March Madness has lived up to its name.
The NCAA never disappoints, and this year is no different.
After all the buzzer beaters and upsets, only two teams remain. Here’s a look at how the last men standing match up in the championship game.
The Villanova Wildcats are only one game away from winning their second championship in three years. In order to do it, they’ll have to defeat a resilient Michigan Wolverines team that rallied late to defeat Loyola-Chicago, arguably the biggest Cinderella team in tournament history.
While Michigan’s run to the title game has been impressive, Villanova has morphed into a juggernaut along the way.
From The Washington Post:
They don’t need to stay this hot, or even close to it, to beat Michigan and win the national title Monday night. They just need to pull out something from the most diverse and enviable repertoire in men’s college basketball. They can win with shooting. They can win with defense, rebounding and toughness. They can win by turning to the nation’s best player, point guard Jalen Brunson; or by allowing their humble future NBA lottery pick, Mikal Bridges, to shine; or by distributing the ball to all six of the players that they believe can score 25 points on any given night.
It took until the final weeks of the season, but the dominant team the sport lacked this season has emerged. The Wolverines must play their best and receive some luck to prevent Villanova from capturing its second championship in three years. The Wildcats’ greatest competition might be the swelling expectations; they opened as a 6.5-point favorite over Michigan, which makes them the largest NCAA title game heavyweight since Duke was favored by seven over Butler in 2010.
That’s as good a team as we’ve played against that I can remember,” Kansas Coach Bill Self said after his team’s 95-79 loss on Saturday night.
Said Kansas center Udoka Azubuike: “It was unreal. I had never seen that before. It lowered our confidence a little bit, and they were just shooting and making everything, it seemed.”
It wasn’t just that Villanova tied the previous Final Four record of 13 three-pointers — before halftime. The Wildcats’ defense forced Kansas to play at an uncomfortably fast pace. On both ends, they dictated everything that happened.
Unlike previous Villanova squads, it can play with five shooters on the floor and still have good size, with a starting frontcourt that goes 6-7, 6-9 and 6-9. It used to be that the Wildcats would have to play four smallish guards and a center. Now, they’re a matchup nightmare without having to employ cat-and-mouse strategies. You won’t find another perimeter-oriented squad that can match Villanova’s physical style, either. It’s a system, a discipline and a mentality that Wright has perfected since turning to it exclusively about 12 years ago.
Here’s a closer look at how the two teams match up.
From USA Today:
And then there were two.
Villanova and Michigan will meet for a national championship matchup Monday night after winning their respective national semifinal matchups Saturday at the Final Four.
The Wildcats looked impressive in a rout of Kansas, setting a Final Four record by drilling 14 three-pointers in 21 minutes (and 18 overall). The Wolverines, meanwhile, sent home the tournament’s giant-killing Cinderella in Loyola-Chicago by hitting their stride late in the game thanks to Moritz Wagner’s dominant performance.
Who has the edge? (Hint: It’s Villanova). But this isn’t a seven-game series. Michigan can certainly win this showdown by playing inspired basketball and executing a well-designed John Beilein game plan. Here’s a look at how each team could win:
Villanova’s path to the title game: The Wildcats easily beat Radford in the first round, Alabama in the second round, West Virginia in the Sweet 16, Texas Tech in the Elite Eight and Kansas in the Final Four.
Michigan’s path to the title game: The Wolverines cruised past Montana in the first round, edged Houston off a buzzer-beater in the second round, crushed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, escaped Florida State in the Elite Eight and knocked off Loyola-Chicago in the Final Four.
How the Wildcats can cut down the nets: Play defense like they did against Texas Tech and offense like they did against Kansas. The thing about the Wildcats’ hot shooting is that it deflates another team’s momentum and throttles any counter-runs. National player of the year Jalen Brunson has been the leader with his efficient play all tournament, and he also makes everyone around him better.
How the Wolverines can cut down the nets: Michigan will need to play aggressor like it did in the closing stretch against Loyola, and use a collaborative offensive effort and a smothering defense on Villanova’s perimeter attack. Kansas tried everything, including a zone. Beilein can learn from Kansas’ failures, but he’ll have to mix it up defensively to keep the Wildcats on their heels. Against West Virginia, a press was effective in throwing Villanova off its rhythm so the more pressure then the less tempo Villanova can control.
The pick: Villanova. If Michigan topples a much better Villanova team it would be an upset. That’s not so much disrespect to Michigan as much as it is a testament of how much Villanova has come into its own in this tournament. In three wins against Big 12 opponents (West Virginia in the Sweet 16, Texas Tech in the Elite Eight and Kansas in the Final Four), the Wildcats have grown into an offense on a ridiculously high level and a defense that’s just as elite.
Michigan coach John Beilein has his team back in the title game after playing for a championship in 2013. That Wolverines team had several NBA players on the roster, but couldn’t seal the deal.
This year’s team isn’t as talented and is going up against a dominant Villanova club, but it’s called March Madness for a reason.