Wolverines and Wildcats face off in the Alamodome for the national title
Two of the hottest teams in college basketball are the only ones still standing. Both Michigan and Villanova have been virtually unstoppable since the calendar turned to March and the two teams will clash to decide the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament on Monday night.
Michigan (33-7) has ripped off 14 straight wins by an average margin of 12.3 points per game. The Wolverines have been getting it done by clamping down on the defensive end. They have held four of their last 17 opponents below 70 points. In Saturday's 69-57 win over Loyola-Chicago, they held the Ramblers to 43 percent shooting and allowed a single 3-pointer.
Villanova (35-4) has won 10 straight and faced little resistance along the way. In five NCAA Tournament games, the Wildcats have won by an average of 17.8 points. Villanova stayed true to form in the Final Four, dispatching Kansas 95-79. The Wildcats made a Final Four single-game record 18 3-pointers against the Jayhawks and dominated almost from the opening tip.
National Championship: No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (33-7) vs. No. 1 Villanova Wildcats (35-4)
Time: 9:20 p.m. ET (Monday)
Where: Alamodome (San Antonio)
Keys for Michigan
Defending the perimeter is going to be absolutely critical for Michigan. Villanova is a team that can bury opponents in a hurry when the outside shots are falling. Kansas found out the hard way when the Wildcats rained down 13 3-pointers before halftime. Through five NCAA Tournament games, Villanova has made 66 3-pointers. If the Wildcats get comfortable outside, it will be a long 40 minutes for the Wolverines.
Moritz Wagner has come up big for Michigan in the postseason. The junior forward is averaging 15.2 and 7.0 rebounds over the team's last nine games. Wagner enjoyed his finest performance in that stretch against Loyola-Chicago, tallying 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 15 rebounds. He will face much more resistance going against Villanova's big men, Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman, but getting one more big game from Wagner will be critical.
Charles Matthews has played a huge role in fueling the Wolverines' offense through the NCAA Tournament and it could be a critical factor on Monday night. Through five games, Matthews is averaging 16.6 points on 53.2 percent shooting. Michigan has only lost once this season when he scores more than 15 points.
Keys for Villanova
If the outside shots are falling, Villanova is winning. It's basically that simple. Villanova needs to not be one-dimensional against Michigan though. The Wildcats need to work the ball into Paschall and Spellman as often as is feasible. Running and gunning plays right into Michigan's hands. Slowing the tempo on some possessions and working it inside, instead of simply firing off a quick 3-pointer, will keep the Wolverines off balance.
Mikal Bridges had a quiet game against Kansas offensively, scoring just 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Bridges did have an impact on defense, blocking two shots and nabbing two steals. Villanova needs to have him play a bigger role on both ends of the court in the title game. Bridges is averaging 17.8 points on 51.2 percent shooting for the season. The Wildcats have lost just one time this season when he produces a 20-point game.
Villanova didn't need to get to the free-throw line much against Kansas. If the narrative changes against Michigan, the Wildcats need to make the most of it. The Wolverines are quite vulnerable in that area, making just 66.2 percent of their free throws, which ranks 321st among NCAA Division I teams. Villanova typically has no such trouble. The Wildcats shoot 77.9 percent from the line, which is tied for eighth in the nation.
College basketball fans couldn't have asked for a much better championship game matchup than this one. Villanova has a powerful offense. Michigan has a tough defense. It is strength versus strength in a game with two teams that have won a combined 24 consecutive games. The problem is that the Wolverines haven't faced a team seeded higher than sixth in this tournament. Villanova is on a much higher level than those other teams and will make life tough for Michigan over 40 minutes.
Prediction: Villanova 76, Michigan 66
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.