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One of the unlikeliest quartet of teams in NCAA men’s basketball tournament history takes the court Saturday, with two spots in the Final Four on the line.
No. 9 Kansas State and No. 11 Loyola of Chicago open Saturday’s Elite Eight slate in the South region final in Atlanta, while No. 3 Michigan faces No. 9 Florida State in the West region final in Los Angeles afterward.
Michigan was the only member of the quartet expected to be alive at this stage of the tournament, which makes Saturday’s action must-see television, as at least one Cinderella story is guaranteed to continue.
If you still have any money left from betting on the Big Dance, Saturday’s matchups present intriguing lines, as they are as close as you can get for this stage of March Madness.
Saturday’s Elite Eight Schedule
No. 9 Kansas State (Even) vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago (6:09 p.m. ET, TBS)
No. 3 Michigan (-4) vs. No. 9 Florida State (8:49 p.m. ET, TBS)
Kansas State and Loyola-Chicago’s matchup is the perfect representation of the absurdity of March Madness.
As CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander noted, both teams are looking to reach the Final Four for the first time since the 1960s:
Matt Norlander @MattNorlander
Kansas State last made the Final Four in 1964. Loyola Chicago last got there in 1963. On Saturday they’ll play each other, an improbable 9 and an 11, and one will finally get back. This 2018 NCAA Tournament is outrageous. And incredible.
The 11th-seeded Ramblers have been the darlings of the NCAA tournament since their first-round victory over No. 6 Miami, which was followed by a second-round triumph over No. 3 Tennessee.
Bruce Weber’s Wildcats might not be as captivating on a national level as Loyola, but they have an incredible story of their own. They knocked off No. 5 Kentucky with star player Dean Wade injured and Xavier Sneed on the bench after fouling out.
Kansas State was supposed to be a punching bag for No. 1 Virginia in the second round, but after knocking off No. 8 Creighton, it defeated a surprising foe in No. 16 UMBC.
Although the Wildcats are an underdog in their own right, they will be overshadowed once again by another headline-maker.
On the court, the Wildcats and Ramblers match up well, but there’s still plenty of concern of how available Wade will be.
Wade averages 16.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, but he’s played eight minutes, all of which came in the first half against Kentucky, in the NCAA tournament.
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In his absence, Kansas State received contributions from a plethora of players, but its offense has staggered a bit, as it hasn’t reached 70 points in three games.
In seven of Kansas State’s 10 conference victories, it eclipsed the 70-point barrier, and it hit that mark in all but two of its nonconference wins.
The last time the Ramblers scored more than 70 points was February 21 in a road victory over Southern Illinois.
In each of its three March Madness games, Loyola has won by one possession and scored in the 60s, with the 69-68 Sweet 16 win over Nevada representing its largest output of the tournament.
With a low-scoring, defensive affair expected in Atlanta, it’s understandable why the line is even.
Both teams received production from unlikely players in their three games, but Loyola has the better collection of stars with Wade injured.
Given their scoring consistency and ability to move the ball around to a few different scoring targets, the Ramblers hold the slight edge in this matchup.
Michigan looked like a team worthy of winning the national championship in Thursday’s blowout win over Texas A&M.
After struggling to find a rhythm from the field in the first two rounds, the Wolverines exploded to knock down 14 three-pointers in the 99-72 victory.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit four shots from beyond the arc, while big man Moritz Wagner struck three times from deep.
Abdur-Rahkman and Wagner combined for 55 points, but they were far from the lone contributors, as Charles Matthews, Zavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson reached double digits as well.
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No matter how deep Florida State, which had 11 different players score against No. 4 Gonzaga, is, the Wolverines have the firepower on the perimeter to overwhelm the Seminoles.
In Wagner, Michigan has a versatile big man who is going to draw Florida State’s frontcourt players closer to the three-point line, which opens up the lane for Abdur-Rahkman, Simpson and others to drive into the paint for layup opportunities.
Leonard Hamilton‘s Seminoles could counter Michigan’s output from three-point range with impressive shot-making of their own, as they hit at least six triples in each of their three victories.
While it has served as its biggest asset, Florida State’s depth could be an issue against Michigan.
In their three NCAA tournament games, the Seminoles received three double-digit point performances from their starters, while reserves have six 10-plus point outings.
Terance Mann is the only player to appear in the starting lineup with multiple games over 10 points, with his latest coming against Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
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If Michigan focuses its defense on Mann and shuts him down, the Seminoles have to find a playmaker, and it most likely won’t be one of their many big men, as they would be occupied with Wagner and Jon Teske.
That leaves guards Braian Angola, Trent Forrest or P.J. Savoy as the potential giant-killers. Angola, who averages 12.7 points per game, looks like the best candidate to fill that role, but he’s scored in single digits in three of his past five contests.
Forrest is a do-it-all player off the bench who has reached more than 10 points in four of his past five games. But he only eclipsed double digits twice in seven contests against ranked opposition in the regular season.
Just like Forrest, Savoy has given the Seminoles valuable minutes off the bench in the postseason, but he’s more of a role player asked to make a big shot or two throughout the game, as he’s reached 15 points twice in 26 games.
With Michigan continuing to shoot well and limiting Florida State’s best players, the Seminoles will have a hard time breaking through, as role players struggle to fit into the spotlight.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.