San Antonio — Michigan assistant coach Luke Yaklich is no stranger to Loyola-Chicago.
As an assistant and associate head coach at Illinois State the past four seasons, Yaklich has seen the Missouri Valley Conference foe eight times and helped guide the Redbirds to a 7-1 mark against the Ramblers.
But at this stage, Yaklich knows that record is meaningless heading into Saturday’s national semifinal showdown against No. 11 seed Loyola at the Alamodome.
“I think at this point whoever you face you have to go back to your principles,” Yaklich said outside Michigan’s locker room following Thursday’s practice. “You can tweak little things, but you have to stay in character with your team.
“Loyola does some things the same (as past seasons). They do a lot of things different, but the one thing about Coach (Porter) Moser’s team is that they play hard, they execute and they’re fundamentally sound. That’s never changed in the four years that I coached at Illinois State. Those kids did that every single game.”
However, Yaklich never has seen a Loyola team that can shoot quite like it has this season. The Ramblers rank third nationally in field-goal percentage (50.9 percent), 10th in 2-point field-goal percentage (57 percent) and tied for 16th in 3-point field-goal percentage (40 percent).
The key to Loyola’s effectiveness and efficiency stems from its ball movement, constant cutting and nonstop pursuit to find the open man every trip down the floor.
“That’s the kind of guys that Coach recruits in our system, very unselfish,” Loyola senior guard Donte Ingram said. “We take pride in spacing the floor and getting the ball moving, starting a domino on defense and that’s a big part of why we’re here today. We’re so unselfish and we don’t really care who scores because we’re moving the ball around.”
Sound familiar? Both Michigan and Loyola rank among the nation’s best in defensive efficiency, have an array of shooters who can make plays and value each offensive possession.
In a sense, it’s almost like the Wolverines will be guarding a similar version of themselves — albeit while having to defend four guards that the Ramblers tend to play at one time.
“Their big man (Cameron Krutwig) is a really good passer, so they’re able to move on every possession,” junior center Moritz Wagner said. “They cut really fast so you can never relax. You got to keep the motor running and they have a good balance between inside and outside game.
“They can shoot the ball, can punch it. They have a lot of stuff going on; it’s almost like us. Look at us. You’re never able to scout us because we have so many plays just like their playbook.”
One of the biggest challenges for Michigan will be defending and taking away open looks at the 3-point line, something the Wolverines have done successfully throughout the NCAA Tournament.
They’ve held Montana and Texas A&M each to 20 percent on 3-pointers, and have allowed their four tournament opponents to connect on just 26.2 percent (17-for-65) of their long-range shots.
Replicating that stingy success against Loyola, which has made at least eight 3-pointers in three of its four tournament games, won’t be an easy task because it seemingly has no shortage of 3-point threats.
The Ramblers have six players who are shooting at least 36.4 percent from beyond the arc for the season, led by guards Clayton Custer (45.4 percent), Lucas Williamson (42 percent) and Ben Richardson (40.4 percent). And so far in the tournament, three Ramblers have made at least seven 3-pointers — Custer (8-for-14), Richardson (7-for-16) and Ingram (7-for-19).
“For us, everything is about our defense in terms of our ability to make people miss shots,” Yaklich said. “They’re really good shooters. They’re really good for a lot of different reasons. You have to work really hard for the whole possession against Loyola and you’re going to have to work to make them miss.”
Yaklich added Michigan is not going to be able to mimic what Loyola does in any of its practice work and preparation leading up to Saturday’s showdown. Instead, he said it’s going to come down to another form of familiarity — hammering home the same defensive principles that have gotten the Wolverines this far.
“This practice, preparation for Loyola is the same preparation we use for Southern Miss and whatever other road game in the state of Texas,” Yaklich said. “We’re just the same. We have the same routine, the same plan and we stick to that plan.”
Michigan vs. Loyola-Chicago
Tip-off: 6:09 p.m. Saturday, Alamodome, San Antonio
TV/radio: TBS/WWJ 950
Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 32-7; No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago 32-5
Up next: Winner advances to Monday’s national championship game against Villanova-Kansas winner.