All previews: click here for the full 2018 NCAA tournament schedule
Conference: Big East
Conference: Big Ten
Date: Monday, April 2
Time: 9:20 pm Eastern
Location: San Antonio, TX
Here is it: a modern classic in the making with teams who have a combined 11 appearances in the finals. Since the tournament expanded to 64+ teams Villanova is 2-0 in finals games (1985, 2016); Michigan is 1 of 4, winning in 1989 and finishing #2 in 1992, 1993, and 2013. Going back farther, Michigan lost to the undefeated Indiana squad in 1976, and both teams took a turn losing to the UCLA juggernaut of the 60s-early 70s.
Strength: #1 Strength: #10
Pomeroy: #1 Pomeroy: #7
Offense: #1 Offense: #31
Defense: #14 Defense: #3
BPI: #1 BPI: #11
LRMC: #1 LRMC: #13
Consistency: #209 Consistency: #255
Schedule Strength: #7 Schedule Strength: #35
Tempo (Pomeroy): #154 Tempo: #324
AP Final Poll: #2 AP Final Poll: #7
AP Pre-season: #6 AP Pre-season: #39
SportsRatings Genetic Model:
Model Rank: #1 Model Rank: #12
Villanova was supposed to be here—they were #1 in all the power ratings except Pomeroy, where the Wildcats were #2. Michigan was no higher than 10th (Pomeroy) and was 13th or 14th elsewhere. Actually the AP poll was closest to picking the Wolverines for tournament greatness, placing them #7 due to their Big Ten tournament championship. Our new Genetic Model picked the Wildcats to win it all, but had Michigan as a solid Sweet Sixteen team, nothing more.
It's going to be a great matchup of Villanova's offense vs. Michigan's defense, rated #1 and #3 in the nation by Pomeroy. On the other side of the court Villanova's solid defense works against a decent but not great Wolverine offense. There looks to be a pretty big disparity in the pace the teams like to keep, but it's really only when Michigan is on offense; Villanova's offense likes to take their time, too (#231 in the nation).
- Wins vs. tournament teams (17): =(3)Tennessee+9, (16)Penn+28, =(4)Gonzaga+16, (1)Xavier+24, (10)Providence+20, (8)Creighton+20, (8)Seton Hall+16, (10)Butler+11, @(1)Xavier+16, @(8)Seton Hall+OT, =(10)Butler+19, =(10)Providence+OT, =(16)Radford+26, =(9)Alabama+23, =(5)West Virginia+12, =(3)Texas Tech+12, =(1)Kansas+16
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (4): =(4)Gonzaga+16, =(5)West Virginia+12, =(3)Texas Tech+12, =(1)Kansas+16
- Wins vs. Final Four (1): =(1)Kansas+16
- Losses to tournament teams (3): @(10)Butler-8, @(10)Providence-5, @(8)Creighton-OT
- Other losses (1): St. John's-4
Overview: Villanova has actually lost to some pretty pedestrian teams—10-seeds Butler and Providence, and 8-seed Creighton, as well as St. John's when the Red Storm were in Red Hulk mode. But they also beat 1-seed Xavier twice, 3-seed Tennessee, and 4-seed Gonzaga, and there's no arguing with 30-4 when your SOS is #11. The key to Villanova is their offense; we've seen loads of teams over the years with 5 players averaging double figures, but Villanova has 6, with Jalen Brunson at 19.4 ppg and Mikal Bridges at 18.0. Yes, they're dependent on shooting the three—even moreso than the last two years—which leads to some inconsistency in play, but they shoot it far better than in their championship year.
