The 2018 NCAA Tournament is coming to a close as the Final Four tips off Saturday in San Antonio. The first game is between three seed Michigan and eleven seed Loyola-Chicago. These are two of the hottest teams in the tournament, with Michigan riding a 13 game win streak and The Ramblers coming in winning 14 in a row! Going to break down each team’s strengths and weaknesses and what to watch out for when the action starts!
Loyola-Chicago has displayed their fair share of excitement throughout the NCAA tournament. Last second shots in their first three games and a well-executed game plan in the fourth helped them make an incredible run that now finds them in San Antonio. It has been a complete team effort by Loyola-Chicago as they’ve had multiple players come up big in clutch moments. Coached by Porter Moser, Loyola-Chicago plays the game with five guys on a string. They run a patient offense that is driven by penetration and ball movement. Almost everyone on their team is a threat from deep which makes them so tough to guard. On defense, they do a tremendous job of closing out to shooters and staying in front of their man. When opposing players drive, they do an excellent job of walling off and making shots difficult around the rim.
Five- that is the number of players who average double figures for Loyola-Chicago.
40%- the percentage of three-point makes this season for Loyola-Chicago as a team.
62.4- points allowed on the season by the Ramblers
Loyola-Chicago doesn’t have many weaknesses, but one area of concern would be their lack of a go-to guy. It has worked so far but the farther you go into the tournament, the more you need guys that you can give it to make big plays when everything breaks down. Loyola-Chicago’s balance would have you guessing as to who their best player is as anyone could have the hot hand. Throughout the NCAA tournament, it has been a different guy every game. Now, this isn’t the biggest of concerns because, in a way, it’s almost an advantage for The Ramblers because teams won’t be able to focus in on one specific guy. Ultimately though, if they do not win the National Championship, that lack of an Alpha dog could be the main reason why.
As I’ve mentioned before, Michigan arrives in San Antonio as one of the hottest teams in the country. Winning the Big 10 tournament, and the West regional, they now have the task of trying to solve Loyola’s suffocating defense. If The Wolverines can shoot like they did against Texas A&M, that shouldn’t be a problem. Jim Beilein’s team has found a nice balance with an offense that can match their production on defense. Led by Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Charles Matthews, Michigan has a ton of firepower both inside and out. But make no mistake, their identity starts on the defensive end. With athletics wings, quick and pesky guards, Michigan is very disruptive on defense and cause opponents a lot of trouble.
59- That is the average number of points allowed by Michigan through their four NCAA tournament games.
9- That is the number of turnovers Michigan has averaged through their four games in the tournament.
91.1- The adjusted defensive efficiency rating from the Kenpom rankings, which ranks the Wolverines fourth in the country!
Michigan has been impressive this postseason but they have moments where their offense stalls and they don’t get consistent production. Their defense has helped them win a lot of games but in a match up with an equally effective defense, that could spell trouble for the Wolverines. Free throw shooting is also an area where Michigan struggles. According to basketball-reference, the Wolverines as a team, shot 66 % from the free throw line, which ranks 321st in the country! In a pressure-packed setting like the Final Four, games are won and lost by free-throws. This will be a huge factor to keep an eye on during the game.
This shapes up as an exciting match-up where both teams will need to be sharp on both ends of the floor and the attention to detail will be very important. I’m excited to see how this game unfolds. Loyola-Chicago comes in as the underdog but they’ve been in that role before in the tournament, so it shouldn’t be any different this game. How they’ve overcome that has been by making the right play. The Ramblers play a very unselfish brand of basketball and display a lot of patience. At times there are multiple dribble drives and kick outs which always seems to leave the opposing defense out of position due to their impeccable movement and spacing.
A big part of Michigan’s success has been their ability to take care of the ball. A team that doesn’t give up extra possessions is tough to beat, especially when they’re effective at turning you over, which The Wolverines do very well. They’re almost impossible to beat when they shoot over 50% from 3-point distance, which is what they did against Texas A&M. What makes Michigan tough to guard is that they have three legitimate guys who can create offense for themselves. The three being Wagner, Abdur-Rahkman, and Matthews.
What to watch for
Who creates extra opportunities.
Both teams execute well in the half-court, I feel that team that can create more opportunities, whether it be on the offensive glass, forcing turnovers, and hustle plays will ultimately come out on top. I’ve mentioned that both teams are very solid on the defensive end and can force teams to go on scoring droughts. One way to offset that is generating easy looks.
How will Loyola-Chicago guard Mo Wagner?
Loyola-Chicago can match-up with the guards and wings of Michigan pretty well, but it’ll be interesting to see who they put on Wagner. I feel the first option would be to match Cameron Krutwig against him since he has size. Wagner has great footwork in the post and can stretch his game out to the three-point line. The Freshman has held his own against some talented big men so far in the tournament, but Wagner will be the best he’s faced in this game.
How will the Ramblers choose to attack Michigan on offense?
Loyola-Chicago does a tremendous job of getting the shots they want. Their movement and sharp passing force defenses into switches and miscommunication that leads to layups at the rim or uncontested shots. Look for them to exploit any holes in the Michigan defense.
Will Michigan struggle to score on Loyola?
In their previous game against Florida st, Michigan shot 38% from the field and 18% from three. The Wolverines were obviously bothered by the length and defensive intensity from Florida State. While not as physical, Loyola-Chicago could potentially create the same problems as they communicate switches and rotate very well.
I’m picking the Ramblers to win!
*Stats from basketball-reference.com and kenpom.com
*Images from ESPN