National Title Mega Preview: Villanova Seeks Betting Perfection
And then there were two. Tonight in San Antonio, we will crown a national champion in a game that features two red-hot teams. Michigan has won 14 straight (11-3 against the spread), while Villanova went 9-0 in March — winning all nine games by double digits. Nova will attempt to become the ninth program in college basketball history to win at least three titles, while Michigan will try to buck the trend of ugly Big Ten national championship performances.
Since seeding began in 1985, 11 Big Ten teams have played for a national championship, with only three coming away victorious. Shockingly, of those 11 teams, only the 2000 Michigan State championship team covered the spread (1-10 ATS overall). Since that Sparty title, the Big ten has lost six consecutive national championships straight up and ATS.
Michigan itself is actually responsible for four of those 11 national championship appearances. The Wolverines failed to cover the spread in any of the four games, including each of the three they were listed as an underdog. They did win a title in 1989, but didn’t cover as the favorite in an 80-79 victory over Seton Hall.
Meanwhile, Villanova will look to join an exclusive club of national champions that finished the tournament 6-0 ATS. Only five teams have accomplished that feat over the past 20 years:
- 2006 Florida
- 2009 North Carolina
- 2014 Connecticut
- 2015 Duke
- 2016 Villanova
Yes, Villanova could win its second national championship in the past three years with a perfect 12-0 ATS record. A potential legendary run in the betting world. (I also can’t verify it with 100% certainty, but I believe the 1985 Villanova championship team also went 6-0 ATS).
A Villanova cover tonight would also mark the fourth time in the last five years that a national champion finished 6-0 ATS in the tournament. That’s remarkable, considering it only happened twice between 1997-2013.
In our final betting guide of the season, we will analyze the matchups on both ends of the floor in great detail. And as always, we will also take a look at key trends, interesting nuggets and any sharp action. At the conclusion, our experts will offer their favorite bets for Monday’s national championship.
Don’t forget to check back here up until tip for insight into last-minute sharp action, significant line moves and any other betting market info.
Let’s get to it!
All info as of late Sunday evening.
#3 Michigan vs. #1 Villanova -6.5 | O/U: 145
San Antonio, TX | 9:20 p.m. ET on CBS
By Jordan Majewski
When Michigan has the Ball
Michigan’s offense is predicated on forward Moe Wagner’s ability to do basically anything and everything in pick-and-roll. That’s critical, as Villanova’s most glaring defensive weakness is containing PnR, particularly with forwards Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall. Per Synergy, Villanova’s defense collectively grades out in just the 46th percentile nationally against “rollers” in pick-and-roll sets, which ultimately means Wagner could have a productive day in Michigan’s half-court offense.
With that said, Villanova head coach Jay Wright could use his 1-2-2 zone press to effectively disrupt Wagner and the Michigan half-court offense, especially with long-armed forward Mikal Bridges at the point of attack. Michigan turns it over at the fourth-lowest rate nationally, which is logical given that ball control is a hallmark of any head coach John Beilein offense. However, Wright doesn’t necessarily use his press to generate turnovers; he just wants to knock opposing offenses out of rhythm.
Florida State effectively did just that with its press against Michigan in the Elite 8. Its press forced the Wolverines to run their infamous 2 Guard offense and pick-and-pop action for Wagner higher up on the court. In doing so, the Seminoles limited the Wolverines to just .91 points per possession (ppp). Florida State’s ultimate demise came on the offensive end, as it couldn’t score consistently enough. That won’t be an issue for Villanova, one of the best offenses in the history of college basketball.
When Villanova has the Ball
Are there any superlatives left to describe the Villanova offense after one of the best performances in NCAA Tournament history? The Wildcats are coming off a win over Kansas in which they scored 95 points, while setting a Final Four record with 18 made 3-pointers.
With one game remaining, Nova has scored 1.27 ppp, which would rank as the second best single-season mark in KenPom’s database that dates back to the 2001-02 season. (Wisconsin’s 2014-15 squad actually owns the high water mark at 1.29 ppp.) I’ve said it countless times this season: the unselfishness, intelligence and versatility of every player on the floor makes Villanova one of the best offensive teams in college basketball history. Simply put, every player 1 through 5 can shoot, pass, and dribble. Plus, the Wildcats have an elite floor general in Jalen Brunson, who’s the rug that really ties the entire room together.
There’s literally no chink in the Villanova offensive armor. Kansas head coach Bill Self tried to zone Villanova, which worked for about three possessions. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, as the Wildcats lead the country at 1.21 ppp against zone defenses, per Synergy. Not only does Villanova have the nation’s best zone offense, it also possesses the most efficient man-to-man offense in the country.
Want to press Nova to disrupt its offensive flow? Good luck. Nova scores 1.02 ppp against the press. As you might recall, it leveled one of the nation’s best press defenses (West Virginia) earlier in this tournament to the tune of 1.18 ppp. Villanova owns the most efficient ball-screen offense in the country and ranks in the top 10 in transition, off cuts, and iso. Oh, and the Wildcats’ offense also ranks in the top 20 in post efficiency. I could keep on going. Like I said, there are no weaknesses.
