LOS ANGELES--Michigan will face Loyola Chicago next Saturday in a not-so-uncommon, second-round NCAA bracket pairing of No. 3 vs. No. 11.
Wait a minute—that’s not right at all.
This No. 3 is facing THAT No. 11 in the Final Four! That’s not garden-variety, that’s nuts.
Loyola of Chicago versus Michigan of Ann Arbor became reality in the City of Angels after Saturday’s West Regional finals win over the Seminoles of Tallahassee.
For the love of God.
Loyola rambled onward with a little help from Sister Jean while Michigan leaned on Saint John (Beilein), who returns to the Final Four looking to make amends for the one that got away--the 2013 finals loss to Louisville.
And while the NCAA has since vacated Louisville’s crown for violating at least four of the Ten Commandments, Michigan wasn't awarded the trophy by default any more than Oklahoma was able to claim USC's vacated BCS football title of 2004.
The Wolverines have to go down to San Antonio next weekend to earn this one on their own. It would be the program’s first title since 1989.
Michigan may be the better team but is definitely on the short end of Final Four rooting interest and host venue religiosity. San Antonio is named after Saint Anthony, a long-dead Portuguese Catholic priest and friar of the Franciscan order who is also the patron saint of lost things, you know, like car keys. Michigan's opponent is pontifically tied to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Basque priest beatified in 1609 and canonized in 1622. He is responsible for founding the Society of Jesus.
Michigan famously founded the Society of Schembechlers.
What do Wolverine players know about Loyola's Sister Jean, who has become the most famous nun on TV since Sally Field?
"I know that she didn't have Loyola Chicago in the Elite Eight," forward Moritz Wagner joked. "I know that. She was on my Instagram a lot in the last days."
The world, outside of Michigan's campus and the school's massive alumni base, will now be raising pitch forks against the big, bad devil-may-care Wolverines. It's only March, but Loyola is already the feel-good sports story of 2018. In fact, if Beilein didn't have skin in this game, he might even be thumbing Rambler rosary beads.
"I went to a Jesuit school, Wheeling Jesuit," he said before giving a dissertation on Jesuit-related topics before concluding, "that's how much I know about stuff, about the Catholic schools."
We all knew Michigan probably wouldn’t\couldn't shoot lights out at Staples like it did Thursday night, when the Wolverines made 14 of 24 three-point attempts to send Texas A&M back to College Station.
The shocker on Saturday was how badly Michigan shot and still managed to win an ugly 58-54, technical KO decision over Florida State in which both benches could have used cut men.
Michigan claimed victory and cut down nets despite making only four-of-22 three-point attempts and 19 of 49 total shots for the game.
Wagner, the team’s German-born star, missed all seven of his three-point shots.
The German word for crap (manure) is mist.
And yet…and yet.
Michigan took advantage of even poorer shooting by ninth-seeded Florida State (a crap shoot to even get this far?), which made only 16 of 51 shots (31.4%).
The purists will credit quality defense by both teams to account for the brick convention.
From my almost court-side seat, though, I saw a lot of open looks that just did not go in. I saw two teams that couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. I saw clank and bank shots that made you want to seek cover under your desk like those old atom-bomb safety drills in elementary school.
They say history doesn’t remember how you won, although there was that year (2011) Connecticut outlasted Butler in the ugliest NCAA title game ever contested. I won't soon forget that game, in Houston, or how I felt about the Final Four being played there.
I loved the L.A. Times headline on my game story, "It's Bricker Shock," as UConn outlasted Butler despite shooting 34.5% from the field. But that was nearly perfection compared with Butler's 12-for-64 effort (18.8%).
Michigan won Saturday because it had longer finger nails and managed to cliff-hang through a late Florida State surge.
The Wolverines almost started celebrating too early after Duncan Robinson’s corner three, with 2:22 left, put his team up by 10.
A minute later, though, after several wild shots, missed free throws and mad scrambles for loose balls, PJ Savoy hit a three to cut the lead to three.
"If anybody followed us all year, up 10 doesn't mean a lot to us because we're just not a great foul-shooting team," Beilein said. "...So the game was a long way from being over."
It was a nerve-wracking final minute for the Michigan-heavy Staples crowd, which featured former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard.
Michigan could only exhale after Robinson’s two free throws, with 20.9 left, all but clinched the win.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton will be criticized for not fouling enough in the final two minutes, or even the final 11 seconds, when he let the clock run out without a fight. Hamilton was then rude and unprofessional in fending off legitimate post-game questions from court-side reporter Dana Jacobson.
"Do you think the game came down to the final seconds of the game?" Hamilton said as if speaking to um, a woman. "The game was over."
It could only have been worse had Jacobson asked the coach whether he thought Florida State would always be a "football school."
Hamilton was obviously still hurting in defeat and recovered in time to probably avoid a protest march led by Doris Burke.
"It's very easy to micro-evaluate when the game's over," he said later at his press conference. "You can go back and really try to dissect it and see what you could have done. But there are no absolutes.
Except, this time of year, the losing team always goes home.
Hamilton released a statement Sunday, apologizing to Jacobson by saying "I did not initially respond to her questions as I would have liked and she was doing her job in asking them...I wish I could have done better."
Florida State, to me, was the least likely of the 27 (or so) ACC schools invited to this NCAA Tournament. Hamilton’s team defeated three higher seeds to make it to the Round of Eight and impressed a lot of us west-coasters with their 15-point Thursday win over Gonzaga.
Florida State was seeking its first Final Four berth since 1972, when the Hugh Durham-coached Seminoles lost in the finals to a team that used to play upper-echelon basketball in this part of the country.
Does the name UCLA ring a bell?
UCLA was in the groovy, sweet spot of its run of seven straight NCAA titles under John Wooden. The Bruins defeated FSU, 81-76, in the since-demolished Los Angeles Sports Arena.
It capped UCLA's perfect season but rarely is it mentioned how close FSU came to ending what eventually became UCLA’s 88-game winning streak.
UCLA’s average margin of victory in 1971-72 was an astonishing 30. 3 points per game.
So, after winning the national title by only five, sophomore center Bill Walton said “I felt like we lost it.”
Walton finished with 24 points and 20 rebounds. There were a few 7-footers on the floor on Saturday but nothing close to the likes of Mister Bill, who once made 21 of 22 shots in an NCAA championship game.
They don't grow them like Walton anymore, so we'll stop complaining right now to avoid sounding like an old codger who pines for the good old days.
When, in fact, some of those days were...what's that German word for crap?
Michigan forward Wagner could tell you: mist.