SAN ANTONIO — Memo to Vegas: They’ve heard.
“Yeah, we still keep that chip on our shoulder,” Michigan swingman Ibi Watson told Land of 10 when asked about their, um, not-so-stellar odds of knocking off Villanova in the 2018 NCAA Tournament championship game.
“A lot of people might have even thought we weren’t even going to win [the Loyola-Chicago] game. It’s been like that all year. We love it. And we’re looking to continue to build and get one more upset.”
Michigan is a No. 3 seed that’s talked — and played — like it’s a dissed No. 12, a blue blood with a blue-collar, mid-major backbone. The Wildcats are a No. 1 seed that’s played like the second coming of the 1972 UCLA Bruins. A few hours after breaking Loyola-Chicago’s glass slipper, the Wolverines were being fitted for a pair of their own.
While Watson and his teammates were meeting with media and picking the bones out of a victory over the Ramblers in the first national semifinal at the Alamodome, Villanova was zooming out to a 22-4 lead over the Midwest’s top seed, Kansas. The Wildcats knocked down 18 treys, a Final Four record, to pace a 95-79 pasting of the Big 12 champions.
Ergo, the Wolverines head into Monday night as the biggest underdog in college basketball’s final game since 2012. Michigan opened as a 7-point underdog at The Wynn and a 6.5-point ‘dog with the Las Vegas Superbook.
Since 1988, nine teams have been installed as underdogs of 6 points or more heading into an NCAA Tournament national title game. Only three won the championship, and none have flipped the script since 1999, when UConn, a 9.5-point ‘dog to Duke, upset the Blue Devils, 77-74. In the four instances since 2002, the favorite has gone on to win the title tilt by an average margin of 9.8 points.
Undesirable? A bit.
No way Michigan can beat MSU…
No way Michigan can beat MSU a second time…
No way Michigan can beat Purdue for a B1G tourney title…
No way Michigan can get to the NCAA finals…
No way Michigan can beat Villanova…
— Mike (@mjm52372) April 1, 2018
“Of course it’s going to happen,” Michigan forward Isaiah Livers shrugged. “And we haven’t played a top-tier team in a while. So it’s going to be a really big game for us to get back [to], because it’s been — I don’t know how long it’s been since [we’ve played] like a known, Final Four-type team.”
After blitzing the Jayhawks, Villanova starts the week No. 1 in the KenPom.com rankings; the Wolverines are No. 7. Michigan hasn’t played a top 5 KenPom side since March 4, when it knocked off Purdue, 75-66, in the Big Ten Tournament title game.
Livers and Co. haven’t faced off against a KenPom top-20 squad since Houston (No. 18) in the second round, and we all know how that one turned out:
MARCH IS THE GREATEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN EVER. pic.twitter.com/OHjBa375Xg
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 18, 2018
The Wildcats’ average opponent seed line in this Big Dance has been 6.8, and Nova has been pounding them by an average victory margin of 17.8 points per game.
Michigan, meanwhile, has drawn with a 14, a 6, a 7, a 9, and an 11 — an average opponent seed line of 9.4, winning by an average margin of 11.6 points.
And the deeper the run, the greater the disparity. Villanova’s last three opponents — West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas, all from the Big 12 — averaged a No. 3 seed; Michigan’s last three dance partners — Texas A&M, Florida State and Loyola-Chicago — averaged a 9.
“A lot of people tried to slight the road, saying we didn’t have to play anybody that great or anything,” Watson said. “My opinion is that, if anybody is in the tournament, there’s something good about them. They’re all really good. We’ve played a lot of good teams. We’ve not always played our best basketball, but we were able to play defense, which really built the wins.”
Hey, if the slipper fits, why fight it?
“We’re playing on Monday night,” Michigan forward Duncan Robinson countered. “I’m OK with whatever role that is.”
Charmed as hell?
“I think we thrive on that,” Watson said, barely fighting a smile. “We’re used to being slighted. It’s something that fuels us. It’s something that makes us want to come out and play even harder.”