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Final Four preview; Loyola-Chicago is on a mission from God

The road to the Final Four was a long and winding one.  We’ve had famous nuns, the first 16 over 1 upset, and overall a relatively chalk Final Four.  That’s not to say that Loyola-Chicago hasn’t been a pleasant surprise.  However, the other three regional winners were favorites to win, and it’s not like Loyola-Chicago is the first to crash the dance (George Mason, VCU, etc.).

Two Naismith Award winners will clash in the semi-final, as Devonte’ Graham’s Kansas Jayhawks will collide with Jalen Brunson’s Villanova Wildcats.  On the other side of the bracket, the darling Loyola-Chicago Ramblers take on the Michigan Wolverines.  Let’s break down each matchup.

Villanova – Kansas

The blue blood side of the bracket has a matchup between two of the best coaches in college basketball and two of the tournament’s best players.  The top seeded Jayhawks have survived a few scares but have not played a team as talented as the Wildcats.  If they’re going to win, they’re going to need to go to Devonte’ Graham early and often.  They aren’t the best offensive team but have stifling defense and good rebounders.

Villanova was historically bad against Texas Tech in the Elite Eight, only converting on 16.7% of their threes.  They still won by double digits, and a lot of it is thanks to their ability to close the game out with free throws.  Four out of the five starters shoot over 80% from the charity stripe, and the team overall shoots 77%.  That’s their strength, and they use it to their advantage.

Look for this game to come down to the final possession.  If the ball is in Graham or Brunson’s hand, whoever has the ball last is going to win the game.  It’s a toss up between two of NCAA’s best teams, but the advantage has to go to Kansas for their ability to rebound late.

Kansas 78, Villanova 76

 

Michigan – Loyola-Chicago

The other side of the bracket gives us a matchup for the ages.  Big Blue vs Sister Jean.  The Ramblers have had a miraculous run for a few reasons, but the main one is their stalwart defense.  They held a good Kansas St. team to only 62 points, and they’re able to score in bunches.

Michigan started peaking at the right time.  The Wolverines made minced meat of the Big 10 on their way to a Big 10 championship.  They survived on a buzzer beater to defeat Houston, and even though many people have picked them to win the whole thing, they seem like a team of destiny also.  Nothing is ever easy for these Wolverines, but they get the job done day in and day out.

The good luck Sister Jean brings Loyola-Chicago is something that can’t be explained.  Even though she picked against the Ramblers in the Sweet 16, the 98 year old has given this team a little bit of divine intervention.  They’ve had two buzzer beaters in the first two rounds to make it to this point, but their luck will run out in the Final Four.  This Michigan team is just as experienced as Loyola-Chicago, and John Beilein has coached his butt off to get Michigan to this point.  Loyola-Chicago won’t have the firepower to keep up with Michigan, but it will be a close game.  Look for a single digit Michigan win on their way to the championship.

Michigan 69, Loyola-Chicago 63

This weekend should be an all-time in college basketball.  Regardless of who wins, you’re going to see a blue blood vs new blood game in the final.  If Loyola-Chicago somehow makes the championship game, Sister Jean should be anointed a saint.  In addition, Ramblers coach Porter Moser & all the players (21 & over of course) should never have to buy a drink in Chicago again.

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