The eleven-seeded Loyola men’s basketball is in the Final Four for the first time since the Ramblers won the National Championship in 1963. The Ramblers will take on the third-seeded University of Michigan Wolverines.
The Ramblers are now tied with Louisiana State University, George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University as the highest seeds to ever reach the Final Four.
Loyola has already beaten a three seed in the tournament when it beat the University of Tennessee 63-62 in the second round of March Madness on Clayton Custer’s magic jump shot with six seconds left.
Loyola is the hottest team in Division I men’s basketball, winning 14 games in a row. The last time the Ramblers lost was Jan. 31 against Bradley. Michigan is the second hottest team in Division I men’s basketball, winning 13 games in a row. Michigan last lost Feb. 6 against Northwestern University.
The Wolverines have historically been a great offensive team under head coach John Beilein, but have struggled on the defensive end, according to Great Lakes Post Michigan beat writer Casey Campbell.
The defensive renaissance is due to assistant coach Luke Yaklich. Yaklich played at Loyola’s Missouri Valley Conference rival Illinois State University and was an assistant at Illinois State before joining Michigan’s staff this year.
In the 2016-17 season, Michigan gave up 66.4 ppg, and this season the Wolverines allow 63.1. Loyola is also built on defense and allows 62.4 ppg.
Both teams have the ability to score a lot of points, but the Final Four will likely be a defensive slugfest, according to Campbell.
One aspect of the game the Wolverines struggle in is free throw shooting. The Wolverines shot 66.2 percent from the line this season. Loyola already doesn’t commit many fouls — no Rambler has fouled out of a game all season — so the Wolverines will have a hard time converting the few free chances Loyola gives them.
Michigan is led offensively by 6-foot-11-inch junior forward Moritz Wagner with 14.3 ppg. He also leads the team in rebounding with 6.9 rpg and will be a tough test for Loyola’s first-year center Cameron Krutwig. Krutwig has played well against bigger post players so far in this tournament, so the matchup down low will be interesting to watch.
The Wolverines, second leading scorer is six-foot-six guard Charles Matthews. Matthews averages 13 ppg and will likely be guarded by Loyola guards Ben Richardson and Marques Townes. Matthews has a height advantage over Loyola’s guards, but Richardson and Townes were able to get stops against bigger guards earlier this tournament.
Behind Matthews in scoring is 6-foot-4-inch guard Muhammad-Ali Abdul-Rahkman who averages 12.8 ppg. He will also likely be guarded by Richardson and Townes and has the ability to come up big in games, scoring 24 points in Michigan’s Sweet 16 win over Texas A&M.
Much like Loyola, Michigan can get big games from role players. First-year guard Jordan Poole averages 6 ppg, but he hit a buzzer beater to beat the University of Houston in the round of 32. Poole has gotten better all season and has the potential to show up in a big way, according to Campbell.
Sophomore guard Zavier Simpson will be the Wolverines’ biggest piece defensively. When Yaklich brought the new defensive focus to the team, Simpson bought in the most, according to Campbell. Simpson averages seven ppg but leads the team in steals with 52 this season.
The Ramblers and Wolverines will try to extend their winning streaks March 31 at 5:09 p.m. in San Antonio on TBS.