So can Michigan do anything defensively to even remotely slow down the Villanova offensive juggernaut? Potentially, as Michigan does at least play outstanding on-ball defense. As I’ve mentioned throughout this tourney, this is an extremely unique team for head coach John Beilein in that the defense is the strongest aspect. Michigan ranks third nationally in defensive efficiency, allowing only .90 ppp on the season. (It has been even better in the tourney at .87 ppp.)
The strength of Michigan’s defense lies on the perimeter, where guards Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman can all defend in ball screens with extreme effectiveness. Consequently, Michigan allows 3-point attempts at the fifth-lowest rate in the country.
While the perimeter defense is strong, Wagner struggles to defend in the post. The Wolverines also tend to get caught in some bad switches, which spells trouble against a Villanova offense that exploits bad switches better than anybody. Also, even with excellent defensive guards, nobody can defend Brunson’s back down/post-up game. Throughout the tourney, he has used his post-up game to abuse some of the best individual defenders in the country, namely West Virginia’s Jevon Carter and Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans. When Brunson does post up, defenses are forced to collapse, which makes the versatile Villanova offense even more dangerous.
By Bryan Mears
Michigan Needs To Run
The previous Final Four record for most 3-pointers made in a game was 13; Villanova hit that many in the first half against Kansas. Nova is an absolutely elite shooting team, ranking first in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency and second in effective field goal percentage. The Wildcats also rank 14th in percentage of shots from 3 and 18th in 3-point percentage. If they’re hot from behind the arc, they’re taking home the national title. Period.
That said, Michigan can battle Nova on the perimeter — the Wolverines rank sixth nationally in 3-point defense. Further, Nova is surprisingly weak in transition, ranking 343rd in frequency of shots allowed in transition. If Michigan’s defense can limit Nova from behind the arc, that’ll work double-duty as long rebounds off misses will allow the Wolverines to get out in transition, where they rank 10th nationally in efficiency.
The blueprint is there for Beilein & Co.; can they execute?
No. 1 Thing I’m Watching For
Can Michigan score 70+ Points?
Villanova is 25-0 this season when holding teams to 75 points or fewer. You simply can’t beat Villanova without an explosive offensive performance. The Wildcats’ offense is too elite, as Jordan covered so comprehensively above. Just look at the points scored by the four teams that defeated Nova this year:
- Butler: 101
- St. Johns: 79
- Providence: 76
- Creighton: 89
That’s not to say Villanova can’t win if Michigan scores 76 or more. The Wildcats went 10-4 when teams surpassed 75 points, but that pales in comparison to 25-0. Getting over that hurdle might be a tall order for Michigan’s offense, which has only eclipsed the 70-point mark once in this tourney in its 99-point explosion against Texas A&M. In its other four tournament games, the Wolverines have only averaged 63 points.
With a win on Monday night, many will naturally compare this 2017-18 Villanova team to the 2015-16 national championship squad, which featured Brunson, Bridges and Booth. Well, that team finished 29-1 when holding opponents under the 70-point mark.
In my opinion, Michigan will need to duplicate the offensive efficiency we saw against the Aggies in order to pull off the upset. As Bryan mentioned above, the Wolverines will need to run as much as possible off Villanova missed 3-pointers (if the Wildcats even miss).
Did You Know?
By Evan Abrams
Villanova has won nine consecutive games by double-digits. Since 1985, only four other teams have entered the National Championship after winning five NCAA Tournament games by double-digits:
- 2000 Michigan State
- 2001 Duke
- 2009 North Carolina
- 2016 North Carolina
Three of the four won and covered in the national title, while the lone exception, 2016 North Carolina, lost to … Villanova.
The Wildcats’ run is even more impressive when you consider they also won every conference tournament game by double digits, which none of the four teams listed above can claim. With a cover tonight, the Wildcats would join the 2008-09 Tar Heels as the only teams to ever go 6-0 ATS in the tourney as at least 5-point favorites in every game.
By John Ewing
Villanova became only the fourth team since 2005 to win a Final Four game shooting 55% or better. The previous three won and covered in the national championship.
Since 2000, favorites of 3 or more points in the National Championship are 10-1 SU and 9-2 ATS, including 7-0 SU and 6-1 ATS since 2004.
By PJ Walsh
Not surprisingly, bettors are all over Villanova in this matchup. Sixty-three percent of spread tickets and 76% of dollars wagered are laying the points with the Wildcats.
With such one-sided action, sportsbooks have moved this number from an opener of Villanova -6.5 up to the market consensus of -7.
My Favorite Bet
Jordan: Villanova -6.5
Stuck: Waiting for a Michigan +7 to pop
Mears: Michigan +7
Editor’s note: The opinion on this game is from the individual writers and is based on their research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.
Top photo: Villanova’s Mikal Bridges; credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports