The Final Four field is set and when looking at the seeds we have a one, two and three and one Cinderella at No. 11, with a 98-year nun now being used in license deal for her name and image.
As the tournament has played out, the one aspect we knew going in that has not and will not change, the national champion will be the only team good enough to win six times, but they are not a super squad.
But these teams do have elements in common, as each won their conference tournament, each plays outstanding defense and all of them want to beat the opposing team down the floor to set up easier scoring opportunities. We know Michigan and Villanova are the favorites and they should be viewed cautiously as underdogs are 35-27-1 ATS in this event. Here is why each has their chance for – One Shining Moment – or leave San Antonio disappointed.
Villanova +105 to win title
Villanova and Virginia were the two best teams in the country all season. Jay Wright’s club has come to play in all four games and always brought something. The Wildcats average 86.6 points a game, have a plethora of three-point shooters and are skilled at getting to the free throw line. They were the best among the 68 teams in the field at 78 percent from the stripe. When the offense is off like it was against Texas Tech, the defense was more than good enough to carry them.
Because of how the tournament has played out, Villanova has no real matchup edge other than possibly 6’9 Omar Spellman making three’s. Each team left can defend and go small without missing a beat and has the offense to combat Nova if they have another off-shooting game.
The Wolverines offense is not easy to guard because they take different paths to find the best shots in coach John Beilein’s offense than most teams. This movement can make foes feel like they should double-team certain floor locations and if they do, Michigan players will find a wide open shooter. The Wolverines can defend and they are amazingly quick in the transition game, which leads to immediate points.
Sometimes the Michigan offense just disappears. They can thank the defense for 13-game winning streak. However, a bad shooting game against these remaining teams will send the Wolverines home without a championship.
For the majority of the season, both Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk carried Kansas with Udoka Azubuike often doing damage in the paint on both ends of the floor. But with guard Malik Newman the MVP of the tournament to date, the Jayhawks are a real force. That is four dependable scoring options on the floor, with any two capable of 25-point games and a third easily reaching double digits.
Kansas won the Big 12 tourney without Azubuike, but they will not win twice if he is on the bench with fouls in San Antonio. He is their lone productive big man and all these teams are clever in their ability to get to the rim. Coach Bill Self will need blocked shots and a defensive presence from his center. If the 7-footer is sitting, the Jayhawks probably do not survive.
Loyola-Chicago +1125 to win title
Because Loyola came out of the Missouri Valley, the analytics charts said an 11-seed, but sometimes you have to watch and just not read numbers. This was a Top 30 or better team since January and their 32-5 SU and 24-9 ATS records are correct. This is no All-Airport bunch, but they play smart, make the extra pass for better shots continually and are tenacious defensively. To the last point, no team left has more active hands in the passing lanes. While other clubs might have better pure athletes, the Ramblers have exceptional basketball agility, which they use to frustrate opponents.
One major issue for Loyola, they lack NBA players. Teams that win it all end up having a couple of players with NBA careers. That does not mean they are stars, but even a less than stellar 2010 Duke championship team had Lance Thomas and Kyle Singler, who are still drawing NBA paychecks. Where are those players for the Ramblers?
Doug Upstone wrote this for ScoresandStats.com.