Final Four preview: Why Michigan should win, could lose vs. Loyola

Final Four preview: Why Michigan should win, could lose vs. Loyola

Michigan will try to become the first Big Ten team to make the national title game since Wisconsin in 2015. This preview details reasons why the Wolverines could win and also how they could lose. I’ll send an update if they advance. Let me know if you have any questions.

Saturday – 6:09 PM ET on TBS
Alamodome – San Antonio, TX
No. 11 Loyola-Chicago vs. No 3 Michigan

Why Michigan could/should win

-This is easily John Beilein’s best defensive team with the Wolverines. They rank fourth in the nation in defensive efficiency after never finishing higher than 37th previously. They have held teams to 59 points per game on fewer than 38% shooting from the floor and 26% from 3-point range.

-Beilein has been a very good tournament coach. Michigan has advanced to the Final Four for the second time in the last six seasons.The Wolverines have 15 NCAA Tournament wins during that span, which is tied for the second-most of any school. They have a school-record 32 wins. Each of the previous two times they won 31 games in a season, they made the national title game (1993, 2013). They’re also 6-1 (.857 win pct) all-time in national semifinal games, which is the best record of any team (minimum 5 games).

-Michigan just finds ways to win games. They’ve won 13 straight games with eight of those coming by double digits. They shot the lights out in the Sweet 16 against Texas A&M, scoring 99 points, which was their most in a NCAA Tournament game since 1992 and they tied a NCAA Tourney record with eight different players making a 3-pointer. However, that wasn’t the norm for the Wolverines. In their three other tournament games, they averaged just 61 PPG on 39.4% shooting from the floor along with just 25% shooting from 3-point range…but were able to win anyway.

-Charles Matthews plays his best in non-conference games. He’s leading the Wolverines with 16.5 PPG and 7.3 RPG in the NCAA Tournament and was named the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player. He’s averaging 17.4 PPG on 56.7% shooting from the floor in 17 non-conference games.

-Xavier Simpson has been a huge factor in shutting down opposing point guards. In 4 tournament games, opposing starting point guards have averaged 11.8 PPG but have shot just 18-52 from the floor (34.6%). They also have just eight assists with 13 turnovers. If he can harass Missouri Valley Player of the Year Clayton Custer, it could go a long way in helping shut down this Loyola offense.

-Loyola has had turnover issues all season and even more so in this tournament. They turn it over on nearly 19% of their possessions, which is 218th nationally. They have turned it over 51 times in four tourney games, allowing 68 points off those turnovers. They allowed 20 points off turnovers against Tennessee and 28 points off turnovers against Kansas State.

-Loyola isn’t a great offensive rebounding team and they don’t get to the line too often either. They grab just over 22% of their own misses, which ranks 332nd nationally. They also are 207th nationally in free throw rate.

-Loyola might not have a player that can guard Moe Wagner. Their starting center Cameron Krutwig is 6’9″ and has been taken out at times due to a bad matchup (only played 13 minutes against a more mobile Nevada team in the Sweet 16). If he can’t guard Wagner on pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop, his playing time could be limited, which could hurt the Ramblers on both sides of the ball.

-Cinderellas have gotten to the Final Four previously, but their run usually ends before the title game. Loyola is the fifth double digit seed to reach the national semis. Each of the previous four lost in this round, all by at least eight points.

How Michigan could lose

-Michigan’s poor free throw shooting almost cost them against Florida State. They made just 16 of 24 attempts from the line and missed three in the final two minutes. They make just 66% as a team, which is 326th nationally.

-Loyola has been a very efficient team on both sides of the ball. They are shooting nearly 53% from the floor, which is the best of any team in the NCAA Tournament (minimum two games). They are also shooting nearly 42% from three in the NCAA Tournament. The Ramblers don’t rely on just one guy to beat you either.  They’ve had a different leading scorer in all four tournament games. In fact, the South Region’s Most Outstanding Player was Ben Richardson, who averages just seven points per game. He had 23 in the Elite Eight. The Ramblers offense hasn’t been good just in the tournament. It’s been really good all year. They shoot 40.2% from 3-point distance, which ranks 11th nationally and 57% on 2-pointers, which ranks ninth nationally.

-The Ramblers have been great at driving to the basket all tournament. They have multiple players that can drive and finish. They’ve scored 274 points in this tournament and 136 have come in the paint. Nearly half of their points in this tournament have come in the paint despite only having one player taller than 6’6″ in the playing rotation (49.6%). They have scored at least 34 paint points in three of their four tourney games.

-Loyola’s defense has been really good as well. They are 19th nationally in defensive efficiency and hold teams to just 32.2% from 3-point range, which ranks in the Top 30 nationally. In the tourney, they’ve been even better, holding teams to fewer than 30% from 3-point range. They also defend well without fouling, ranking 15th in opponents free throw rate this season.

-The only team hotter than Michigan has been Loyola. The Ramblers have won 14 straight games, which is the longest active streak in the nation. Their last loss came on January 31 at Bradley.

-Despite the overall lack of height, Loyola has gone a good job on the glass, holding teams to one shot nearly 75% of the time. Every team they have played in the NCAA Tournament has been taller on average. However, they are +3.3 on the glass per game in the tourney, outrebounding Tennessee by three, Nevada by eight as well as Kansas State by eight.

-The way Loyola defends could be a problem for Michigan. The Wolverines usually take advantage of mismatches but Loyola likes to switch everything from point guard to power forward since they are similar in height. We’ve seen other teams do that and cause the Wolverines problems at times (game at Nebraska is an example).

Kenpom prediction: Michigan wins 65-60

Thanks for reading!

Harold Shelton III, BTN Studio Researcher

Harold Shelton III is a BTN Studio Researcher who writes up weekly stats for BTN & BTN.com. Follow his work on Twitter @BTNStatsGuys.

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