For the first time since 2014, they’ll hold the Final Four without any ACC teams involved. Four of the nine ACC teams that made the NCAA Tournament were eliminated directly by the teams that will be competing for the national title in San Antonio. Kansas knocked off Clemson and Duke last weekend to advance to the Final Four, while Michigan took out Florida State in the regional semifinal. Loyola-Chicago’s improbable run to the Final Four began with a game-winning shot against Miami. Only Villanova, the lone non-ACC team to take home a national title in the last three years, didn’t beat a team from the conference on its run this year.
Despite a lack of local teams, here’s a look at this Saturday’s national semifinals.
Loyola-Chicago vs. Michigan
Remember Maryland-Baltimore County? The Retrievers became the first 16-seed to win an NCAA game when they knocked off No. 1 Virginia. It didn’t take Loyola long to take the title of Cinderella from UMBC, however. The Ramblers beat Miami by two, Tennessee by one and Nevada by one before blowing out Kansas State to become just the fourth 11-seed to make the Final Four. The team’s leading scorer is Clayton Custer (13.2 points per game, 4.2 assists per game), but the breakout star of the team is 98-year old chaplain Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt. The elderly, wheelchair-bound nun was a Chicago fixture dating back to Loyola’s last trip to the Final Four, in 1963. They’ll be facing a Michigan team that is also a surprise visitor to San Antonio. Veteran coach John Beilein did perhaps the best team-building job of his career to get the underrated Wolverines to their eighth Final Four. Like Loyola, Michigan benefitted from an upset-heavy tournament, beating No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 9 FSU instead of top seed Xavier and No. 2 UNC to win the region. Michigan’s strength is its defense, giving up just 63.1 points per game, which ranks eighth in the NCAA. The team only has three double-digit scorers, led by Mortiz Wagner (14.3 points, 6.9 rebounds).
Villanova vs. Kansas
The opening game has the feel of a JV contest, before the blue bloods take the floor. The only two top seeds to survive their regions will face off for a spot in Monday’s title game. Villanova, who won the title two years ago, cruised to the Final Four this year, winning all four NCAA games by double digits and an average margin of victory of 18.25 points. The Wildcats are a scoring machine, leading the NCAA with 86.6 points per game. Jalen Brunson (19.2 points, 4.6 assists) leads a balanced attack that features six double-digit scorers. Kansas had a rockier road, trailing 16-seed Penn in the first round, then slipping past Seton Hall by four, Clemson by four and beating Duke in overtime. The Jayhawks are led by Raleigh native Devonte’ Graham, whose 7.3 assists per game were fifth-best in the country. He also leads the team with 17.2 points per game. The Jayhawks are in their 15th Final Four and are seeking their fourth title.