Ok, I will be the first to admit it. The Michigan Wolverines were nowhere near the finals in my bracket. However, here they are ready to prove to the world that they shouldn’t have been overlooked.
Reasons why they can
Michigan has been on an incredible run since February 11th, winning their last fourteen games in a row. During that streak, they were able to take down top teams such as Ohio State, Michigan State, and Purdue to win the Big Ten championship. Furthermore, they were able to beat a supposed excellent defensive team in Texas a&m by scoring nearly 100 points and giving up only 72. They have also been able to play quality defense when it mattered with wins against Florida State and Houston without scoring more than 65 points.
Moritz Wagner will have to shine yet again for the team in order for Michigan to have a legitimate shot against Villanova. Him and Charles Matthews combined for 41 out of the 69 points for the Wolverines in their semi-final win. However, the team will need other players to step up because the depth of Villanova would be too great. Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson, who averaged a combined 22.1 points per game during the regular season, will be the next candidates to support Wagner and co. In addition, this will be the last game for some of the Michigan seniors including Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman, so we can expect them to give more than everything they have tonight.
Reasons why they can’t
Michigan has yet to play any team higher than a six seed in the tournament, so playing a #1 seed such as Villanova will be something they are not used to and might be too much for the Wolverines. In the final four, while Michigan fought hard to take down the Cinderella team in Loyola, the Wildcats obliterated the other remaining #1 seed in Kansas by a score of 95-79. Six different players scored at least ten points for Villanova in the win, with Eric Paschall leading the way with 24 points. They broke the Final Four’s three point record with 18 triples and shot over 50% from the floor.
Their incredible performance against Kansas wasn’t just a fluke. Villanova’s offense is far and away the best in the country. To put it in perspective, the margin between the #1 offense and #2 offense is the same as the margin between the #2 offense and #15 offense. The team is led by Jaylen Brunson, who averaged 19.2 ppg during the regular season and was named the top player of the year. However, it is not just Brunson to watch out for. The Villanova depth is impressive, with five other players besides Brunson scoring at least ten points per game including Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth.
Villanova is 18-0 this season against non-conference teams, and they are the only team to be undefeated against non-conference teams. In a tournament where it has been proven that anything could happen on any given game, it isn’t wrong to suggest Michigan has a chance. The spread is -6.5 but the last time a champion has won by more than six points was in 2012 when Kentucky had Anthony Davis leading the team. Although Villanova sometimes seems to be able to score at will, Michigan’s defense is ranked #3 in the nation and has shown it by holding every team besides Texas a&m to 63 points or under. I believe Villanova will hoist the trophy once again, but it will be closer than what the odds-makers think.