It’s the last day of March, which means one final chance to get our madness on, as 4 teams and their respective fanbases descend on San Antonio for the Final Four.
The first game of the double-header features the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (or, for the purposes of this thread, the Fighting Sister Jeans). #11 Loyola’s path to the Final Four has been a typical Cinderella story, with late-game heroics clinching victories over Miami and Tennessee in the first week of games, followed by a back and forth victory over Nevada in the Sweet 16 before the Ramblers were able to get their first blowout victory of the tournament over Kansas State in the Elite 8. The Ramblers have been the Cinderella story of the tournament, from winning a conference tournament just to gain entry into the field, to those exciting finishes, to Sister Jean, the team’s 98-year old chaplain and unofficial scouting director. The small school may not have the most supporters in San Antonio, but they have quickly become the sentimental favorite of the four remaining teams.
Opposite the Ramblers in the first game will be the Michigan Wolverines. The Wolverines will be the most familiar team to UCLA Bruins fans, as both teams faced off in a December tilt that saw the Wolverines prevail in OT (and, because this is a UCLA website, it should be noted that UCLA absolutely blew that game late and should have won). Michigan entered the tournament as a #3 seed, and was riding momentum from winning the Big 10 tournament, which led to a blowout victory over Montana in the opening round. As seems to be the case with many Final Four teams, the Wolverines needed a bit of luck along the way, and got that in a last-second desperation 3 by by Jordan Poole, who experienced an overdose of swag, to beat Houston and advance to the Sweet 16. Since that point, Michigan has been dominant, with an absolute blowout of Texas A&M and an Elite 8 victory over Florida State that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate. Michigan enters this game as the prohibitive favorite, and is looking to capture John Beilein’s first NCAA title, after losing in the finals of the 2013 tournament to Louisville, a win that the Cardinals have since vacated.
In the nightcap, two number one seeds will clash for the right to move on to the national championship. First up are the Villanova Wildcats, who won the Big East tournament and have been on an absolute tear since a late season loss to Creighton. Of all the teams in the Final Four, Villanova has been the least-challenged. The Wildcats won their opening weekend games over Radford and Alabama by an average of 24.5 points. West Virginia and their press gave the Wildcats a run in the Sweet 16, but Villanova eventually pulled away for a 12 point victory, and then kept Texas Tech at bay all game in the Elite 8 to punch their ticket to San Antonio. Jay Wright has quickly changed his reputation, going from a perennial tournament underachiever to being on the doorstep to his second national championship in 3 years. The Wildcats are led by this year’s AP Player of the Year and Wooden Award finalist Jalen Brunson.
Across from them will be the Kansas Jayhawks. The Jayhawks won their 14th straight Big 12 regular season title, and followed that up by winning the Big 12 Tournament. Kansas had an easy time disposing of Penn in the first round, but has been challenged ever since, starting with a close victory over Seton Hall to make the Sweet 16, then another close victory over Clemson to make it to the Elite 8. Kansas was in the best game of the Elite 8, as they went to overtime against Duke (and needed a last-second shot by Grayson Allen to miss just to get to that stage) before pulling away in the overtime period and clinch their spot in the Final Four. The trip to San Antonio will be a welcome one for coach Bill Self, as the last time he was in San Antonio for the Final Four, his Jayhawks beat Memphis to win Self’s only national title. This year’s iteration of the Jayhawks is not without it stars, as they’re led by Wooden Award finalist Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk.
Loyola-Chicago vs Michigan tips off at 3:09 PM PST, while Villanova vs Kansas is tentatively scheduled to tip off at 5:49 PM PST. Both games will be televised nationally on TBS, while streaming will be available through Hulu, CBS All-Access, and the March Madness app.
This is your Final Four open thread.