The field is set, the floor has been waxed and all eyes now gaze toward San Antonio as the last phase of March Madness unveils itself. The men’s Final Four will be live from the Alamodome. Seasoned blue-bloods like Villanova, Michigan and Kansas join this year’s Cinderella team, Loyola-Chicago, to determine the best college basketball team in America.
Semifinal action begins March 31 at 5:09 p.m. with Loyola-Chicago facing Michigan. The second game pits Villanova against Kansas starting at 7:49 p.m. The championship game is Monday, April 2 beginning at 8:30 p.m. Here’s a look at the four teams.
Loyola-Chicago Ramblers – They entered the dance as a No. 11 seed, and no one outside of the campus gym gave the team much chance of getting out of the opening weekend, let alone making it to the Final Four. Even though they were champions of the Missouri Valley Conference with a record of 15-3 (32-5 overall), there were doubters. After they beat Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State, folks are giving the Ramblers a newfound level of respect.
The Ramblers are a seasoned, balanced team with five players averaging double figures. Junior Clayton Custer is the team’s leading scorer (13 ppg). Guard Ben Richardson is the MVC Defensive Player of the Year. It is a guard-oriented team, and big man Cameron Krutwig (6-feet- 9, 10 ppg, 6 rpg) provides the perfect balance with both an inside/outside game. Having an experienced, veteran team that doesn’t shrink under pressure, plus the added support of 98-year- old-chaplain Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, will make Loyola-Chicago a tough team to beat.
Michigan Wolverines – Their calling card is outstanding defense. They held a hot shooting Florida State team to 31.4 percentage shooting in the Elite Eight. Amazingly they contested 90 percent of FSU’s shots. The Wolverines are riding the wave of a 13-game winning streak. It’s a good thing the Wolverines play such outstanding defense because their offense has been inconsistent throughout the tournament.
Michigan will rely on junior guard Charles Matthews (13 ppg) to jumpstart the offense. At 6-feet-6, Matthews has the physical tools to wear down smaller opponents. Likewise, they will count on 6-foot-11 junior forward Moe Wagner (14 ppg, 7rpg) and 6-foot-8 senior small forward Duncan Robinson (10 ppg) to wear down a smaller Loyola-Chicago squad. If the Wolverines find their shooting touch, their stifling defense can be tough for an opponent to come back from.
Kansas Jayhawks – The champions of the Big 12 (13-5, 31-7 overall) are as formidable as their historic resume indicates. Ironically Kansas won the national championship in 2008, the last time it was held in San Antonio. The Jayhawks are led by Big 12 Player of the Year, senior guard Devonte’ Graham (17 ppg, 4 rpg, 7apg). Graham is flanked by fellow sharpshooters Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (14 ppg) and Malik Newman (14 ppg).
A balanced team, the Jayhawks feature 7-foot sophomore Udoka Azubuike (14 ppg, 7 rpg) at center. He gives Kansas a distinct advantage as long as he can stay out of foul trouble. Coach Bill Self has the talent and depth to win it all in San Antonio. They’re battle tested having survived a thrilling overtime victory over time Duke in the Elite Eight. The Alamo City has been good to them in the past. Can lightning strike twice?
Villanova Wildcats – Among the four teams in the Final Four, Villanova most recently won a national championship (2016). The Wildcats finished second in the Big East (14-4 conference, 34-4 overall). They finished the season No. 2 nationally in both the AP and Coaches Polls. They have been ranked No. 1 at various times during the season. Long story short, the Wildcats are an extremely good team and they know it. They are paced by the sensational junior guard tandem of Mikal Bridges (17.8 ppg) and Jalen Brunson (19 ppg.). Bridges and Brunson are forecast as lottery picks by NBA scouts.
The Wildcats are a unique team. They led the nation in scoring, averaging 87 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field while averaging close to 12 3-pointers. Not only can Villanova blow you away offensively, they lock you down defensively. The Wildcats have held give consecutive teams to under 37 percent scoring in the tournament.