If you had Loyola-Chicago in your Final Four, the rest of us would like to know about the 2018 midterm elections, tomorrow’s lottery numbers and the date of the Game of Thrones season nine premiere.
The Ramblers have been the darlings of March Madness, as they enter San Antonio with all the support that comes with being an underdog. But the allure of Loyola-Chicago rests in that they were — and still are, to an extent — unknown.
Unless you’re Michigan assistant coach Luke Yaklich.
Prior to joining the Wolverines, the defensive maestro went 7-1 against the Ramblers in his four seasons spent at Illinois State as an assistant coach and is familiar, at least fundamentally, with coach Porter Moser’s style of play.
“Coach Moser is an unbelievable coach … you have to be locked in on both ends of the floor,” Yaklich said. “It’s gonna be a dog fight. His teams reflect his personality. They’re prepared, they get better, tough and they have a bunch of really great kids that have been through the Missouri Valley and non-conference wars.
“Loyola is obviously gonna have our full attention all week, and we’re thrilled with the opportunity to play in the Final Four against a really good and well-coached team.”
Yaklich has been the architect of Michigan’s top-five defense that has propelled them to the Final Four. His expertise could help lead the Wolverines past Loyola-Chicago and into the National Championship game.
C.J. Baird becomes a fan favorite
Besides the victories themselves, there was a clear-cut, feel-good moment from Michigan’s second weekend matchups — C.J. Baird’s last-minute 3-pointer in the blowout over Texas A&M.
The walk-on freshman had scored only once this season — a layup — against Alabama A&M on Dec. 21.
“It’s the best feeling of my life,” Baird said. “I told Ibi Watson when I got in there I’m gonna shoot it and he said, ‘Okay, do it then.’ I was kinda nervous when (Jaaron Simmons) called me because I’m like, ‘Oh, they actually want me to do this.’ I didn’t think they’d actually let me do it.”
The nearly 30-foot shot catapulted Baird into Twitter fame. Besides a couple thousand mentions to his name, former Cleveland Browns quarterback and Texas A&M alum Johnny Manziel also tweeted at Baird, “Final four bound @baird_cj #IfYouCantBeatEmJoinEm” and promised an appearance in San Antonio.
Baird also scored a video interview with The Ringer that racked up 146,000 views.
While the shot put the walk-on in the spotlight, it also brought attention to the rest of the scout team for their efforts in game preparation throughout the season.
Football coaches react to Michigan basketball success
There is one thing that the football and basketball teams clearly have in common: elite defense.
On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Don Brown spoke with the media and talked not only about his team’s improvements over the offseason, but he also marvelled at the basketball team’s hard-nosed play.
“They’re doing everything,” Brown said. “The point guard, (Zavier) Simpson? He’s an impressive guy. Boy, I remember watching him and l’m like, he’s a dude now.
“Let’s get him out there, I’m sure coach (Jim Harbaugh) would love that. I’m enjoying the ride like everybody else.”
Harbaugh also raved about how the basketball team and his coaching counterpart, John Beilein, have ascended to once-unthinkable ranks.
Unlike Brown, Harbaugh wasn’t reserved about his praise for the team.
“They’re beasts,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going too far on a limb here, I think that the way the team played (against Texas A&M), they could’ve beat the Los Angeles Lakers. … Guys were attacking on both ends of the floor on the offensive side and the defensive side. So much excitement for Coach Beilein and his staff and the team. And onward.”