LOS ANGELES -- How ya wanna play 'em, Ramblers?
We get the whole Chi-town Cinderella thing, Loyola, but the Victors from Michigan out here in La-La Land have a thing or two to say. More specifically, they have a way or two to play.
With Michigan getting to the Final Four for the second time in six years under John Beilein, let's get one thing straight. Loyola-Chicago is going to have to figure Michigan out.
Not the other way around.
At least that's the way it looked from here on the West Coast. In surviving a 58-54 West Regional final against Florida State, Michigan proved to be a high-resource version of the Ramblers, who've won over a lot of hearts and minds these past two weekends.
But there's a reckoning coming next weekend. It's time for Sister Jean to meet the Wolverines.
Two days after its best shooting game of the season (62 percent vs. Texas A&M), the Wolverines won hitting 4 of 22 from beyond the arc.
They won shooting 39 percent overall and being outrebounded by a team that finished tied for eighth in the ACC. But in the same week they ran the Aggies off the floor, they kept the Seminoles from making any meaningful run. They won hitting the deck for loose balls more than they hit shots.
They went from Michigan's best tournament output in a quarter-century against A&M to a first-one-to-60 nail-biter.
"I don't think Loyola knows what it's getting into," Michigan guard Jordan Poole said.
Yes, they sure are shape shifters, these Wolverines. Seven days after being outplayed for 39 minutes against Houston in a second-round game, Michigan pulled off its biggest rebound of the season. From a near-humiliating second-round exit at the hands of the Cougars to the promised land in San Antonio.
Twenty days after winning the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines then had to wait 11 days for this journey.
The reward? In reaching their eighth Final Four, the Wolverines had the second "easiest" journey to the promised land in history.
That might as well be the most misleading stat of the tournament.
"We can play it any way," center Mo Wagner said. "If we play good defense, we can beat anyone. If our shots fall, we can beat anyone."
The entire month has been a walk along a fine line. Poole is the guy who saved the Wolverines from making spring break plans. His splay-footed 28-foot 3-point bomb against Houston at the buzzer kept Michigan hopes alive.
Now the Wolverines are soaring.
"You just described sports and this tournament," athletic director Warde Manuel said. "That's what this is about."
Yeah, but no one is going to call Michigan anything close to a Cinderella. Everything they do, have and relate to is gilded. It starts with the largest football stadium in the country and that $50 million annual revenue check from the Big Ten.
Michigan has the fifth-largest athletic budget in the country, according to USA Today. Only the fact that Loyola is a private school keeps it from handing over its balance sheet and being on that list. But trust us, Michigan's granola bar budget probably outstrips the Ramblers' debt service.
With that comes expectations. Two months ago, these Wolverines were soaring (initially) at 16-4. They lost at Nebraska by 20. They finished tied for fourth in the Big Ten.
They certainly weren't considered favorites in this tournament emerging from what was considered a down Big Ten.
When the confetti cleared Saturday night, they had won 13 straight and a school-record 32 games. Known for being offensively efficient under Beilein, these Wolverines could lead the Big Ten in scoring defense for only the fourth time in 102 years.
"I think there is a false perception of Michigan," Beilein said. "We've got a bunch of kids who are easy to like, that they're not tough. The Big Ten is tough. You don't win 13 games in the Big Ten, you don't win four games in four days without being tough.
"They call themselves pit bulls."
We would like to call them human Gumbys, able to play any style and adapt to any kind of game. You can stretch 'em, bend 'em, hit 'em, just about throw them against the wall. They always rebound.
And not just the ball.
Check the jersey of freshman forward Isaiah Livers. Two big splotches of blood were spread above the No. 4 on his jersey.
"It was at the end of the game. Coach said, 'Box out,' " Livers said.
Yeah, but was the blood yours or theirs?
"It's definitely mine, definitely [from] the nose," Livers said.
That's pretty much a summation of the whole game, one that only a Harbaugh could love. For most of the contest, Michigan continued walking that fine line between defeating -- or being pulled into -- Florida State's physical defensive style that features a bunch of 7-foot wingspans on defense.
The Seminoles blocked seven shots. Michigan forced 15 turnovers.
It wasn't until Duncan Robinson dropped two free throws with 20.9 seconds left that the issue was sort of decided.
Down four with 10 seconds left, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton curiously had his players back off and allow Michigan to run out the clock.
Hamilton got salty in a broadcast postgame interview saying, "The game was over."
That might have been the only ground either team ceded all night. The Seminoles were so resilient that it looked like karma was theirs. They had a stretch of 10:43 spanning both halves in which they scored exactly one basket. They went from the 10-minute mark to the five-minute mark in the second half without scoring a field goal, but still cut Michigan's six-point lead in half.
"Coach preaches we're the outliers," Livers said. "He says, 'Who is going to be the outlier in this locker room?' It could be multiple or it could be one. Tonight it was the whole team."
But who were these Seminoles? They are 15 players on the roster from seven states and six countries. Seven-foot-four Christ Koumadje from Chad is the tallest athlete in Florida State history. He starts but averages less than 17 minutes.
That puts Koumadje 15 inches taller than fellow starter, 6-1 guard C.J. Walker.
They were a curious, overachieving bunch. Hamilton had willed this team to its first Elite Eight in 24 years. The Noles coach is a testament to endurance. Hamilton lost his 418th career game on Saturday. That makes him the second-losingest active coach, now No. 8 on the all-time list for losses by Division I coaches.
But he has also won 400 games. Loyola's 55-year drought since its last Final Four appearance in 1963 made FSU's last Final Four seem like yesterday.
In a game of two football powerhouses, Michigan had a little bit more depth at the other sport.
Check out guard Charles Matthews. He came into that Houston game in a funk, having shot 37 percent in his previous eight games.
Here in L.A., the Chicago native became the regional's most outstanding player scoring a combined 30 points in the two games.
"At the beginning of the season we were screaming, trying to get into the Top 25 rankings," Matthews said. "We weren't even in the top 10 of the Big Ten in preseason.
"We always say, we're the champions of the day."
Cue the fight song. They're more than that. It's time to call Michigan the true "Champions of the West (Regional)" out here in La-La Land.
It's also time to put the Ramblers on warning.
"They have to slow down," Matthews said. "I don't know what's in the water they're drinking in Chicago right now, but it's going to be fun."