By: Nick Pooler
And then there were four. If only the bracket did not start until the elite eight I would be perfect right now. Villanova, Kansas, Michigan and Loyola-Chicago. Not many people predicted that outcome huh?
In the first matchup we have Michigan and Loyola-Chicago. The start time is 6:09 PM Saturday afternoon. To start we have players to watch: for Michigan, Moritz Wagner, a junior forward averaging 14.3 points and 6.9 rebounds. He is who the Wolverines run their offense through. Fifth year forward Duncan Robinson who only averages 9.5 PPG but the most important thing about him is the leadership and experience. Muhammad Ali-Abdur Rahkman, what a name right? He is one of Michigan’s seniors that they look to in late game situations. He averages 12.8 PPG and averages 35 minutes per game as well. Look for him to be a tough matchup. Three more notable players to mention, Charles Matthews, Jon Teske and Zavier Simpson. How these three play depends on how the game goes. Lately, Wagner has been getting into foul trouble and Teske has stepped up big off the bench so their contributions will be huge. They can shoot the 3 very well. One thing that might stop them? An underdog that defends the 3 very well.
Loyola-Chicago, many picked them to go far but no one anticipated this far. With a lot of skill and a little bit of luck, the Ramblers find themselves as the 4th number 11 seed to be in the final four in tournament history. By luck, I mean not having to play Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona or Cincinnati from their region. But they also get all the credit in the world for beating four very impressive teams: Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State. Now a tough task awaits with the Wolverines. Clayton Custer, Marques Townes, Aundre Jackson, Cameron Krutwig, Ben Richardson and Donte Ingram are all players to watch. When I say all of these names I truly mean it. Any of them can show up at any time. After 3 nail biters, Loyola gave their fans some breathing room with a crushing victory over Kansas State in the elite 8. Look for them to use Krutwig inside to establish some room, by doing this they can then find Custer, Jackson and others on the perimeter for some open shots. As mentioned earlier, they truly have to stop Michigan from the 3 ball as you saw them light up Texas A&M with a barrage of 3’s.
Loyola-Chicago is the ultimate underdog, but they have something each underdog usually doesn’t. That is an actual legitimate shot at reaching the national championship. If I were to separate the two teams and had to pick a winner. I am going Michigan. If the players are going head to head, no coaches, just strictly pick up ball: I’m going Loyola-Chicago. But the one thing that separates the two teams is John Beilein. That is no knock on Porter Moser whatsoever. All I am saying is coaches of Beilein’s calibur find a way to win no matter what. I think he will do exactly that. I expect a very close game and I am predicting Michigan over Loyola-Chicago 61-59.
In a battle of the best we have Kansas and Villanova. Both teams were fantastic this season. Veteran’s lead both teams and coaches are both well respected throughout college basketball. It all comes down in my opinion who finishes. It’s not about who starts but about who finishes. The perfect player that comes to mind when I think of that phrase is Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo. DiVincenzo is by far a top 2 or 3 player on the Nova roster. He has respected his role and even though not considered a starter, he is in the game in the first 3 minutes. He is the ideal player a coach would want on his team. He can shoot, play defense, dive after every loose ball and he will never give up with full attitude the whole way. He is my difference maker in this matchup.
With that being said, I believe Villanova bounces back from their round of 32 exit last season, and they go on to defeat the Kansas Jayhawks 75-68. Expect Devonte Graham to go out on a marvelous note as my hot take for this game is he finishes with 28 points. Another couple names to watch for in this matchup include; Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson and Eric Paschall from Villanova. Also, Svi Mykhailiuk, LaGerald Vick and Malik Newman for the Jayhawks. One other interesting note is if Kansas’s big man Udoka Azubuike can return to full strength, this is a whole new ball game. If Kansas can establish that inside game between him and Mitch Lightfoot, Kansas could steal this one from the Wildcats.
Expect this weekend in San Antonio to be some great games and stay tuned for the championship preview later this week. Also, keep yourself updated on the latest scores, stats and standings on Sportsmediaplus.com. Follow us on twitter for latest updates and news as well.