As of Monday afternoon, Villanova was a 6.5 point favorite over Michigan to win the NCAA men’s basketball championship tonight in San Antonio. And if you’re into Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, he gives Villanova a 69 percent chance to win its second national title in three seasons. Dr. Ed Feng, another superb analyst, has a win probability of 81 percent for Villanova.
I think 6.5 points is a generous spread, and bettors evidently are underestimating Michigan. If you’re determined to look for reasons to believe the Wolverines can keep it close, and hang with Villanova long into the evening to take advantage of a flurry of missed shots and turnovers in the final two minutes, it’s easy to identify a few:
X Michigan’s defense is rated 4th nationally in adjusted efficiency at KenPom, and the Wolverines leaned on that defense to avoid elimination when their offense labored against Florida State and Loyola-Chicago.
X Villanova is a confident and prolific 3-point shooting team (more on that later) but Michigan has one of the best defenses in the nation in denying opponents to take treys. Opponents have attempted 29.8% of their floor shots from 3 distance; that makes Michigan No. 5 in the nation at preventing 3-point tries. The Wolverines upset Purdue — an excellent 3-ball team — in the Big Ten Tournament by limiting the Boilermakers to 17 shots from beyond the arc. And Purdue made only 4 of 17 from 3-point range.
X Michigan has won 14 consecutive games and 16 of its last 17.
X Michigan’s John Beilein is among the smartest coaches in the nation, with a special skill for scouting opponents and formulating strategy on short notice. He can get his team prepared, schematically, for quick turnaround games in tournaments as well as any coach in the nation.
X Michigan big man Mo Wagner is a unique talent who can shoot it from any spot, overpower opponents to the rim, handle the ball, and make dexterous passes. Wagner saved his team Saturday with 24 points and 15 rebounds, carrying the Wolverines back from a 10-point deficit in the second half in the semifinal disposal of Loyola-Chicago.
X Jalen Brunson is the perfect point guard to run the Villanova offense, but Michigan’s Zavier Simpson is a defensive specialist who could make it difficult for Brunson to maneuver. Simpson doesn’t have to stop Brunson; slowing him is sufficient for Michigan’s cause.
So there … I gave Michigan fans and hopefuls some dream pills there.
But I just cannot go against Villanova here. I don’t plan on wagering on Monday’s title game. If I did throw down $50 or so, I’d probably take Michigan to cover. But I have no real confidence in that. I do, however, have maximum confidence in Villanova’s ability to win this game on any terms — any style, any tempo, any set of circumstances.
Here’s why Villanova will complete the mission and stand as college basketball’s reigning power when the clock strikes zero on Michigan tonight:
1-Villanova is the superior all-around team with no debilitating weakness. The Wildcats are ranked No. 1 overall at KenPom. Rated No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency. No. 1 in effective field goal percentage, 59.6%. They’re No. 11 in three-point shooting percentage (40.1%), No. 3 in two-point shooting percentage (60%), No. 10 in free-throw percentage (78%.) The Cats limit turnovers, ranking 13th nationally by turning the ball over on only 15 percent of possessions.
2-With a high-powered offense giving Villanova its identity, the team’s 14th-ranked defense gets overlooked. In terms of points allowed per 100 possessions, there isn’t much difference between Villanova (94.4) and Michigan (90.4.) But there is a significant difference offensively in points per 100 possessions: Villanova 127.6 to Michigan’s 115.
3- It isn’t just that Villanova scores a lot of points, hits more threes than any team in the nation, and makes such an impressive percentage of threes given that 40 percent of the team’s shots come from three range. But it’s the depth and dimension of the shooters. Using KenPom’s offensive rating — 100 is average — Villanova has eight players with an O Rating of 118.7 or higher. That’s nuts. And Villanova has six players making just under 39 percent of their three-point attempts this season, and another hitting them at 36 percent. Three players standing 6-8 or taller — Omari Spellman, Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall are highly capable bombers from outside.
4- It easy to say “deny the three-point shots” when defending Nova. … fine, go ahead and deny … then you have to deal with five Villanova players on the floor who can drive to the basket … hence the excellent 59% shooting on two-point shots. When the point guard, Brunson, can post up on the base line, and the 6-9 dudes, Spellman and Paschall, can fill the net with threes … how do you stop this? Matchup migraines, everywhere.
5- Much respect to Michigan but this horse has been running on a much easier track all season. The Wolverines’ non-conference schedule ranks No. 301; Villanova’s is 91st. Based on seeding, there’s never been a ride less difficult than this one; Michigan is the first team in NCAA tournament history to advance to the national title game without playing an opponent seeded No. 5 or better. Michigan’s five wins came over teams seeded 14th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 11th. Villanova had a walkover against No. 16 Radford in the first round, but proceeded to defeat opponents seeded 9th, 5th, 3rd and No. 1. Not only did Villanova wipe out a tougher slate of tournament teams to make it to the final, but the Wildcats posted an average victory of 13.25 points … and I didn’t include Radford in that. With Radford in there Villanova’s average winning margin is 15.8 points.
6- Michigan will need to make plenty of threes to steal this one. It can happen; the Wolverines blistering Texas A&M for 14 threes in 24 attempts in the Sweet 16 game. But in its other tournament games combined Michigan made only 25 percent of its three-point attempts and ranked 124th this season in making threes (35.7%) Villanova’s defense has allowed a three-point shooting percentage of 32.2 percent; that’s 30th best in the nation.
7–If it’s close, Michigan’s terrible free-throw shooting will come into play. The Wolverines rank 324th nationally with a free-throw percentage of 66.1%. Ugh. (As mentioned earlier, Villanova makes 78%.)
8–Villanova isn’t a Three or Bust team. The Wildcats beat No. 3 seed Texas Tech by 12 points despite missing 20 of 24 three-pointers. How? Defense, and causing Texas Tech to miss 40 of its 60 shots from the floor, including a weak 37.5 percent on two-point shots. Against No. 5 seed West Virginia, Villanova was pressured into 16 turnovers … goodness, WVU had 10 steals. And Villanova gave up too many offensive rebounds. Down by six points with 11 minutes left, Villanova came back to win 90-78 by making 13 of 24 from three range, and driving to draw fouls that set them up for 23 free throws in 27 attempts.
9- Michigan clogged Loyola-Chicago’s ball movement in the national semifinal Saturday, but that won’t be as simple against a Villanova offense that whips the ball around quickly to defy rotating defenses. And Villanova players are trained to catch and shoot … catch and shoot … catch and shoot … there isn’t any hesitation. Hard to defend. In the 2018 tournament Michigan hasn’t encountered an offense rated higher than 27th in offensive efficiency. Now Michigan gets to go against the No. 1 offense.
10- Villanova has won more games over the last four seasons than any team has won over a four-season stretch in D-1 history. The Cats’ astonishing .894 winning percentage contains a 13-2 record in the NCAA Tournament. Jay Wright has turned Villanova into a basketball blue blood, arguably the best in the nation at this moment in history. This is Villanova’s time.
Thanks for reading …