Final Four Appearances: 8
National Championship Appearances: 6 (Last 2013)
National Titles: 1 (1989)
The Michigan Wolverines travel to San Antonio riding an eight-game winning streak. After taking down Purdue in the Big 10 Championship game at Madison Square Garden, Michigan took the momentum and haven’t stopped moving. They look to take their low-turnover rate and strong defense to a surprising Loyola-Chicago team Saturday night.
Though Michigan has not been at its best offensively during the tournament, the Wolverine defense has carried them to the final weekend of college basketball. Ranking fourth in Ken Pom for defense, their wings, especially Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews, have been able to guard players from point guard to the power forward. With the size of guys like Wagner and Jon Teske, this team doesn’t see many mismatches. To make this strength known, they’re going to have to lock down Loyola-Chicago beyond the three-point line, closing out on the hot shooters that got the Ramblers to their first Final Four since 1963. They should be able to establish their presence in the paint, with freshmen center Cameron Krutwig being the biggest low-post threat to the experienced Wagner.
Key Player: Mo Wagner
This Michigan team has run through Mo Wagner for most of the tournament, who led the team in both points and rebounds this season and was named to the All-Big 10 Second Team in a very talented conference. Wagner is seen as one of those “new age” big men, having the ability to spread the floor while also being a strong presence in the paint. He has been the focal point on this offense, taking sets from the top of the key and keeping the defense on their toes with his offensive versatility. The Wolverines have strong, knock-down shooters around them, so they have to let Wagner do his thing and feed off the attention he’ll receive every time down. Wagner is the best player in this game, and has to show that to help his team advance.
How They Will Advance to Monday
The Wolverines have been on a roll since late February, turning a Big 10 Championship into a run in the big dance. They have been very efficient offensively all year, with only a 14 percent turnover rate, but it’s going to be their presence on defense that get them to the title game. Loyola-Chicago has also been on a magically run, one that no one could have guessed, so Michigan will have to shut them down early and pressure them inside. If Wagner is able to dominate against the inexperienced Ramblers and spread out this defense, Michigan will return to the National Championship game for the seventh time in school history.
David King can be contacted on Twitter @D_King_13