The No. 3 Michigan Wolverines will look to end the historic run of the No. 11 Loyola Ramblers on Saturday, just one win away from the National Championship on Monday.
Michigan defeated the No. 9 Florida State Seminoles 58-54 on March 24 advancing to its second Final Four appearance in six years.
Sister Jean and the Ramblers are one the of the best stories of the tournament. They’ve captured the hearts of many around the country in their first March Madness appearance in 33 years.
Both teams are playing their best basketball heading into Saturday’s date in San Antonio, but only one team will advance to the title game on Monday night.
Here are a few keys to a Wolverines victory over the Ramblers.
Playing their game
The Ramblers are one of the many feel-good stories we’ve experienced this March. It’s been fun, but I expect it to end on Saturday against the Wolverines.
Loyola has a lot of scorers, with five guys averaging double-digit points. They shoot the three-ball well too, connecting on roughly 42 percent from beyond the arc in their last four games.
But Michigan, a team that has been known to live and die by the three-pointer, has the best defense remaining.
It’s the reason why the Wolverines are still in it after multiple defensive clinics have bailed out shoddy shooting performances. John Beilein’s group has given up an average of 59 PPG this tournament.
On top of facing the best defensive unit, Loyola turns the ball over frequently. They’ve turned it over 31 times in their last two against Nevada and Kansas State, which really bodes well for Michigan. They’ve given it up nearly 13 times per game in the tournament. Not to mention Loyola won its first three games by a combined four points.
The Wolverines force 13 turnovers per game and are in prime position to increase that stat on Saturday. Expect to see that same tenacious defense we’ve seen this March in San Antonio against the Ramblers.
Charles Matthews has been, by far, Michigan’s best offensive performer in the tournament.
He’s been consistently good — averaging 16.5 per game this tournament — and is just further proof why this Michigan team is so dangerous.
When Matthews is on, this team really finds its groove.
A lot of teams come into a matchup with Michigan focused on hushing Moritz Wagner or Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and rightfully so. Both are two of Michigan’s top three leading scorers.
The other leading scorer is Matthews, who often goes under the radar.
When he gets going, it pulls a bit of attention away from Wagner and MAAR. In the rout of Texas A&M, Matthews was 8-for-11 from the field with 18 points. His counterparts, Moe and MAAR, also combined for 45 points.
We’ve really seen Matthews take matters into his own hands this March, often alleviating some of that dependency from Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman. When the Kentucky transfer draws more attention, the other four guys on the floor tend to get open looks.
Michigan has to keep this rolling against Loyola.
Get it rolling
We’ve seen a few cold starts from the offense in March, and other starts where everything falls.
When the Wolverines come out of the gate hitting their first several shots, nobody in the country can hang with them. They ran the poor Aggies out of the gym by the second half, for goodness’ sake.
It’s imperative they come out on Saturday — against a Ramblers group that’s as hot as anyone — and hit their first few shots. Both squads will be amped up, but it’s a game-changer if Michigan is able to set the tone early.
The Aggies game is referenced a lot but that start really shows Michigan can play with and beat anybody in the nation when they get it rolling by shooting well.
Another hot start on the offensive end could quickly silence the Ramblers.
This isn’t a jinx or a curse I’m putting on the Wolverines when I say that the road to the National Championship could not have been any easier. Sure, they’ve played some really strong teams, but they escaped the West region without facing a team seeded No. 1-5.
Think about that.
No. 2 North Carolina was bounced before a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup with the Wolverines. Florida State, edged by the Wolverines in the Elite Eight, took care of No. 1 Xavier and No. 4 Gonzaga. Seriously, how sweet of them to do that.
Although not your typical 11 seed, a matchup in the Final Four with one always looks to be in favorable on paper.
I think Michigan ends Loyola’s storied run on Saturday and advances to the National Championship game.
Teams: No. 3 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 11 Loyola Ramblers
Date: March 31, 2018
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Tipoff: 6:09 p.m. ET