I apologize for not putting this out earlier as I am a college basketball die-hard, but of course, busy week as always.
The Final Four has been a product of your favorites getting there (Kansas, Villanova), a team that many thought could be a sleeper (Michigan) and of course, your annual Cinderella team (Loyola Chicago) on their magical run. So it has been a mix of upsets and great games. So what should we expect in the games on Saturday?
Honestly, anything and everything.
Loyola-Chicago vs. Michigan
Of course, outside of the first 16 seed to win a game in UMBC over Virginia, Loyola of Chicago has made an amazing run, really putting down teams in the tournament in a decisive manner, notably Kansas State to get to the Final Four. The rallying cry has been Sister Jean, the 98 year-old nun who follows the Ramblers in her wheelchair and has been the feel-good story of the tournament. Of course, the Ramblers have played great basketball, probably playing the best team ball among any of the 4 remaining teams (and that says something given how the others have played great as well). But it is a seasoned group, a cohesive group, and a well-prepared group headed by coach Porter Moser. He has built a program that had struggled until the last few years and had the breakout season this year going 32-5 and winning the Wichita State-less Missouri Valley Conference (ironic how Wichita State leaves, loses in the 1st round and the Valley gets a Final Four team all in the year after). But the Ramblers are a very balanced team and can really frustrate others with that balance and a good passing team. Michigan on the other hand, has been a sleeper for most of the season in part because of their in-state rival Spartans expecting to do big things while Purdue has been front & center and Ohio State came out of nowhere. But right now Michigan has turned it on since conference tournament play began, being that team that plays like no tomorrow. John Beilein is becoming a coach who also prepares his team very well and one of the best in-game adjustment coaches today. And like Loyola-Chicago, Michigan is a very balanced squad who can shoot, attack the basket, rebound, play physical/aggressive defense, etc. And they can beat you in a number of ways. The questions will be can Loyola get baskets down low against the bigger Michigan players, notably Moritz Wagner and can stop Wagner from doing whatever he wants? The other question is if the game is on the line and Michigan is ahead late, can they hit free throws? The Wolverines struggled for the most part at the line for good fraction of the season, and have shot 69% in the tourney at the charity stripe. However, they can have games where they can sink them at the right times. Those are the key questions I have about the game. Loyola’s key thing is to really find a way from keeping Wagner not to have a dominant game, and that may decide it. I think Beilein will end up finding ways to get the ball to Wagner and he will have a game and it will take tons of pressure off of Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rhakman which may be too lethal for the Ramblers to handle.
MY PICK: Michigan 67, Loyola-Chicago 61. I think Loyola-Chicago will have too many fits of finding a way to stop Wagner while the clock strikes midnight for Sister Jean’s squad. But needless to say, whoever wins this I will be pulling for in the national championship.
Kansas vs. Villanova
Despite all of the years since the Jayhawks last National Championship in 2008, Kansas has only made 1 Final Four appearance since and they’ve been pretty much the nation’s top dog for the last 10 years and been favored to be in this position EVERY YEAR. Of course, the one year many went “yeah, they’re not that hot compared to prior years” is the year they do return. And they get in with guard play and perhaps more reliant on the three than last year’s squad. Villanova on the other hand, has probably made the argument of being the best team in the nation all year as they have put on clinic after clinic against opposing Big East squads and again in the conference tournament and their games against Alabama, West Virginia and Texas Tech. They seem as well-oiled as any other team that has come through to cut the nets. They play as versatile as any team in the nation as they are also a very trigger-happy squad from beyond the arc (as is Kansas), but has numerous guys to shoot the rock from beyond the arc, including their big men, which will create a problem for the Jayhawks big man Udoka Azubuike if he has to go out on the perimeter to defend, which means the Wildcats can attack the basket religiously and Kansas did have problems of letting Duke do that to them in the Elite Eight last week, and that’s when he was down low. Of course, there will be a few things to me that will decide this game: which backcourt will have the better game? Will it be Villanova’s Killer B’s (Brunson, Bridges, and Booth) and Donte DiVincenzo or Kansas’s group of Graham, Newman, Svi, and Vick? The other question will be, which team can stop the other’s 3-point shooting? As good as both are, they are equally as good as defending the three. So those will be my questions about this game, which to me will be must-see TV.
MY PICK: Villanova 81, Kansas 77. Of course anytime I ever pick Villanova they lose, so Kansas fans, you need to be happy. That said, I think the fact that the Wildcats can post up and attack Kansas if they can get Azubuike out of the paint will create major problems for the Jayhawks and I think Nova has slightly more depth to their roster. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Kansas wins.
That’s it for the Final Four round….will it be an all Catholic school championship, a Wildcat/Wolverine fight, a Final Four rematch from 2013, or will the Ramblers take on another mighty Kansas school? Look forward to some great games!
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat