LOS ANGELES — And now, the really fun part: When the knives come out.
Michigan is a name brand that plays like a scrappy, disrespected, mis-seeded underdog. Which begs the question: What happens when the Wolverines draw an actual, scrappy, disrespected, mis-seeded underdog in Loyola-Chicago?
— AJ Johnson (@AJ_JohnsonPBA) March 25, 2018
I was a junior in 2000 at Michigan State when we won it. It is THE MOST FUN. I can’t wait to root for Loyola Chicago against that team I hate!
— Kasey Myers (@onthekase) March 25, 2018
And, um, quite a bit of this:
I will root just as hard for Loyola against Michigan than I have for any Buckeyes team.
— Keith Brandon (@thekbl) March 25, 2018
You ready to be America’s Villains, Ibi Watson?
Public Enemies No. 1 outside the 7-3-4?
“Oh, definitely,” the Michigan swing man said after the Wolverines held off Florida State to advance to the Final Four of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, where they’ll face the aforementioned Ramblers next weekend in San Antonio.
“I think we’ve got to embrace that role. I know a lot of guys will buy into that. And we’re looking to really just continue this.”
Yeah, but at the expense of Sister Jean?
“She’s like the face of the tournament right now,” Watson said of Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 98-year-old nun and Loyola team chaplain who’s captured America’s heart.
“She’s going to go down in history. We’ve got to get a picture with her and stuff.”
With that, he smiled. Wickedly.
“But hopefully, we can end up beating her and moving on.”
That’s cold, man.
You’re seriously cool with breaking a nun’s heart?
“Naw, we would hate to do that,” Watson replied, smiling again.
“But I don’t know. I heard she didn’t have them going in the bracket this far. So she can’t be that heartbroken.”
“Yeah, they’ve been really fun to watch,” Michigan senior Duncan Robinson said of the Ramblers, an 11 seed from the Missouri Valley Conference that smacked Kansas State around earlier Saturday to punch its first ticket to the Final Four since 1963.
Then the light bulb went on.
“I’m sure a lot of people will be rooting against us,” Robinson said, “just because they’ve got God on their side, I think.”
11 seed Loyola (Chicago) moves on to the Sweet 16 after they beat 3 seed Tennessee 63-62
Clayton Custer : 10 points on 4-5 shooting, 2-2 from 3 & 3 assists in 33 minutes (Game-winning jumper with 3.6 seconds left) pic.twitter.com/T5WtFYLuNl
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) March 18, 2018
How the heck else do you explain that kind of shooter’s roll other than the help of a Higher Power?
“Oh yeah, I’ve been watching them,” Michigan forward Isaiah Livers said. “And they’ve just been playing out of their minds. So I’m not going to be surprised if all that momentum carries into San Antonio.”
Remember the insanity that followed the Wolverines’ win over Houston last weekend, when Jordan Poole’s prayer from 25 feet out was answered? The Ramblers have pulled that off twice already in the Big Dance, with buzzer-beating shots to top Miami in the first round, 64-62, and Tennessee in the second, 63-62.
With adoring — and loud — throngs following them in New York City, Los Angeles, and, to a much lesser degree, Wichita, the Wolverines have felt a bit like America’s team this month.
Of course, that was before Sister Jean entered the frame.
If it’s her or you …
“Yeah, that’s fine, they deserve it,” Livers shrugged. “They played very good. I’m proud of their coaching staff and that they can prove that any team can go to the Final Four. And I think they’re making a real difference in today’s world when it comes to NCAA basketball.”
In a winter marred by FBI investigations into the sport and bluebloods — lookin’ at you, Louisville — being forced to tear down championship banners, the Ramblers have given the world a reason to watch. A reason to care.
And a Cinderella to root for.
Which makes Robinson, by that logic, a wicked stepsister. With a wicked jumper to boot.
“Pssssssht, I’ll be whatever character you want me to be,” Robinson said with a grin. “If I’m in the Final Four, I don’t care about that. Sure. That’s fine. I’m in the Final Four. That’s cool with me.”