Just four teams are still standing in the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship and just three games remain before the 2017-18 champion is crowned. Two of these March Madness games tip-off this Saturday as college basketball’s Final Four is upon us.
Here we recap the road to the Final Four before giving our predictions and pick for the matchups:
- Villanova: After failing to capture the outright Big East title for the first time since the conference restructured in 2013, Villanova did manage to win the Big East tournament, and entered March Madness with a head of steam as a result. The Wildcats received a No. 1 seed and ranked as the second highest of those seeds, behind only Virginia. In the NCAA tournament, Villanova lived up to their billing, winning each of their four previous games by double-digits. With a combination of three-point sharpshooting and excellent defense, Villanova has been the best team in this tournament. 2018 marks the sixth time the Wildcats have reached the Final Four and second time in three years.
- Kansas: 2018 marked Kansas’ record-breaking 14th consecutive outright Big 12 title, a number that is remarkably the same as the amount of home losses the team has suffered under head coach Bill Self. Kansas also won the Big 12 tournament, their fifth in the last nine years. This, plus their regular season record, helped the Jayhawks secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Much like Villanova, who Kansas lost to in the 2016 Elite Eight, the Jayhawks played worthy of their seed. They won by double-digits in two of the four games, and faced their biggest challenge in the Elite Eight, taking Duke to overtime to get the win. Kansas, who has played in a remarkable 29-consecutive March Madness’, will be playing in their 15th Final Four as well as looking for their fourth national championship.
- Michigan: With seven losses, including two against Big 10 favorite Purdue, the Wolverines weren’t really the expected team to win the Big 10 conference championship. But they got hot at the right time, winning back-to-back games against Michigan State and Purdue. Entering March Madness as the Big 10 tournament champions boded well for the Wolverines, who picked up two easy wins and outlasted a tough Houston and Florida State team to advance to the Final Four. This will be Michigan’s eighth Final Four appearance, although two of the previous ones were vacated due to NCAA violations. The last time the team reached the Final Four, in 2013, they were the national runner-ups.
- Loyola (Chicago): A small research campus located in Illinois, almost no one expected Loyola Chicago to be dancing this late into the tournament. This year’s Cinderella, Loyola was the biggest beneficiary of Wichita State leaving the Missouri Valley Conference prior to this season. The Ramblers won both the outright MVC title as well as the conference tournament in order to earn their way into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1985. Three of Loyola’s four prior games have truly been nailbiters, with the Ramblers winning by a combined four points in those contests. In the Elite Eight however, Loyola showed their muscle, outplaying another unlikely team to reach that round, Kansas State. Loyola won by 16 points, likely killing any doubt people still had in this team’s ability to create bracket havoc. This is just the second time the Ramblers have reached the Final Four. The last time it happened, in 1963, the team won it all.
Final Four Matchups Predictions & Picks
No. 3 Michigan vs No. 11 Loyola (Chicago) – Saturday, 6:09 PM ET on TBS
While not nearly as much as a bracket-buster as their opponents, Michigan is a three-seed, meaning, they aren’t supposed to be here either. Just like Loyola however, this is a team with a chip on its shoulder. Outside of their underdog status, Loyola and Michigan have a lot in common when it comes to the way they play on the courts. Both teams are efficient on offense (Loyola is ranked fifth in the nation in efficiency) and have shown that throughout the tournament. However, the biggest asset for both teams has been their defense.
Loyola and Michigan dominate the glass and have been able to hold their opponents to minimal scoring performances throughout the tournament. Loyola is driven less by one star and more by their entire roster as depth has been one of their keys. Michigan on the other hand, has an NBA prospect leading the way in Mo Wagner. Wagner is a matchup nightmare no matter how good an opposing defense is and if Michigan can avoid being the latest top seed to fall to Loyola, they will need a big game from him.
Then there’s the turnover battle, which becomes paramount at this point in the season. Michigan has the third-lowest turnover rate in the nation compared to Loyola, which ranks 219th. Michigan also has perhaps the best head coach in the country given his ability to really move his guys around to incredible effectiveness.
Eventually, the clock strikes midnight on all Cinderellas and it seems this could finally be Loyola’s. Look for the Ramblers to keep it close though, falling on the other end of a late game-winning shot this time.
- For the picks, take Michigan (-5) to win but take Loyola to cover. Look for a total under 130 as well. Place these wagers with any of Bovada, Bookmaker or 5Dimes. They are all good sportsbooks for Americans.
No. 1 Villanova vs No. 1 Kansas – Saturday, 8:49 PM ET on TBS
On one half of the bracket, we have the matchup between the upsets but on the other side, it’s all chalk as two of the country’s best teams prepare for another great showdown.
Villanova is led by the incredibly talented duo of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges but its more than that. The depth of the Wildcats’ bench is unmatched as up-and-down Villanova has pieces to plug in that only enhance their scoring and defensive ability. They certainly won’t have it easy against Kansas though as the Jayhawks rank 14th in points per game. Villanova ranks top in the nation in that category as well as offensive efficiency. Their defense is good too, but the Wildcats haven’t quite faced anybody the level of Kansas in their first four tournament games.
Kansas’ biggest advantage will be their three point shooting as all of the team’s top players are shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc this season. If all three are going at the same time, Kansas can be nearly unbeatable, even against a top foe like Villanova. The problem for Kansas though is that as much as they live by the three, they die by it too. This is something Villanova will be poised to take advantage of if they can back the Jayhawks off the arc.
This will no doubt be a competitive one as both teams are talented and rightful to have advanced to this point. That being said, Villanova is the best team in the country right now and they are playing like the best team in the country. It’s tough to beat a team like that when they are firing on all cylinders.