The NCAA tournament is down to two: Michigan and Villanova. Those two teams won national semifinals at the Final Four on Saturday, setting up a championship game meeting on Monday. That game will tip at 9:20 p.m. ET on TBS and March Madness Live.
Villanova will be the favorite, probably narrowly, at most sports books. The Wildcats trounced Kansas in their semi, while Michigan ended Loyola-Chicago’s Cinderella run.
These teams’ strengths counter each other perfectly.
Villanova has the best offense in the tournament, and Michigan has the best defense. Both teams are solid on the other end of the floor, too, but that’s where the power is.
Nova’s offense is a blast. The Wildcats are historically in love with the three-pointer, and they used it to run Kansas out of the Alamodome on Saturday. Michigan is as tenacious as any team in the country at defending the three-point line. Only about a quarter of the shots teams attempt against Michigan are three-pointers, one of the lowest marks in Division I.
In general, a lower-scoring game should favor Michigan. The Wolverines can limit almost any offense, but Villanova’s is the hardest challenge they’ve seen yet.
The teams play similar styles. Both move deliberately and prefer to set up in the half-court. Both put a premium on avoiding turnovers. Both space the floor, though Villanova takes the “quick passing to set up threes” game to an entirely different level. Jay Wright and John Beilein, the two head coaches, are among the best to ever do the job.
Both teams present compelling storylines, even beyond the major stakes that accompany any national championship game.
If Villanova wins, that makes two titles in three years. That would be a mini-dynasty. Nobody’s won two titles in that span since Billy Donovan’s Florida went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. Wright would elevate himself to a status among the best coaches in the history of college basketball, as he’d be the 14th to win multiple NCAA titles in DI.
If Michigan wins, it ends a long quest for both the program and its head coach. The Wolverines have won once before, in 1989, but have been left at or near the alter a couple of times since then. They got to the title game in 2013 before losing to Louisville, in a result the NCAA later vacated over a scandal at Louisville. Michigan fans probably still have nightmares about a bad foul call on guard Trey Burke that helped seal UM’s fate that night.
And then there’s Beilein. He’s been a head coach since 1992. He’s been to the tournament 12 times with three different schools. He’s won 541 games, 24 of them in the Big Dance. He’s gotten close to varying degrees a couple of times, most notably but not only in 2013. It really feels like Beilein should win a title sometime, and here’s his latest best chance.
Either of these teams will be a great champion. Villanova’s going to top off an incredible multi-year run, or Michigan’s going to find redemption. All that’s left is to duke it out.
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