Sunday, April 1, 2018

Final 4 Thoughts and Random Observations

The biggest surprise last night wasn’t the winners, but the ease at which Villanova handled Kansas. I thought Michigan would wear down Loyola. They did. I thought Kansas had put away the bad KU we had seen during the Big XII season. They hadn’t.

Loyola had a great season. A season they’ll find increasingly difficult to repeat as time goes on. They’ll also be kicking themselves. The talk on twitter after Michigan jumped out to a 12-4 lead was they’d be kicking themselves for not building a bigger lead as both teams scuffled on offense. My thought was Loyola was getting to the rim without trouble and just missing too many bunnies. Sure enough, they closed the half on a 25-10 run executing their offense with precision and brilliance. 

Even after 8 minutes in the 2nd half, Michigan had only shaved a point off the halftime lead. Then Loyola had that stretch we’d seen against Nevada and to a lesser extent Kansas State where the offense got stuck. Marques Townes started cramping and things went sideways fast. Mo Wagner was the best player on the court last night and in a sense, willed the Wolverines to victory with some help from Charles Matthews as the Michigan guards were largely absent. It was a performance for the ages. Wagner joined Akeem Olajuwon and Larry Bird as the only players to get 20 points and 15 boards in a national semifinal. That’s nice company.

In the nightcap, Villanova set a Final 4 record with made 3-pointers in a game by halftime and largely cruised past a shellshocked Kansas team. It was vintage Villanova. They’ve been a juggernaught for 5 years. A win tomorrow cements them as one of the best runs in recent memory.

I saw criticism of Bill Self but I’m not sure what his answer was supposed to be. Even when they clamped down outside, Nova’s guards broke them down off the dribble freeing up shooters. They could have zoned all night but Nova was too good for that to be effective. Sadly for KU fans, it was one of those nights.

Brian mentioned to me it’s possible Nova shot its wad last night. It’s possible. They shot lights out against Oklahoma in 2016 and followed that up with a 77 point night against Carolina. Michigan can defend but I’m not sure their guards have seen a back court like Villanova’s all year. And while Nova had stretches of mediocre defensive play this season, they’re still 14th in defensive efficiency. I’d wager playing in an offensive minded Big East skewed their numbers. Michigan is a much better defensive team than KU and will guard the perimeter better but I’m having a hard time finding a big advantage for them. Spellman can take Mo and even if Wagner goes off again, Nova has far more options to counter than Loyola did.

Michigan has had a bit of the Gonzaga luck when it comes to the draw to get this far. They’ve beaten a 14, 6, 7, 8 and 11 to get to this point. That’s not their fault and quite frankly, Houston was better than a 6. And now that it’s a single game, I’m not sure any of that matters. They’ve won 14 in a row and that’s damn impressive. I just don’t see the advantage they have in this game. They play slower, 4 possessions slower than Nova but that won’t bother Villanova. Alabama and Texas Tech play slow, too and those were still double digit wins. Villanova is a healthy KP favorite. It’s 6-points with a 69% win probability. That sounds right to me.

Title Game Pick: Villanova 70 Michigan 64

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