Final notes from Final Four teams
SAN ANTONIO—Less than 24 hours until all four teams lace up their sneakers and hit the court at the Alamodome for the Final Four on Saturday.
All four teams were able to talk to the media on Friday and do one last walk through before their big games Saturday.
Below are some final notes for each team going into the two games tomorrow, starting at 4:20 MT on CBS:
Loyola Chicago Ramblers
Ah yes, the fan favorites and Cinderella wonders of Loyola Chicago will take on the likes of Michigan in the first game of tomorrow’s Final Four slate.
Instead of media imposing on these younger players, they sat in on Sister Jean-Dolores Schmidt’s unusual press conference that attracted hundreds of media members.
“This is the most fun I’ve had in my life,” said Sister Jean, the 98-year-old Chancellor of the school. “It is just so much fun for me to be here, and I almost didn’t get here, but I fought hard enough to do that because I wanted to be with the guys.”
If they win: In terms of basketball, this team is shooting lights out during the tournament. Led by guard Clayton Custer, who’s averaging 13.2 points per game and shooting 45.3 percent during the tournament, the Ramblers are a hot team that can’t be taken lightly.
Add guards Ben Richardson and Lucas Williamson’s exceptional above 40 percent shooting and this team could be unbeatable. They’ve gone 22 games with the same lineup and love using the likes of big men Cameron Krutwig and Carson Shanks.
“(Being the underdogs) keeps the chip on our shoulder as throughout the whole process we have been the underdog every single game,” Custer said. “I think a lot of us don’t think of ourselves as that much of a Cinderella because we have had such a good year this year… We have been winning games all year so we think we belong on this stage.”
If they lose: Loyola Chicago’s shooting has been red hot, but how long can they sustain it? Michigan has exceptional perimeter defenders and they can score with their big men down low.
With an early lead and long stretches, Michigan can run away with this game and crush the end to this Cinderella run by the Ramblers.
“They are really good,” Richardson said. “They’ve done a good job of guarding in this tournament. We will try to throw some different things at them. As for guarding them, it’s going to be a challenge.”
And here come the villains of the tournament: Michigan.
This is a group of players that, like Loyola, pride themselves on momentum shifting 3’s and have squeezed through close games throughout the tournament.
“What else is new? I mean, at a certain point you have to embrace it because there’s a certain responsibility there and if you realize people don’t like you for whatever reason, you might as well just embrace it and have fun with it,” said junior forward Mortiz Wagner. “The whole Cinderella story is cool, but we are not getting caught up in that kind of stuff.”
If they win: The Wolverines will have knocked off America’s heart-felt story in Loyola Chicago and get one step closer to the program’s second National championship (1989).
Beating the Ramblers would mean that the Wolverines’ two guard, one wing, one forward and a center offensive front will have been too much to stop. Wagner is averaging 14.3 points per game and will be a threat in this one.
Michigan has won 13 in a row, and why not extend it to 14—even 15—to finish the season? Zavier Simpson will be a determining factor in this matchup as he is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league.
If they lose: Loyola Chicago’s magical season doesn’t come to a close and they outlast a strong Michigan defense. The Ramblers will need to have long stretches of great—not just good—offenses and shoot over 40 percent.
“Their plays are pretty,” said Michigan head coach John Beilein. “But their concepts, the way the team runs their concepts is a thing of beauty.
This was the same Kansas team that head coach Bill Self called “soft” mid-season. Now this team has looked far from soft since the likes of winning the Big 12 tournament and rectifying their two-way game.
Not to mention just during practice walkthroughs on Friday, the stands were painted in a sea of Jayhawk blue.
“It’s been busy but certainly our team seems focused,” Self said. “They’re energized and we’ve had two good days of workouts down here. I think from a preparation standpoint we’re right where we need to be.”
If they win: Kansas avenges their 2016 loss to Villanova in a dazzling fashion. It won’t be easy, but role players like Malik Newman, Devonte’ Graham and Udoka Azubuike can grind out tough stretches and dominate both sides of the floor.
Kansas has out-rebounded teams in 16 of the last 21 games and its defense is the sharpest it’s been all season.
“The journey getting to the Elite Eight and to move past that game, it was a reality that we had finally gotten over that hump was just a lot of excitement and it was really emotional,” Graham said. “I was shocked, it was like an ‘oh my god’ face.”
If they lose: Villanova continues its beating on this Kansas program, but this time when it counts most. But it won’t be easy, especially with two future NBA players in Newman and Graham.
Nova will need to lock down the toughest they’ve been this season defensively, especially by pushing Kansas to shoot beyond the arc and contesting big shots.
Many critics have argued that even though this might be Self’s best coaching effort, it is by far his least talented team. If Nova can sustain shooting above 40 percent from the floor or beyond the arc, they can slip away with a win.
“I’ve learned that those guys are physical and they are athletic,” Newman said. “They are very good at shooting the three ball. They are good in transition. They are sound, composed and well coached.”
Out of the three Wildcats, not many thought Villanova could continue its consistency beyond the NCAA Tournament that they’ve had through the past years and be the lone Wildcat team in the Final Four, especially when the defense hit a low-point in the middle of the season.
“No matter how many years you’re in coaching, you continue to learn from your players,” said head coach Jay Wright, who won a title with Villanova in 2016. “This group taught me to never give in on the ability to improve defensively.”
It’s a simple 2-3 zone at times, but Wright’s ability to make strong in-game adjustments makes the defense impeccable at times.
If they win: Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges fulfill their own destiny and go on to reach their second National championship game in three seasons. Brunson, who just won the USWBA Oscar Robertson Player of the Year award, beat out Kansas in 2016 with sharp free throws down the stretch and will be a key factor in this game.
“People are talking how this is Devonte’ versus Jalen, but they need to know it’s Villanova versus Kansas,” Brunson said. “It will be a challenge for us, but we’re ready for it.”
If they lose: Their defense crumbles to the likes of Graham and Newman, who can score from anywhere on the court.
This Villanova team is almost unstoppable when they can shoot a precision 3-pointer, but if their shot is off, then it could be game over for the Wildcats.