Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan 69, #11 Loyola (Chicago) 57

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan Heads to the National Championship Game for the Second Time in John Beilein’s Career (USA Today Images)

  1. Loyola’s First Half Was a Microcosm of Its Run. Neither team came out of the gates hot, but Michigan at least was able to get a few things going well enough to jump out to an early 12-4 lead. It was fool’s gold. The Wolverines were being baited into three-pointers from the wrong players (e.g., Zavier Simpson) and they were depending too much on Moe Wagner to bail them out with offensive putbacks (typically not a strength of his). Needless to say, it didn’t last. Loyola started chipping away at the lead and eventually found its groove to make a 25-10 run throughout the rest of the first half, building a seven-point lead that the Ramblers took with them into the break. John Beilein noted after the game that it was the Ramblers’ defense — keyed by ball-screen switching and interesting looks — that really bothered the Wolverines in the first half. Just like the previous four teams that Loyola had vanquished.
  2. Michigan Eventually Responded in Kind. When Loyola hit a layup with 12 minutes remaining to go back up by nine points while Michigan continued to look flummoxed on the other end, it seemed as if this actually might happen. Then a pair of threes sandwiching a layup led to an 8-2 run for the Wolverines, but that was only the precursor to the much larger tidal wave 24-10 run that was coming. By the time Loyola recovered from a Michigan barrage fueled by tired legs, turnovers and even more putbacks (led by Wagner), Sister Jean’s Easter goose was cooked. The Wolverines have won several different ways through this tournament — three-point shooting, defense, offensive rebounding, turnovers — but the point is that they keep on winning. John Beilein is probably the most underrated coach in college basketball, and he has his team poised to win a championship that nobody saw coming a month ago.
  3. What a Run It Was. A #11 seed that beat an ACC team, an SEC team, the Mountain West regular season champion and a Big 12 team in succession doesn’t come around very often. Throwing in a certifiable national sensation like Sister Jean and her uplifting messages (and fandom!) couldn’t have made for a better story in these otherwise trying times. Porter Moser has had a middling career to this point but sometimes all it takes is a special team to lift a coach up and give him the opportunity he deserves. And while Loyola may have to regroup for another 50 years before its next trip to the sports final weekend, college basketball remains better for the chance it provides schools like the urban Jesuit school from Chicago to achieve its own One Shining Moment.

Player of the Game. Moe Wagner, Michigan. The German import had the game of his life on the sport’s biggest stage, going for 24 points and 15 rebounds in a diverse floor game that often propped up the Wolverines when they needed something to go in the basket. His production in the Final Four has only been equaled by Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon.


  • “We ran a little more set plays because it was in front of our bench… easier to call.” — Michigan’s Moe Wagner, referring to the Wolverines’ offense opening up in the second half.
  • “They were one of the last four standing. That’s no Cinderella story.” — Michigan’s Charles Matthews, on Loyola as America’s team.
  • “They’re good. […] They don’t get the opportunity to play home games against schools like Michigan. And they probably never will. They stopped being a Cinderella to me when they got to the [Sweet] 16.” — John Beilein, referring to how he did not see Loyola as a Cinderella story.

Sights and Sounds. The Final Four is not the type of event (versus, say the regionals) where you arrive late for “your” game after dinner. Everyone is in their seats early for the full two-game session to take in the grandeur of it all. A result of that is it creates a situation where the early game — which is usually the early game for a reason — has less general crowd support for the two teams and can often fall flat if the game likewise does. That turned out to be the case for much of this evening, although when Michigan finally put together its second-half run to take the lead for good, the smattering of Wolverines’ fans around the Alamodome made themselves heard.

What’s Next. Michigan moves on to Monday night’s National Championship game where it will face the winner of Kansas and Villanova. The Wolverines will be at a decided disadvantage in both talent and crowd support, but that hasn’t stopped John Beilein’s gritty team to this point.

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