This Game may have the bigger headlines (Sister Jean), but this isn’t the matchup anyone expected. Loyola is just the Fourth 11-seed to ever make the Final 4 and it will be up against a Michigan team that hasn’t played anyone seeded higher than six. As expected, the Wolverines were early -5 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
It’s been a weird Tournament, as least for the left side of the bracket. Loyola being in this spot explains that. The Ramblers won their first three Games by a combined Four points, but then ran Kansas State off the cOurt in the Elite 8, winning by 16 points with the win never looking in doubt.
It’s been similarly all over the place for Michigan, getting outplayed by Houston in the Round of 32 to win on a buzzer beater. The Wolverines then carved up Texas A&M and led most of the way against Florida State. It’s been a fun Tournament and only one of these teams can make it to the National Championship.
Most people will assume Michigan has the better overall team, but that may not be true in this case. In fact, Loyola has some of the best shooting numbers in the nation with an effective field percentage at 58%, fifth-best. Michigan has won with defense so that will be a clear test for Loyola. But it’s also the same situation on the other end because Loyola ranks solid defensively in almost every category and is 18th in the country in adjusted efficiency. The Ramblers play at a slower pace, which is why they don’t often run teams out of the gym, while the Wolverines play smart and never turn it over. Both teams ignore offensive rebounding with a bigger focus on getting back defensively.
Both teams play a heavy dose of man defense, which is what will make this matchup fun. Loyola is the smaller school, yet continues to show it has the bodies to beat bigger teams, although this will be a mostly small-ball matchup. Zavier Simpson has the task of guarding Loyola’s leading scorer (13.2 ppg) and assister (4.2 apg) in Clayton Custer. Simpson plays tight defense and gets in the face of opposing guards.
But the most interesting matchup may be down low between Moritz Wagner and Cameron Krutwig. Both big men will try and force the action with Wagner’s ability to hit threes being the outlier. There’s a decent chance Loyola goes to Krutwig early in order to get Wagner into foul trouble. However, Krutwig deals with foul trouble plenty and usually doesn’t see more than 25 minutes of cOurt time. That’s when Loyola goes extremely small and uses a combination to guard bigger guys. When that happens, someone between Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson will have to limit easy looks for Wagner.
Michigan will have a size advantage at the other few spots, but that shouldn’t be a huge deal. Duncan Robinson is mostly a shooter at the Four spot, while Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman and Charles Matthews do a little bit of everything else, especially on the defensive end. It’s a similar case for Loyola with everyone being able to shoot from outside except for Krutwig. But more importantly, everyone can get to the rim for Loyola, whether that’s Custer, Marques Townes, Jackson or Ingram. Attacking Michigan’s defense is how you beat them, not settling for three pointers.
The Ramblers are known for moving the ball and never settling for a difficult shot so that will be important in this one. But at the end of the day, it’ll be hard not to take the Wolverines. These teams match up fairly well and Wagner has a size and somewhat athletic advantage on Krutwig. There’s no doubt Loyola can win and cover, but it may end up needing its best defensive performance of the Tournament.
Our Pick – Michigan -5