Michigan Basketball has done what a lot of people thought possible entering the NCAA Tournament and has played themselves into the Final Four with a chance at a national championship.
The immediate reaction from those who do not root for the Wolverines, and in most case root heavily against them, is that the road has been easy. Which, whatever, that’s fine and that’s their opinion, but it really hasn’t felt a whole hell of a lot that easy.
Michigan’s road to the Final Four has gone through 14-seed Montana, 6-seed Houston, 7-seed Texas A&M and 9-seed Florida State.
Saturday in San Antonio, they will take on an 11-seed in Loyola-Chicago, but more on them in a bit.
On paper that does not appear as a murderer’s row of opponents, but what people do not take into consideration (because they don’t want to on the count of that is hurts their narrative) is that these teams had to beat some pretty difficult opponents to get there.
In three of Michigan’s four wins, they haven’t played very good basketball on the offensive end of the court. In fact, I would argue they played three of their worst offensive basketball games of the entire season in this tournament.
The fourth? Well, that was a bloodbath of epic proportions that had the Aggies running out of Los Angeles with their tails tucked between their legs.
It sure hasn’t felt that easy. It took a miracle from Jordan Poole in the Round of 32 to keep this group alive and surviving Florida State thanks in some part to Leonard Hamilton turtling, taking his ball and going home with plenty of time left to still foul and extend the game.
The common denominator? Well, that would be the work they put in on the other end of the floor.
It’s funny, because a lot of the noise is coming from our friends up the road in East Lansing, which is why it fills my heart with great glee when t-shirts like this makes their skin crawl.
Did the bracket set up favorably for Michigan? Hell yeah it did, and I felt that way as soon as the West region was announced even before the upsets start happening.
Michigan State lost to a Syracuse team that had no business being in the tournament. Fans of the Orange would even tell you that. And they got bounced despite cries of this being MSU’s most talented team ever, which it was. And they choked.
But that’s enough about them.
Nobody in Ann Arbor should be overlooking this Loyola team. They are 32-5 on the season and this will not be a gimme by any means and the argument can be made this is the best team they have seen since the Big Ten Tournament. They were underseeded and it has taken some March magic to get them where they are, too, but they are here nonetheless.
What Michigan has going for them is their defensive virtuoso in assistant coach Luke Yaklich, who has plenty of experience going up against the Ramblers coming from a conference foe in Illinois State.
In the eight meetings between Loyola and Illinois State when he was there, Yaklich’s teams held a 7-1 mark. So he brings a knowledge of what Porter Mosier and company will be bringing to San Antonio with them.
Being a guy that has grown up in the Southeast Michigan area my whole life, this Michigan group is starting to take the shape of what I consider to be my favorite sports team, which is the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons.
Both groups did not have a true star on the team and played excellent team defense. If their offense wasn’t on, they could choke you out with their defense. This Wolverines group isn’t quite close to where that group stands just yet, but at least one more win puts them into that category.
A win on Saturday will put them up against either Villanova or Kansas. Closing out the season with a National Title game win over either of those teams would be the cherry on top of what would cement them as John Beilein’s best Michigan team.
The argument can be made they are already there, or at least his best coaching job.
As far as my feud with Sister Jean goes, stay tuned. I have my plans as to how we combat the mojo she has going for her.