Michigan to advance for those listed reasons. The Wolverines have proven all year that they can beat elite competition — something that Loyola-Chicago hasn’t. Michigan is elite, the Ramblers are not.
Michigan 74 Loyola-Chicago 58. Game, blouses.