By Chris Carlson
#1 seed Villanova vs. #1 seed Kansas
Through the first 3 rounds of the tourney, Villanova hit the most 3-point baskets ever with 44. The Wildcats struggled mightily from the outside in their victory over West Virginia. In fact, when Villanova slumped during the regular season their biggest problem was poor 3-point shooting. The Jayhawks defeated Duke in overtime no team has won an NCAA title after winning in overtime in the Elite 8 can Kansas buck this trend?
For my money, this one will come down to the guard matchup between Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Kansas’s Devonte’ Graham. Besides assists, Brunson is the better shooter, decision-maker, and two-way player. Not to mention Villanova has more options to lean on for Brunson, as opposed to Graham, who has only recently gotten some major help from sophomore Malik Newman. Sharper-shooter Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and big man Udoka Azubuike will need to play at an elite level for Kansas to overcome.
This will be a well played, highly entertaining ball game that Nova will close out late on the free throw line.
The Pick: Villanova
#3 seed Michigan vs. #11 Loyola-Chicago
Last weekend’s elite-8 victory made it 13-wins in a row for the University of Michigan heading in to Saturday’s Final Four matchup. The Cinderella story Loyola-Chicago did the unthinkable, grinding out three razor-tight upsets and delivered one sound beating.
We’ve all heard the story of the Ramblers #1 fan, a 98-year old team chaplain. Leaving all of the feel-good stories aside, both teams deserve to be here and stood up to the pressure under the bright lights. Make no mistake about it Loyola-Chicago can play with any team in the country at this stage in the season.
Michigan’s defense, guard play, and outside shooting is tough ask for any team left in the tournament, let alone giving Wolverines coach John Beilein all-week long to scout and prepare for their opponent. It’s not that Loyola-Chicago will get ran off the court by halftime they just don’t have enough to stay with Michigan for the entire game. Look for the Wolverines to pull away ever so slightly in the last ten minutes or so, winning by 6-8 points.
The Pick: Michigan
Championship Game Villanova vs. Michigan
The Wolverines are riding a 14-game winning streak into the NCAA championship game. Villanova will be in their comfort zone more so then UM, with several key players having made deep tournament runs recently. The coaching battle is probably even, though many national pundits would lean Jay Wright pointing to the national title in 2016.
3-point shooting and defense will play a huge part in deciding an outcome. If Michigan is hitting 3’s they can set up their defense on the other end. If Michigan or Villanova for the matter struggles from the outside, they get exploited, unable to get back in time to defend at an elite level.
The better overall team from top to bottom will force the cream to rise to the top. Overtime or last minute dramatics won’t be a surprise due to the fact that Michigan is piping red-hot dating back to February 11th. When the coaching matchup comes down to splitting hairs to decide it’s best to rely on better talent and experience, something Villanova has an abundance of.
The Pick: The Villanova Wildcats cut down the nets in San Antonio winning a 2nd title over the last 3 years.
Quick Hits Tourney Recap
-The Kansas Jayhawks have reached the Elite 8 ten times in the last 17 years, the most out of any team since 2002.
-For the first time in tournament history 3 teams seeded at least 9th qualifying for the Elite 8.
-Villanova became the only team in NCAA history to win 32+ games 4 seasons in a row.
-Cinderella story Loyola-Chicago won their first 3 games by a combined 4 points.
-Kentucky coach John Calipari has had 30 guys under him drafted in the 1st round of the NBA draft, with 29 of them coming in the last 16 years.