SAN ANTONIO – What was once a field of 68 teams has been whittled down to four, as the college basketball world turns to San Antonio for the final three games of the season.
Michigan took an unlikely path to the Final Four, knocking off Montana, Houston, Texas A&M and Florida State to get through the West Region. The Wolverines will square off with another surprise team Saturday.
Michigan and Loyola-Chicago will put nearly identical winning streaks on the line for a chance to play in the national championship. John Beilein's team has won 13 straight games after running through the Big Ten Tournament, while Loyola is on a 14-game winning streak, winning the Missouri Valley tournament and knocking off four better seeds to get to San Antonio.
The Ramblers have the best winning percentage in NCAA Tournament history at 13-4, and this year's team isn't just a nice story. Loyola is a top-20 team in the nation defensively, and has several dangerous offensive weapons.
Freshman center Cameron Krutwig has been excellent in the tournament, and his matchup with Michigan's Moritz Wagner will be a major clash of styles. While Krutwig is most comfortable around the rim, Wagner will force him to defend the perimeter by popping out for 3-point shots.
Zavier Simpson will also be key in Michigan's quest to end the Cinderella story. Simpson has been a pest defensively throughout the tournament, and draws a tough matchup in Clayton Custer. Custer shoots better than 45 percent from beyond the arc and leads Loyola in points and assists.
If Simpson can shut down Custer like he did Texas A&M's T.J. Starks in the Sweet 16, it will be difficult for Loyola to get into an offensive rhythm. Michigan's excellent perimeter defense is the reason Florida State scored just 54 points in the Elite Eight.
Whether it's a shootout or a defensive battle, Michigan has proven it can win in multiple ways. But with two teams that like to play at a slow tempo, it should be a competitive game.
The winner of Michigan-Loyola will play Villanova or Kansas on Monday in the national championship game.