A fascinating Final Four with a lot of intrigue
This is a fascinating Final Four with some really big names and Loyola-Chicago crashing the party. To me, this is the way it should always be. It's all well and good if the semifinals are filled with blue bloods like Kentucky and Duke, but to me a party crasher is always welcome. These two matchups are fascinating each in their own way as points will be at a premium in one game while the other could potentially turn into a shootout.
Record: 3-1-1 (First Round)
Loyola-Chicago (32-5) vs. Michigan (32-7)
Saturday, 6:09 p.m. ET
Two efficient offenses will take the court first on Saturday against two very good defenses. Michigan is shooting 47 percent from the field while averaging 74.1 points per game. Loyola-Chicago is making more than half of its shots (50.9 percent) while scoring 72 points per contest. Both of these teams have done it all season long so this really shouldn't be a surprise.
Let's start with the “underdogs,” who boast five double-digit scorers led by Clayton Custer and Donte Ingram. Four of those players shoot better than 50 percent from the field including Cameron Krutwig, who is the big man in the middle. The offense that this team runs is difficult to prepare for so the extra time off will benefit Wolverines coach John Beilein, one of the best in the business. Lost in the shuffle is how good the Ramblers’ defense is. They have not allowed 70 points or more in 10 straight games. They held Kansas State, Tennessee and Miami each to 62 points in their tournament games.
On the other side is Michigan, led by Moritz Wagner and Charles Matthews. The pair makes up two of the three Wolverines averaging double figures in scoring. Wagner has been in foul trouble some during this tournament, so that’s something to keep an eye on. The fouls have limited his overall production, as he totaled 50 points in four games thus far. His ability to stay in the game will be important because Jon Teske doesn't bring as much to the floor as Wagner does. Duncan Robinson is a key as well because when he scores 10 or more points, Michigan wins. The Wolverines, similar to their opponent, prefer a game played at a more deliberate tempo, but they are capable of picking up the pace when needed, as evidenced by the 99 points they scored against Texas A&M in the Sweet 16.
Loyola has covered 24 of its 33 lined games overall and eight of nine as an underdog. The Ramblers have gone under in 19 of their 27 contests against teams with a winning record. Michigan is 24-13 against the spread this season and has gone under in 10 of its 17 non-conference games. I think this one is very tight as both teams will find things similar about one another. I really think the five points is a gift because I could see this being a one- or two-possession game throughout. Give me the underdog to cover though. Pick: Michigan 67, Loyola-Chicago 63
Kansas (31-7) vs. Villanova (34-4)
Saturday, 8:49 p.m. ET (approximately)
Villanova has been steamrolling opponents throughout this tournament and are doing so with an offense that hasn't even been at its best and a defense that has been maligned at times this year. The Wildcats have won by 12, 12, 23 and 26 points to get to the Final Four and that's even with them struggling to hit shots in two of their victories. The common thread has been holding opponents to under 42 percent shooting from the field. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges have gone back and forth this season being the best player on the team and they are two of six double-digit scorers on this roster. Omari Spellman has shown a lot as the team's big man along with Eric Paschall on the inside. It's very hard to shut Villanova down, because so many players are threats.
The Jayhawks have to be feeling good after the overtime win over Duke to get to this point. Kansas has played several high-scoring affairs after dispatching Penn in the first round. For gamblers, KU’s four-point wins over Seton Hall and Clemson were awful beats as KU was a 4.5- or 5-point favorite in each, which looked good until late buckets changed that. Malik Newman was awesome against Duke and he's taken his game to another level. Devonte' Graham will have the challenge of slowing down Brunson and trying to score on him. Udoka Azubuike has to be able to stay on the court after fouling out in his last two contests. He represents the Jayhawks’ biggest threat in the paint and someone who has to cover Spellman.
Kansas has been an underdog 11 times the last three seasons with five of those instances coming this year. The Jayhawks have covered and won four of those games outright. Villanova is an absolute monster against the spread, going 26-12 this year and have covered 35 of its last 51 non-conference games overall. These two met back in 2016 with the Wildcats winning 64-59 as a two-point underdog. Brunson and Bridges were a lot younger and scored only 13 points in that one. I think ‘Nova is the best team in the country and adds another double-digit win to the resume. Pick: Villanova 78, Kansas 67
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.