SAN ANTONIO — Michigan junior guard Charles Matthews received scholarship offers from Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and other major programs when he was starring at St. Rita. As far as he knew back then, Loyola basketball wasn’t really a thing.
It’s a thing now — a huge thing, and the next thing on the Wolverines’ plate. The teams face each other in the early game of Saturday’s national semifinals. The 6-6 Matthews, who is Michigan’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, is psyched to share center stage with the Ramblers.
“I’m ecstatic for them because I am a product of Chicago,” Matthews said. “I know the tough parts of growing up in that city. To see the positivity [surrounding their tournament run] and shedding light among the children in the city, I’m happy for them.”
But the Wolverines know Loyola is more than just a nice story. The chances of the Ramblers being taken lightly are nil.
“I value very much how good a team Loyola is,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They’re as good as any team in this tournament. They’ve proven that. And we’re going to have to play better than we’ve played if we’re playing [in the title game] Monday night.”
The Wolverines have been struck by how similar Loyola is to them in defensive approach and offensive versatility. It isn’t likely to be a high-scoring game, but the hot hand on either side could be just about anyone.
“You have to guard four guards,” Michigan senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. “This will be like guarding ourselves. They’re a great team, and they deserve to be here.”
It just so happens that these teams are streaking like nobody else in the country. Loyola, the No. 11 seed from the South Regional, has won 14 consecutive games. Michigan, the No. 3 seed from the West, has won 13 in a row.
“We’re the hottest teams, I guess,” Wolverines junior Mo Wagner said. “That’s college basketball. Seeding doesn’t matter. Every team that’s in the Final Four impresses me.”
Matthews, meanwhile, is trying not to let the Chicago angle of this Final Four distract him.
“I don’t know if it’s destiny, but I can’t get into those kind of thoughts,” he said. “It’s March — anything can happen.”