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NCAA Tourney: Villanova vs Michigan Championship Preview

Michigan Wolverines(33-7) @ Villanova Wildcats(35-4)

  • Where: Alamodome. San Antonio, TX
  • When: April 2, 2018 9:22 pm EST
  • Spread: Villanova (-7) vs Michigan (+7)
  • Moneyline: Villanova (-300) vs Michigan (+250)
  • Over / Under: Over 145 (-115) vs Under 145 (-105)

In literary circles, they say that a masterpiece is still a masterpiece even though a million people say it is. The same can be said about Villanova’s systematic demolition of the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday night.

While Michigan got through its Final Four opponent with clever tactics, good free-throw shooting and great perimeter defense, and still only won 69-57, Villanova tore a talented, athletic Big 12 contender to shreds, 95-79. Recurring bench hero Dante Divincenzo scored in double-digits along with each player in the starting 5. Omari Spellman had 11 rebounds and 3 blocks.

The result in Vegas was that the title game’s money line shot wildly in the Wildcats’ direction.

A (-300) ML is tough to wrangle a solid bet around, even if to the naked eye, ‘Nova appears to be on another level from the 60+ other programs that began the tourney. At times, Jay Wright’s collection of crucial role-playing stars looks like it could compete with an NBA summer league club.

Yet those types of squads can, in fact, be beaten once in a while. If the favorites have even a 1-in-3 chance to fall, then (-300) on Villanova is a bad bet.

There are 3 time-honored ways to beat a superior opponent in the shot-clock era. Let’s look at each, and see if Michigan has the ingredients to cook up a stunner in San Antonio.

No “i” in March Madness

Teams full of disciplined guards and finesse forwards have out-balled NBA-lite opponents on the biggest stages before. The 2004 Athens Olympics comes to mind. The modern-day international hoops influence shows up in West Coast Conference programs like St. Mary’s and Gonzaga, which have out-foxed taller, longer foes with fundamentals, free-throw shooting and scientific basketball.

Wolverine coach John Beilein was a scientist on Saturday night, vexing Loyola-Chicago with a clever bench strategy. The 2 pairs of starters were evenly-matched. Beilein rotated quick freshman guard Jordan Poole and senior power forward Duncan Robinson into the game along with a host of other role players, and encouraged them to shoot and drive into the paint, drawing fouls from the Ramblers. Robinson hit 2 shots from downtown, the pair hit 6 out of 8 free throws, and UM’s bench out-scored Loyola-Chicago’s by 12 points, the exact margin-of-victory.

But we’re not sure Michigan is the type of squad to overcome the kind of mismatch that Monday’s final presents. Beilein’s team can try to penetrate and draw fouls, but that would keep the pace speedy. Like any underdog with at least one dominant player, UM could choose to play a deliberate half-court game, hoping to limit possessions and hang around before upping the ante in the final 10 minutes. But the odds of success might be even worse. Villanova has several kids who could completely take over in the late-going – Spellman, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall. Michigan only has one such specimen in Moritz Wagner.

Which leads us to how-on-Earth-could-UM-beat-Villanova scenario #2.

Wagging the Wolverine

This one is a little simpler to figure out. Michigan can theoretically win if Wagner goes insane, and turns out to have a late-tournament party of big-man buckets similar to Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin in 2015. Only one problem. Kaminsky and the Badgers lost the national title 68-63 to Duke. One great athlete can be exceptional for a squad in the final clash without making the ultimate difference.

Wright has even more good defensive options than Coach K did 3 years ago. Wagner won’t be able to drive, shake and leap for 30+ points, and each member of the Wildcats can potentially out-play their counterparts, putting victory out of reach no matter what the massive German does in the paint.

Wagner and other UM players have gotten hot from beyond the arc during the Big Dance, though. Which leads us to our final key handicap for the title tilt in Texas.

Shooting the (far away) lights out

Click here to bet on Under (145) points for the NCAA Tournament Championship Game at Bovada Sportsbook.

By now, you’ve guessed that we think Villanova is a pretty safe money line bet at (-300). Some books are offering much-shorter odds on the ‘Cats – take that bet slip and run.

But a 3-point shooting bonanza (and a cold spell from Brunson and Divincenzo) could still help the #3 seeded underdog to surprise glory. How likely is it to happen?

Less likely, thanks to a factor that not enough pundits are mentioning…and which leads to an even-safer pick to make for Monday night.

The setting of a gigantic venue – not a cozy basketball arena – does have an effect on shooting. Coaches debate what the real % handicap is, but it’s harder for a Final Four team to be consistently warm from around the arc.

Because ‘Nova rang up a sexy final score while destroying Kansas, people have forgotten that only Paschall had an above-average shooting night for the East Regional champs. Everyone else averaged out to around 40% from the field. That’s actually not bad at all. Players who are pressured into contested shots are more likely to feel the wrath of depth-perception, and Villanova moved the ball well enough to put kids in comfortable shooting angles.

Better scoring depth and guard play is always an advantage. It should be even more so in the final, because if Michigan isn’t generating enough points to keep ‘Nova’s defense adjusting, there may not be a lot of good looks for UM guards like Charles Matthews and Zack Simpson. In the Alamodome, forced shots just won’t go in.

Therefore, the O/U line of (145) total points seems a little bit too high. Given that Michigan’s best chance is to play old-school college basketball against the Wildcats’ semi-pro onslaught, the pace might not be breakneck. Neither side is likely to have a hot streak from beyond the arc, and each coach will rotate to avoid foul trouble. Both sides can be counted on to play solid and passionate defense to the end. Even if ‘Nova scores 80 points, Michigan may not be good for the other 66+ it would take to lose the under bet.

Everyone loves picking a money line winner. If you must, lay down 3 times what you’d like to win on Villanova and trust in the most complete team in Division 1.

But if you’re a systems-bettor looking for yet another great percentage bet? Take the under, and smile while others groan about shots clanging off metal at the dome.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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