That held true against Radford, as six Wildcats scored in double figures, making 14 of 27 threes. Against Alabama, they made 17 of 41, not nearly as good but still 41% as Bridges had 23 points. Brunson dropped 27 on West Virgina as the Wildcats made 54% of their threes. They only made 4 of 24 threes (17%) against Texas Tech but that was enough; Brunson had 15 points. Villanova beat Kansas by shooting 45% (18 of 40) of threes, with five players in double figures led by Eric Paschall's 24.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (11): (11)UCLA+OT, @(10)Texas+7, @(3)Michigan St.+10, (5)Ohio St.+12, =(3)Michigan St.+11, =(2)Purdue+9, =(14)Montana+14, =(6)Houston+1, =(3)Texas A&M+27, =(9)Florida St.+4, =(11)Loyola Chicago+12
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (4): =(2)Purdue+9, =(3)Texas A&M+27, =(9)Florida St.+4, =(11)Loyola Chicago+12
- Wins vs. Final Four (1): =(11)Loyola Chicago+12
- Losses to tournament teams (4): @(2)North Carolina-15, @(5)Ohio St.-9, (2)Purdue-1, @(2)Purdue-4
- Other losses (3): =LSU-2, @Nebraska-20, @Northwestern-9
Overview: If there's a team that had momentum going into the tournament, it's Michigan. They won their last 9 game of the season including a Big Ten tournament championship. They only defeated one Sweet Sixteen team, Purdue, but they also lost twice to the Boilermakers. Michigan's slow tempo keeps scoring down but they still have 3 players who average double figures in a balanced attack.
Charles Matthews led with 20 points and 11 rebounds against Montana, where the team's extra-week layoff didn't seem to hurt or help. They needed a last-second shot by Jordan Poole to top Houston, but nothing of the sort against Texas A&M as they beat the Aggies in a rout, with Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman putting in 24. The Florida State game was a lot closer as Michigan shot just 39%, but Matthews managed 17 points in the win. The Wolverines started strong against Loyola, fell behind by double digits, then stormed back to win by 12; Moritz Wagner's 24 points and 15 rebounds led the team to victory.
Game Analysis: Michigan plays a slow tempo—will the game be played at that tempo, or the more moderate 'Nova tempo? Interestingly Villanova's tempo on offense is pretty slow, while they're used to short possessions on defense (40th in the nation). Michigan spends a lot of time on both sides. Might Villanova get tired on defense having to play an extra 3 or so seconds per possession?
Villanova isn't a big team, either, and Moritz Wagner's performance against Loyola has to create some concern as to how the Wildcats will handle the big man. 6' 9" freshman Omari Spellman will be key for 'Nova's defense; he averages 1.5 blocks per game.
Much has been made of Michigan being the "hot" team in the tournament, and we noted it, too. But during the tournament, Villanova has played better than any team; Michigan is #2. The Wildcats are "hotter" than Michigan (and everyone else) in any sample of recent games played.
"Defense wins championships", they say, but the truth is that offense and defense are basically equal in the equation. If defense is so great, why isn't Virginia in the final against Villanova? And why is Villanova here anyway? Offense, that's why. Both are important, and while purists love to cite defense as the important ingredient, it's only a necessary ingredient, not sufficient on its own. Offense is also necessary. Whoever wins on Monday it really proves nothing. But you can be sure that if Michigan wins, there will be a chorus of "defense wins championships!" while if the Cats win, very few will loudly proclaim "offense wins championships" even though it's just as true.
Villanova by 6.5
Power rating: spread
Villanova by 7.4
Game-comparisons: % Chance to win
Vegas seems to believe that offense wins championships, at least where these teams are concerned. The Strength power rating gives a similar line around the 7 point mark. Note that this is for the full season, while Michigan is playing notably better recently (Villanova is playing just slightly better than their full-season form). We give 'Nova a 7 in 10 chance to win. The only time a 1-seed met a 3-seed in the finals, 1-seed UNLV beat Duke in 1990.
Bottom line: As we mentioned in our analysis, Michigan is on a hot streak, they have an interior advantage with Moritz, and will spend more time on offense than Villanova's defense is used to. These factors will keep the game a lot closer than the Villanova-Kansas game, especially since the Wildcats can't count on shooting that well again. But as hot as Michigan is, Villanova is hotter, or rather, they're better, since they've played at that "hot" level for basically the whole season. The Wildcats will need to score—win via offense—to hold off Michigan's charges, so we're looking at a higher-scoring game than one would expect from these teams. Closer, too. We take Villanova—appropriately enough—by three.
Final prediction: Villanova 78, Michigan 75
More previews: click here for the full 2018 NCAA tournament schedule.