(11) Loyola-Chicago vs. (3) Michigan
Time: 5 PM CT, Saturday (3/31)
Spread: MICH -5.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
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The Loyola-Chicago Ramblers have become the major story of this tournament, a No. 11 seed advancing improbably to the Final Four while proving that the small university of Loyola has some major talent that we previously simply may not have known of.
It will face possibly its toughest test as it squares off against No. 3 seeded Michigan in its first Final Four appearance Saturday night. The Ramblers are 5.5-point underdogs, but being an underdog has been little deterrent to this squad thus far, and it should be a good and close game as the team looks to do the so-called impossible and advance to the NCAA title game.
Loyola has knocked off No. 6 Miami, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 7 Nevada and No. 9 Kansas State in its path to the Final Four. It won three of those four games in nail-biters, with the last game being the sole exception as it pounded K-State by a count of 78-62. The Ramblers get it done with a strong starting lineup and the team seldom relies on much help from its bench. In fact, in the victory over K-State, only two bench players even saw major court time and the reserves produced just 14 points in total. Starting senior guard Ben Richardson had his finest game of the season with 23 points on 7 of 10 shooting, including 6 of 7 from downtown. He averaged just seven points per game during the season, along with four assists, but he is a good shooter and is playing his best basketball now, when it counts the most.
Loyola’s attack is well- balanced between its five starters. Clayton Custer leads the team in scoring at just 13.2 points per game, but all five starters average double figures, and the team doles out most of its minutes to them. Donte Ingram averaged 11 points and six rebounds per game this season, but it is Custer who could be the real game-changer against Michigan. Custer shoots 52.7 percent form the field and 45.4 percent from three-point range, and Loyola will hope it continues to get stellar play from its once not-regarded team. The Cinderella story of this season has really put the small university on the map, and there seems to be no reason to expect Michigan to really blow them out. This will (likely) be a very close game, and even the 5.5 point spread seems slightly generous.
Michigan has knocked off Montana, Houston, Texas A&M and FSU in its path to the Final Four. The Wolverines blew out Montana and Texas A&M, but survived close scares from both Houston and FSU. This game should be far more similar to the latter of those games, as the Ramblers have been a major problem for every team they have encountered in their improbable tournament run.
The Wolverines are led by Moritz Wagner and Charles Matthews. The pair combine for 27.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game between them, and only one other Wolverine averages double-figures (Muhammed Ali Abdur Rankman). Michigan averages 74 points per game as a team, and that scoring prowess should ensure that it is able to keep pace with the Ramblers. Wagner is a 6’11” junior who basically functions as a stretch-4, with exceptional shooting prowess and range. He averaged 14.3 points per game this season while shooting nearly 40 percent from three on four attempts per night. Against Texas A&M he shot 8 of 12 from the floor and 3 of 3 from three-point range en route to 21 points and three rebounds, as the Wolverines blew the Aggies out by 27-points. Wagner will give Loyola a lot of problems, but this game is likely to go down to the wire, howsoever regarded the Wolverines are in comparison to the Ramblers (!).