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The left side of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket was busted in the first round.
As the South and West regions have dwindled down to two teams each, perennial powers Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky and Xavier have fallen victim to upsets.
No. 3 Michigan is the highest seed playing in Saturday’s Elite Eight contests, while a pair of No. 9 seeds and a No. 11 round out the Final Four hopefuls.
Although the matchups might not contain four marquee programs, each of Saturday’s Elite Eight participants carries its own unique intrigue.
Saturday Elite Eight Schedule (Odds via OddsShark)
No. 9 Kansas State (Even) vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago (6:09 p.m., TBS)
No. 3 Michigan (-4) vs. No. 9 Florida State (8:49 p.m., TBS)
All Times ET
Not only has Loyola-Chicago displayed toughness in tight spots with a trio of one-possession wins, it’s received key contributions from a plethora of players.
Donte Ingram was the hero in the first-round victory over No. 6 Miami, as he knocked down the game-winning basket with 0.3 seconds remaining on the clock.
Clayton Custer stepped into the spotlight in the second round by hitting the game-winning jumper with 3.6 seconds left against No. 3 Tennessee.
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In Thursday’s Sweet 16 triumph over No. 7 Nevada, it was Marques Townes who delivered the game-clinching shot, a three-pointer that extended the advantage to four points with 6.3 seconds to go.
In addition to Ingram, Custer and Townes, the 11th-seeded Ramblers possess a large body down low in freshman Cameron Krutwig, a distributor in Ben Richardson and Aundre Jackson featuring in the sixth man role.
The well-rounded core presents Kansas State with all sorts of challenges, as the Wildcats won’t be able to focus in on one or two players on defense, like they did against Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Kentucky.
Not only can the Ramblers beat opponents with different players, they are one of the most unselfish teams in men’s basketball.
Once you think Loyola is contained, its guards wait an extra second or two to make an additional pass that most programs pass up.
Kansas State hasn’t received the attention it deserves throughout the tournament because of Cinderella teams like Loyola, but it has made it this far without leading scorer Dean Wade, who featured in a minimal role against Kentucky.
Each player in Bruce Weber’s rotation filled an important void in the first three games, with Barry Brown, Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra making big shots in the Sweet 16.
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However, Kansas State won’t have enough to contain Loyola for 40 minutes without Wade at full strength.
The X-factor for the Ramblers will be Krutwig, who should use his stocky frame to his advantage against the combination of Levi Stockard and Makol Mawien, who were two of three Wildcats to foul out Thursday.
If Krutwig thrives in the paint, it forces Kansas State to commit numbers to the frontcourt, which in turn opens up space on the perimeter for the Loyola guards to knock down key three-pointers and open up a sizable advantage.
After watching the Michigan Wolverines play Thursday, it’s hard to pick against John Beilein‘s team in the Elite Eight.
The Wolverines own a 12-game winning streak that dates back to a February 11 victory over Wisconsin.
During the run, Michigan displayed it is able to win different types of games, whether it be in overtime, one that features an ugly shooting performance, or a complete domination of an opponent.
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In the NCAA tournament, the Wolverines have won in a few varieties, starting with the 61-47 struggle against No. 14 Montana in which they shot 44.7 percent from the field and missed eight free throws.
Michigan proved it is capable of finishing off close games in the second round, as it survived a battle with No. 6 Houston on a buzzer-beater from Jordan Poole.
The Wolverines replicated their form from the end of the Big Ten campaign Thursday, as they gave Texas A&M no chance of staying in the game with a three-point assault.
If we see any semblance of the same team from Thursday, Michigan is going to cruise into the Final Four and enter as the favorite to make the National Championship out of the left part of the bracket.
Beilein’s team has the potential to overwhelm Florida State because of its versatility, with Moritz Wagner being the most important player on the roster.
Although Wagner has the potential to control the contest in the paint, he will be asked to move away from the basket to keep Florida State’s big men further from the hoop.
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Once the Wolverines drop in a few three-point shots, they should have more space to operate in down low, which means Wagner and Jon Teske could take over.
The Seminoles are overlooked entering Saturday because of the Wolverines’ success against Texas A&M, but they have a chance to challenge the No. 3 seed because of their depth.
Terance Mann is Florida State’s star, and while he’s joined by a strong supporting cast, Michigan is going to bring too much to the table for the Seminoles to handle.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.