Is the Final Four the final stop for Loyola-Chicago? Can it even handle a team like Michigan? Because it’s yet to beat a team quite like it on its magical run.
Those are my two big questions ahead of the early game at the Final Four on Saturday. Loyola is getting five with a total is 128.5.
An 11-seed is the lowest ever to reach a Final Four. The first three 11s to do it (LSU in ’86, George Mason in ’06 and VCU in ’11) all lost here, in the semifinal. Looking at the two 21st century examples: George Mason was rocked by the first of back-to-back champion Florida teams and VCU lost by eight to an 8, a Butler team lost in the finals to Kemba Walker and UConn. An 8 has been the both the lowest seed to win the tournament and even just make it to the final game.
Some teams aspire to more than others. It’s possible Loyola’s season became a success when it won the Missouri Valley Tournament. I doubt the Ramblers were satisfied after upsetting Miami because they came back and played great against Tennessee two days later. They didn’t look satisfied against Nevada or Kansas State, either.
The Final Four is different because it literally is the final destination — you get a trophy for getting there and that’s where it ends, whether you lose on Saturday or stick around until Monday. Some teams have been more prepared than others because of this.
The question applies to both sides but I’m confident Michigan has had title aspirations since it won the Big Ten Tournament. Each teams will want to win as much as the other when they tip at 6:05 but if Loyola’s title aspirations only kicked in on Tuesday morning after everyone got the confetti out of their hair, Michigan will be better prepared.
We can’t assume George Mason lost to Florida in 2006 or that VCU lost to Butler in 2011 because it was more satisfied with just getting to the Final Four than its opponent was, but we can speculate. I don’t have a reason to expect Loyola will be underprepared on Saturday, nor am I in position to have one. So while it isn’t a reason to fade the Ramblers, it is on the list of why it could be a good idea to.
Miami was good this season; so was Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State. Loyola wasn’t necessarily better than any of them, but it had a fighter’s chance each time. The Wolverines are bigger, better, deeper and better coached than any of those other four, though, and it feels like Loyola is going to have to be fortunate to just be in this fight. I’m more comfortable laying the points.
Free Pick: Wolverines -5