Michigan’s first Final Four appearance since 2013 will come against Loyola Chicago, the feel-good story of the 2018 NCAA Tournament playing in its first Final Four in 55 years.
The Wolverines (32-7) and Ramblers (32-5) advanced to the national semifinals next weekend in San Antonio with Elite Eight victories on Saturday. Missouri Valley Conference champion Loyola Chicago continued its improbable run by beating Kansas State 78-62 in the South Regional final in Atlanta. Michigan won its 13th consecutive game against Florida State in the West Regional final in Los Angeles.
Michigan entered the tournament as a No. 3 seed and has beaten No. 14 seed Montana, No. 6 seed Houston, No. 7 seed Texas A&M and No. 9 seed Florida State. It needed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Houston in the second round. Loyola has played nothing but close games in this tournament, but the No. 11 seed has found a way to win against No. 6 seed Miami, No. 3 seed Tennessee, No. 7 seed Nevada and No. 9 Kansas State.
The Ramblers have hit big shot after big shot with inspirational leader and team chaplain Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt sitting courtside, winning their first three tournament games by a combined 4 points. Senior Donte Ingram made a 3-point shot from the top of the key at the buzzer to nip Miami 64-62. Redshirt junior Clayton Custer hit a jumper with 3.6 seconds left that proved to be the deciding shot in a 63-62 win against Tennessee. Junior guard Marques Townes gave his team a 4-point lead with a 3-pointer as the shot clock was winding down with less than 7 seconds left against Nevada.
This is the first time Loyola Chicago has been this deep into the tournament since it won the national championship in 1963. The Ramblers have won 14 games in a row and their season résumé includes a win at Florida. Five players are averaging in double figures, led by Custer (13.4 points per game). Ingram (11.3), Townes (11.2), Aundre Jackson (11.2) and Cameron Krutwig (10.4) also are part of Loyola’s balanced offense that will try to limit possessions in a game. The Ramblers are No. 67 in the country in the KenPom.com offensive efficiency rankings, but their 65.1 possessions per game rank No. 319.
Michigan and Loyola Chicago have played three times previously but not since Feb. 1, 1969, when Loyola took a 112-100 win at old Chicago Stadium. Michigan won the first two meetings, including an 84-80 victory in the first round of the 1964 NCAA Tournament in Minneapolis.
The Wolverines have won 13 straight games since a 61-52 loss at Northwestern on Feb. 6. Loyola Chicago’s style shouldn’t bother Michigan too much since the Wolverines average fewer possessions per game (64.7), but they have been far more efficient with ball. The Wolverines rank No. 24 in offensive efficiency, averaging 116.1 points per 100 possessions.
Both teams rank in the top 25 of defensive efficiency, and they are in the top 10 in average points allowed. Michigan is giving up 63.3 points per game, No. 9 in the country, while Loyola Chicago is No. 5 at 62.4 points per game.
The winner will advance to the national championship game on April 2.