Michigan and Villanova’s 2018 National Championship Game matchup is one built in almost perfect asymmetry.
Villanova has been one of the top 2 teams in college basketball all season. The other is Virginia, which was sacrificed to UMBC long ago. Michigan was a plodding team for much of the season that got itself together in time to make a title run.
Calling the Wolverines the hottest team in basketball seems weird, though, given that their strength is turning games into messy displays that don’t always feature quality offense. The Wildcats, meanwhile, get after it on offense and rain shots down upon often-helpless opponents.
Villanova’s hot shooting is problem for any team
Villanova’s offensive qualifications are numerous. The Wildcats boast the best offense in the country, per KenPom’s efficiency metrics, and are top 15 in effective field-goal percentage, turnover percentage, 3-point shooting percentage, 2-point shooting percentage and free-throw shooting percentage.
The Wildcats love to space the floor with five capable 3-point marksmen, a strategy that worked perfectly against Kansas in the Final Four on Saturday. Villanova shot 40 treys and 25 2s, and set the Final Four record for made 3-pointers in a game by halftime.
Watch ALL 13 of Villanova's record-tying 13 three's in a #FinalFour game…
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) April 1, 2018
Michigan’s biggest strength is perimeter defense
Michigan’s defense has been able to lock down everyone in March. Only two opponents have shot 40 percent or better on 3-pointers since the beginning of February, and the one time a postseason opponent had any kind of success with the long ball against the Wolverines, it was in Michigan’s blowout win against Texas A&M in the Sweet 16.
Guards Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and transfer wing Charles Matthews are Michigan’s defensive standouts. They disrupt opposing offenses on the outside and make it hard for teams to get open shots. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Michigan contested Loyola-Chicago’s first 16 shots in the second half of their Final Four game on Saturday and only let up 3 uncontested shots in the second half.
Moe Wagner and Duncan Robinson are more effective on offense than on defense, but Michigan’s excellent on-ball defense means the Wolverines don’t need shot blockers on the inside to succeed. Wagner’s draw in the championship will be Omari Spellman, and that will be a battle not just down low but all over the court. Both are 3-point threats with post moves, and though Wagner is more polished on offense, Spellman is no easy matchup. On Monday, everyone’s going to be responsible for perimeter defense — Wagner included.
Michigan’s offense ranks 31st in KenPom’s efficiency ratings, and without a dominant showing from Wagner, wouldn’t even be here. But the Wolverines’ defensive prowess and slow pace usually keep opponents from racing too far away. That will be put to the ultimate test in the National Championship Game.
Something’s gotta give, and Villanova is a more well-rounded team
This matchup should decide the game. If Nova can overcome the Wolverines’ defensive pressure to get open shots, that will be it. Villanova is the more complete team, and Michigan’s relative lack of firepower on offense makes the Wolverines ill-equipped to win a shootout.
There is a chance the Wildcats’ 3-point shooting strategy backfires if they don’t hit enough, but Villanova already has been able to overcome one poor 3-point-shooting performance in the tournament, a 4-for-24 effort in a double-digit win against Texas Tech. But there are no certainties in college basketball. We’ll just have to wait and see.