- Who will cut down the nets in San Antonio on Monday night? Our experts weigh in.
After nearly three weeks of madness in the NCAA tournament, the field of 68 has been cut down to two teams. On Monday night in San Antonio at the Alamodome, No. 3 Michigan and No. 1 Villanova will play for the 2018 NCAA national title. After downing No. 1 Kansas by a 16-point margin on Saturday, the Wildcats will play for their second title in the last three years. Meanwhile, Michigan arrived to the championship game by knocking out tournament Cinderella Loyola-Chicago. The Wolverines are seeking their first national championship since 1989.
Villanova opened up as 6.5-point favorites over Michigan, the biggest championship game spread since Duke was favored by seven points over Butler in 2010. Those are the Vegas odds, but what do our experts say? Below our writers and editors make their picks for Monday night's matchup, which tips off at 9:20 p.m. ET on TBS.
In my preview of the national championship game, I laid out Michigan's seemingly impossible task: Find a way to slow down Villanova while simultaneously generating enough offense for the defensive effort to be worth it. In that preview, I hinted that I didn't think the Wolverines, as great as they are, were up to the task. Nothing has changed in the hours since I wrote that. Villanova's A-game has gone unmatched for the balance of this season, as it showed in its thrashing of Kansas in the Final Four. When Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman and the rest of the Wildcats play that well, there's no beating them. They will show that again on Monday night, resulting in the program's—and Jay Wright's—second title in the last three seasons.
The Wildcats are not going to shoot as well against Michigan as they did against Kansas. One of the reasons the Wolverines will enter Monday night with the No. 3 defense in Division I, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency, is their success running opponents off the three-point line. Villanova will make its share of threes, but Michigan will get enough stops to keep this close past halftime. Still, the Wildcats are better equipped than Loyola-Chicago was to contain the 6’11" stretch-5 (junior Moritz Wagner) that dropped a 24-point, 15-rebound double-double on Saturday. They also can reliably score inside the arc if they go cold from beyond it. Though Michigan is riding a 14-game winning streak, Villanova has looked like one of the top teams in the country for most of the season, and rarely has it been challenged in the NCAAs. The Wildcats will have to exert more effort, for a longer portion of the game, than they did in whipping the Jayhawks, but they should win comfortably.
Dating back to early in the season, I’ve felt Wildcats are too talented and play both ends of the floor too hard for this to break any other way. They don’t need to hit double-digit threes to beat you, but they can, as evidenced by the convincing win over Kansas. Michigan has the perimeter length to keep up defensively and the shooters to make it competitive, but it’s particularly hard to bet against Jalen Brunson in a big game like this, knowing that the ball will get where it needs to go when it counts. Keep an eye on the matchup between Mo Wagner and Omari Spellman, but bottom line: Villanova has too much firepower and will be too well-prepared not to see this through.
The surprising part of the Wildcats' record three-point barrage on Saturday night against Kansas wasn't that it happened but rather which player ended up setting the pace. Before he went 4-for-5 from long range and finished with 24 points to lead all scorers, junior forward Eric Paschall entered the Final Four as Villanova's fifth-leading scorer and its seventh-best three-point shooter by percentage. (He hit only two threes total in November and December.) In the aftermath of the blowout, Jay Wright looked like he knew there was no way the Wildcats would shoot that well in two consecutive big games, and given the stakes and the talent of Wright's coaching counterpart John Beilein, Michigan should succeed in reining in the title game's pace to a manageable level. But someone other than Paschall—Phil Booth? Mikal Bridges?—will explode to provide some separation. Both teams seem to know the Wolverines can't keep all six members of Villanova's sterling rotation down.