Good luck getting a handle on this Final Four match-up.
Michigan and Loyola will play each other on Saturday in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. It should be a pretty great game on account of the fact they are basically the same team.
Both Loyola and Michigan won their conference tournaments (Mississipi Valley and Big Ten, respectively) and are on 14- and 13-win runs respectively. Both have scary defenses and dangerous offenses.
Loyola averages 72 points a game as a team, with five players (Clayton Custer, Donte Ingram, Marques Townes, Aundre Jackson and Cameron Krutwig) who average double-digits. Michigan averages 74 points a game with three players (Moritz Wagner, Charles Matthews and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman) averaging double-digits. Loyola shoots 40 percent from 3; Michigan shoots 37 percent. Michigan ranks 31st in adjusted offensive efficiency; Loyola ranks 60th. Michigan coach John Beilein is known for running one of the most intricate offenses in college basketball, but the Ramblers have made agility, speed and ‘offensive charisma’ their calling card in the tournament.
Anecdotally, both teams have won on buzzer-beaters in the tournament, and both teams have won in blow-outs. Both teams pass first and share the ball. They play at a similar pace — 315th in adjusted tempo for Loyola, 326th for Michigan. Both teams have won with unflappable offenses — for Loyola, with consistency, Michigan, in spite of it — but also thanks to the strength of their defenses.
Loyola has held opponents to under 70 points in the tournament. Michigan has held opponents to under 72. (Texas A&M’s 72 points came in a game in which Michigan held a 27 point lead.) Michigan has the best remaining defense in the tournament — ranked fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency — but Loyola is still top 20, coming in at 18.
Loyola has the edge on offense, but Michigan is, in theory, the better defensive team.
Both teams are also awful similar when you breakdown team character traits, which is to say, both have very likable squads. As Land of 10 pointed out, Michigan is a “name brand that plays like a scrappy, disrespected, mis-seeded underdog,” but Loyola actually is a scrappy, disrespected, mis-seeded underdog.
Both have guys who weren’t recruited by big-name programs. (Though, to be fair, Michigan is a bigger-name program than Loyola, so, their guys were inherently recruited by at least one bigger name than the Loyola guys.) Still, no one on the court was a 5-star recruit and no one is a sure-thing for the NBA.
Both have inspiring stories about players working up from the practice squad to clutch tourney moments. Both have feel-good stories about walk-ons getting tournament minutes.
Both can trash talk in foreign languages.
Both are led by upperclassmen. Veteran leadership!
Both have wonderful nonagenarians. (Sister Jean needs no further introduction. Congressman John Dingell was, according to President Barack Obama, “one of the most influential legislators of all time” and a longtime advocate for affordable health care and clean energy, who has, since retirement, cultivated an incredible Twitter feed.)
Loyola is a perfectly compatible collection of players who have known and played with or against each other for years — in the case of Custer and Richardson, since 3rd grade. Michigan has been described as a collection of misfit toys.
Loyola has a huge advantage in national affection (shout out to Sister Jean), but America has been known to love the bad boys.
"I asked Luke Yaklich about them because he was in the Missouri Valley last year at Illinois State. I said they must be really good. He said, ‘You know what, Coach, they’re a lot like us. They have a bunch of good kids. They play together, they play defense. They have a bunch of guys that can shoot."
Here are some differences:
- Loyola has destiny, and possibly God, on their side.
- Loyola ranks fifth in effective field goal percentage, whereas Michigan ranks 47th.
- Loyola shoots a ton of 3-pointers, which are worth more than 2-point shots.
- Loyola’s extensive scouting keeps them a step ahead of opponents on offense, which is perhaps a competitive advantage.
- Michigan has John Beilein, who orchestrates offensive schemes that play out like a choose-your-own-adventure, which is perhaps a competitive advantage.
- Michigan has a villain: Mo Wagner, a player who understands why you hate him because he would hate him too.
- Michigan is really bad at hitting free throws.
- Michigan wears short shorts.