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March Madness, Championship Preview: #1 Villanova vs. #3 Michigan

The Wolverines knocked Sister Jean’s Ramblers out of the running yesterday, setting up an interesting Big East/Big Ten match up.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Loyola vs Michigan
Michigan has a nickname, but don’t actually have a wolverine mascot — live or costumed.
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

This Villanova tournament run is already one for the record books. They’ve bashed their opponents up, winning by an average margin of 17.8 points through the tournament so far. They blew minds and blew away the nets last night, with an absolutely ridiculous 18 three-pointers to take down Kansas in a game that almost nobody expected to go down like that.

Next up is Michigan, and the Wolverines had a different path to the title game. It wasn’t without a blow-out or two — they scored 99 against Texas A&M in to advance to the Elite Eight — but they’ve mostly won with tough defense and low-scoring affairs. They didn’t light it up on defense in their 69-57 victory against Loyola on Saturday, they shot just 25% (7-28) from deep and 42% (25-59) overall from the floor.

The Wolverines have a very good defense, and a good-but-not-elite offense. In this tournament it is the former that has kept them alive. They will likely be tougher on that end of the floor than Kansas.

Michigan has held its opponents in the tournament to an average of 58.6 points, and hasn’t allowed many opponents to score in the 70s against them this season.

Part of that comes from a tendency to play at a very very very slow pace. Michigan’s style tends to limit the number of possessions — and they ranked near the bottom of all Division 1 teams in pace according to Villanova will have a harder time pulling away if they allow Michigan to dictate the pace of the game.

With Michigan defending, Villanova may not be able to muster up the same offensive barrage as they have in other games. However, the ‘Cats are still the top offensive producer in the country, and if the clean looks aren’t coming from outside the arc, they’ll keep the ball moving to find other ways to score. It was Villanova’s defense that helped carry them past Texas Tech, and helped them to build a healthy cushion against a Kansas team that had been one of the best scoring teams out there all season.

Jalen Brunson has been the key for Villanova in a lot of ways this season — and he’s winning the awards to prove it — but the most intriguing match-up may be Omari Spellman versus Moritz “Moe” Wagner. It was the 6-11 German import who really has shined for the Wolverines and helped create mismatches that opponents have had to contend with. Wagner, like Spellman, is comfortable out on the perimeter despite his post-player size. Spellman — and perhaps Eric Paschall — will likely spend some time tommorrow trying to keep Wagner under control.

Michigan looked like a defensive dynamo in this tournament, but Villanova has shown that they can win ugly as well.