Previewing Monday night's contest between Villanova (35-4), the No. 1 seed in the East Region, and Michigan (33-7), the No. 3 seed in the West Region.
The Wildcats rained in threes from every spot on the floor in their 95-79 win over Kansas, but Michigan has done a terrific job of defending the arc in the tournament. The Wolverines have held their five NCAA opponents to 24.0 percent shooting and 18 three-point baskets – allowing just one to Loyola-Chicago in their semifinal win. About 62 percent of the Cats' field-goal attempts came from distance Saturday night and they must find a way to drive more if Michigan crowds the arc, and draw more fouls (only 5 for 7 on free throws vs. Kansas). Neutralizing 6-foot-11 forward Moe Wagner will be another important task.
The Wolverines looked shaky in the first half Saturday night but turned it around in the second half of their 69-57 win. They have allowed an average of 58.6 points in their five games but the Wildcats, averaging 84.8 points in the tournament, will present a difficult challenge with their balance on offense. Michigan did not receive much in the way of production from players other than Moe Wagner and Charles Matthews. Those other players were a combined 8 of 31 from the field and scored 28 points against Loyola. Offensively, Michigan plays at a slower pace and is one of the nation's best at protecting the basketball.
Villanova will have its hands full dealing with the mobility and inside-outside play of Wagner, who went for 24 points and 15 rebounds against Loyola. Even though they were in firm control against Kansas, the Cats allowed 45.2 percent shooting, the highest percentage it has yielded in the tournament. The Wolverines own the No. 4 defensive efficiency level in the nation according to KenPom.com. In the NCAAs, they have held opponents to 38.7 percent shooting and 24.0 percent from three while forcing 13.6 turnovers per game. They limited Florida State to 54 points and Loyola to 57 in their last two games.
The Wildcats smashed all sorts of three-point-shooting records Saturday night. They have 66 three-point baskets – 35 more than their opponents – the most in NCAA history for five games. Forward Eric Paschall shot 10 for 11 overall against Kansas and leads the team in field-goal percentage at 56.4 in the NCAAs. For Michigan, Charles Matthews (53.2 percent) and Moe Wagner (51.9 percent) are the top shooters in the tournament, but the Wolverines will need more production from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, their No. 3 scorer, who shot just 2 of 11 on Saturday.
Michigan has been in the unique position of having played, and defeated, five NCAA tournament opponents whose seeds were lower than the Wolverines' No. 3. They might have felt the pressure of being the favorite in all those games, but they won't feel the same pressure against the Wildcats, whom many have awarded the national championship trophy already. The Wolverines' style at both ends of the court could confuse Villanova. But the Wildcats are rolling, having defeated all five of their opponents by double digits. They've won with differing styles – great shooting, as well as toughness on defense and on the boards. If they keep it going Monday night, one more national championship trophy will be going to the Main Line.