Why Villanova, Kansas, Michigan and Loyola-Chicago will (or won’t) win a national title
WHY THEY WILL WIN: They’re college basketball’s best team
It really is that simple, I think. We’ve known just how good this team can be on the offensive side of the ball all season long. They are unselfish, they have an unbelievable amount of floor-spacing and they just so happen to be led by the nation’s best player in point guard Jalen Brunson. There is a reason that this team was college basketball’s most efficient offense.
But there is more to it than just the scoring, because Villanova has been excellent defensively all through March. That was the issue with this group all season long. They were capable of putting up 100 points on anyone, but on the nights where they put up 70 -- on the nights where their threes weren’t falling -- they struggled to find a way to defend at a level that allowed them to win. That’s no longer the case, at least not based on the evidence we saw against Texas Tech on Sunday.
WHY THEY WON’T WIN: They won’t be able to take advantage of those mismatches
One of the things that makes Villanova so hard to guard is their versatility. They have big men that can make threes and a point guard that plays in the post. They can switch 1-through-4 without much of a problem, and they have at least three players on the floor at all times that can operate in ball-screen actions. They are the essence of small-ball.
But here’s the issue: Both Michigan and Kansas can matchup with that. Kansas essentially plays four guards while the Wolverines, who still need to get past Loyola-Chicago to get a shot at Villanova, play small as well and have a center that may actually be more versatile than Villanova’s Omari Spellman. Now it’s fair to wonder if it’s possible to out-Villanova Villanova, but taking advantage of mismatches is one of the strong suits for the Wildcats. That option won’t be there, at least not on Saturday night.
WHY THEY WILL WIN: The Jayhawks have gotten this far without Devonte’ Graham
OK, that might be overselling it, but outside of the game against Penn, Graham -- the first-team all-american representative for Kansas -- has not been all that good. Even against Penn, he was inefficient. Through four NCAA tournament games, Graham is shooting 34 percent from the floor and averaging just 16 points. Take away the 29 points he scored on 24 shots against Penn and he’s averaging just 11.7 points in the last three games.
I do not think that is something that can possibly last. Devonte’ Graham is just too good, and when he wakes up, with the rest of this roster -- specifically Malik Newman -- playing the way that they’ve been playing, the Jayhawks can hang with anyone.
WHY THEY WON’T WIN: Who is Udoka Azubuike going to guard?
Udoka Azubuike has been a monster this season, so much better than I thought that he was going to be. But here’s my concern: Against Villanova, he is going to have to chase around Omari Spellman on the perimeter, a guy that bangs threes and that beats bigger defenders off the dribble. That does not seem like an ideal situation, not if the Jayhawks are trying to keep their best big man out of foul trouble. And if the do manage to find a way to beat Villanova, Azubuike is going to have to try and slow down Moe Wagner, who is a monster on the perimeter in his own right.
Bill Self is a genius when it comes to things like this, but these are matchups that would worry me quite a bit if I was a Kansas fan.
WHY THEY WILL WIN: Their defense is just so good
This is by far the best defensive team that John Beilein has ever had at Michigan. They are just unbelievable defensively. It starts with Zavier Simpson, who is one of the most annoying and pesky players on the defensive end of the floor in all of college basketball. Throw in a roster that is filled with lanky, tough and athletic wings and a center in Moe Wagner that has dedicated himself to being able to clear the defensive glass, and what you have is a team that can take anyone out of what they want to do on that end of the floor.
They are in the Final Four because their defense has been elite.
A John Beilein-coached team is winning because of their defense.
How about that?
WHY THEY WON’T WIN: They are too streaky shooting the ball
Michigan has played three tortuously-ugly basketball games in the NCAA tournament and one game where they looked like absolute world-beaters. The ugly games came when they played teams that could matchup with their versatility, which caused Michigan to struggle with their ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. When they played a team with two big men, they made 14 threes.
And in this tournament, they are not going to be playing teams that play two bigs the way that Texas A&M played two bigs. That doesn’t mean there is no chance that Michigan can win -- Purdue didn’t play two bigs in the Big Ten title game, Michigan State didn’t in the semifinals, etc. -- but it is easier for them to take advantage of what they do best when they are playing someone that has bigger bodies along the front line.
WHY THEY WILL WIN: It’s destiny
Someone needs to investigate Loyola-Chicago for accepting impermissible benefits, because I think that Sister Jean has some kind of deal with a higher power. They’ve won on three buzzer-beaters. Three of the four teams they’ve faced had a star player dealing with a major injury. Against Tennessee, the game-winning shot bounced off the rim and/or backboard a half-dozen times.
There is something going on here, and I’m not sure that it’s done yet.
WHY THEY WON’T WIN: The talent gap is just too big
With all due respect to the teams that Loyola-Chicago has beaten thus far in the tournament, but they are not the most talented. Miami was missing their best player. Tennessee wins more on defense and effort than by being the most talented team on the floor. (I had Loyola in the Sweet 16, NBD.) Nevada was probably the most talented team they’ve played, but they play iso-ball. Kansas State was missing their best player.
And now, the Ramblers have to face-off with a Michigan team that has a pro in the middle, one of the best defenses in the sport and a masterful tactician on the sideline. Win that, and they get a No. 1 seed. I’m not saying they can’t win, but this is the first time where they are clearly the inferior team.