- Michigan is a 5.5-point favorite against Loyola-Chicago in the 2018 Final Four.
- Both teams have been good bets against the spread, but only one has covered all its tournament games.
- Should bettors take the points in what’s sure to be a low-scoring game?
Before the 2018 NCAA Tournament started, I ran through the 15 teams that had a legitimate chance to win the title and basically guaranteed that the national champ would come from that group. While three of this year’s Final Four — Villanova, Kansas, and Michigan — were on that list, Loyola-Chicago was very much not.
Will the Ramblers make me eat my words? Don’t bank on it because, to do so, they’ll have to beat the two best teams they’ve played all season.
They could still be a good ATS bet, though! On that note, let’s get to the only Michigan/Loyola preview you’ll read this week that doesn’t mention Sister You-know-who.
#3 Michigan (-5.5, 129 o/u) vs #11 Loyola-Chicago
Date/Location: Saturday, March 30 (3:09 PM ET), Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
If the only Michigan (32-7 SU, 24-13-1 ATS) game you saw all season was their Sweet 16 rout over Texas A&M (99-72), forget everything you think you know. This is a limited offensive team that plays at one of the slowest tempos in the nation (326th). They have failed to crack 70 points 14 times this season, and have been held under 60 four times, including in the Elite Eight against Florida State (58-54).
How are they still alive?
John Beilein, known for his offensive genius, has put together his most defensively stout team ever. Guards Charles Matthews and Zavier Simpson comprise one of the most tenacious backcourts in the country. Mo Wagner and Duncan Robinson aren’t exactly elite rim protectors down low, but they hustle on defense, know where to be in Beilein’s system, and have the length to bother people.
Everyone expected A&M’s frontcourt duo (Tyler Davis & Robert Williams) to eat the Wolverines alive inside. While they combined for 36 points on 17-25 shooting, the vast majority of those points came in what amounted to garbage time. Davis and Williams scored 26 of their points in the second half, and the Wolverines were already up by 24 at the break.
The defense has arguably been at its best in the tournament, holding opponents to just under 60 points per game. and the Wolverines have now climbed all the way to fourth in defensive efficiency. And that, in a nutshell, is why you should take Loyola (32-5 SU, 24-9 ATS) and the points.
Michigan does not have the horses to distance a team like Loyola. The Ramblers play at almost as slow a pace as UM (315th in tempo), meaning there will be very few possessions in this game. Loyola also has a top-20 defense and hasn’t given up more than 68 points in ten straight games. There’s a significant chance this game is played in the 50s.
Loyola still has to keep up its end of the bargain on the offensive end, of course, and there’s good reason to think they will. While they are only 60th overall in offensive efficiency, they shoot nearly 40% from three, hit over 72% of their free throws (compared to just 66% for Michigan) and, between Clayton Custer, Marques Townes, and Donte Ingram, have the veteran guard-play to deal with the ferocity of Matthews and Simpson.
Need a trend to make you feel better? They’ve covered six straight and eight of their last night have stayed under the total. This is, in all likelihood, going to be a tight, low-scoring affair.
Pick: Loyola (+5.5)