Loyola – IL vs Kansas State
Worst Elite 8 matchup in recent memory. The tournament has been trash this year and it’s not going to change anytime soon with an 11 seed or a 9 seed in the Final Four. I give these teams credit though, not too many people (including myself) thought that they would make it this far. Loyola’s defense and late game offense is what has gotten them to this point in the tournament and what could potentially bring them to the Final Four. In their last matchup with Nevada, Loyola spread out the floor on offense and was able to pretty much have a layup line going against the Nevada defense. They play a 4-out, 1-in ball screen offense which allows them to drive and kick for open shots. This is an extremely patient offense which makes for some boring game play, but it works for them and I don’t see them straying away from it in this game. They have a good ability to make on-the-fly changes during the game because of their versatile lineup. I’ve been doubting this team the whole tournament and bashing their boring style of basketball, but it’s been working for them and I don’t think they really care what I have to say. Loyola might have an advantage in this game because the Kansas State defense makes teams play deep into the shot clock and that’s the exact game plan of Loyola. Kansas State has been able to win games without their leading scorer Dean Wade and even if he does play in this game, I wouldn’t expect too much from him. If anything he’ll be used late game as a decoy to get open shots for Cartier Diarra and Barry Brown. Kansas State’s defense was able to take advantage of Kentucky’s inability to play late into the shot clock on offense and their lack of lateral quickness on defense. They won’t have the same advantage on the defensive side of the ball, but Xavier Sneed could cause some problems for a less athletic Loyola defense. Kansas State needs Dean Wade to play in this one and be 100% healthy to get all of their advantages on offense. Without Wade, it is likely that Makol Mawein will see a bulk of the minutes. This can be an issue for K-State because Mawein is less versatile than Wade and is only effective on offense when he is down low on the block, exactly where Cameron Kurtwig is most effective on defense. Without Wade causing a clear mismatch for the Kansas State offense, the Loyola defense will be able to switch 1-4 on defense when defending the pick and roll, a play that Kansas State relies heavily on. I expect there to be more three point shots in this game than usual just because of the grind it out interior defense that both of these teams play. This will be a lower scoring game and probably pretty boring to watch until the last 2 minutes or so. I think Kansas State has more of a reason to win this game than Loyola does. Both teams are obvious underdogs to make it to the Final Four, but everyone and their mother is talking about the Loyola story. I have said this in my previous 3 articles that included Loyola games, but I finally (hopefully) think this is it for the Ramblers. Kansas State may not be able to pull away or have a comfortable lead at any point in this game, but they should be able to win. They were able to exploit Kentucky’s athleticism and the Wildcats were just as hot as anyone else in the tournament before playing K-State. Kansas State 62 Loyola 58.
Michigan vs Florida State
Both of these teams are coming off of very impressive wins. Michigan absolutely blew out Texas A&M and FSU beat a pretty solid Gonzaga team. Michigan finally found their stroke on offense and that’s going to be trouble for any team they face the rest of this tournament. Duncan Robinson and Mo Wagner really stepped up and took control of the offense. I expect more of the same in this game, but it will not be as easy against a very athletic, very long Florida State team. I like that the Wolverines were extremely efficient from three against A&M (14-24), but in the first two rounds, they struggled mightily and had very narrow victories against two teams they should have beaten by a lot more. The defense of Michigan won them their first two games in this tournament and their offense won them the last one. It’s going to be a scary sight for Florida State if the Michigan offense and defense are both clicking at the same time in this game. I expect Michigan to keep going to their two guard pick-and-roll with Mo Wagner, but they will shoot more outside jumpers because of the size of Florida State, which is fine for them if they are hitting shots, but we’ve already seen twice in this tournament that they can go cold from the floor. Florida State is the tallest team in the country and that could really help them out in this game. Michigan forces teams to defend every player on the floor at the perimeter because of their shooting ability, which can cause issues for the FSU defense, but if FSU can force Michigan inside the paint, the Seminoles will have a big advantage. The Seminole defense pretty much shut down Gonzaga in the second half of their last game and if their defense comes out playing like that again, this will be a dogfight. On offense, Florida State excels at getting to the rim and getting points in transition. This is where their athleticism will be an advantage for them. Michigan has some athletes on their side of the ball as well, but Terrance Mann is a matchup nightmare for any opposing defenses even one that’s among the best in the country. Florida State likes to play a physical game and will take the ball right at Mo Wagner to try and get him in early foul trouble. Florida State will have a field day down low if they can get the Michigan big men in foul trouble early in the game, similar to what they did with Rui Hachimura against Gonzaga. When it comes down to it, Michigan has one of the best coaches in all of college basketball and they rarely make mistakes when they possess the ball. I think experience and patience is going to be key for Michigan in this game and that’ll allow them to win. Michigan 74 Florida State 66.