When Michigan (32-7) arrives in Texas, it’ll face the Cinderella story of this tournament, Loyola Chicago, which completed its magical run through March with a victory over Kansas State in Atlanta earlier Saturday.
This is John Beilein’s second Final Four at MI, and his first since 2013, when the Wolverines fell to Louisville in the national championship game. Loyola-Chicago dominated Kansas State on both ends of the court in the victory and had no trouble securing the win after a 7-0 Ramblers run gave Loyola-Chicago a 61-38 lead with 9:40 left in regulation.
“I thought [Michigan] did a great job”, Hamilton said. “It’s about who is going to play better”. You can’t play defense any harder than the Seminoles did in holding a MI team coming off a 99-point game Thursday to just 58.
And with MI up by four, Florida State allowed the Wolverines to dribble out the clock without fouling again. They haven’t lost since February 6 against Northwestern. But at this point, we should all know better than to count out Sister Jean and the Ramblers. Loyola-Chicago is an elite defensive team, limiting the opposition to 62.4 points, placing them fifth in the nation.
Zavier Simpson’s play in this one can’t go unnoticed.
“I’ve been watching them”. The Wolverines are holding opponents to an average of 63.1 points, good for eighth in the country. “They’re here for a reason”. The 3rd-seeded Wolverines have been a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament in recent years, and are looking to make their first title game since 2013, the year they were the runner-up. With over 10-seconds left in the game and trailing by only four-points, Florida State refused to foul Duncan Robinson and send MI to the free throw line.
That doesn’t mean it was an easy win, as it appeared when Robinson buried a 3-pointer in front of Michigan’s bench with 2:14 remaining.
On Saturday, a 10-point lead for the Wolverines with just over two minutes left almost vanished. Yet Michigan could only manage one field goal of its own in the last 8:44 before halftime, also missing four free throws. MI missed four free throws in that stretch but still managed to pull ahead at the break, 27-26.
“They call themselves the junkyard dogs”, Beilein said, referring to Florida State’s nickname for its defense. “That just continued to help my confidence grow and my teammates believe in me and I believe in them so it has just been a special feeling”. “When you have guys like that who are truly your brothers, anything’s possible”.
Staples Center is packed with MI fans as the third-seeded Wolverines take on the ninth-seeded Seminoles, who have knocked off three straight higher-seeded opponents.