Villanova vs. Michigan Betting Odds, Predictions: Our Top Pick for Thursday’s Sweet 16 Contest
Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Hunter Dickinson.
Villanova vs. Michigan Odds
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
The road to a championship in most sports often features rivalries and rematches that make the games even more fun for the fans watching.
Because of the unique setup of college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, it's a little rarer to see the same two schools competing in March year after year.
When we do get a fun rematch, it stands out. Thursday's second game to tip off checks this box.
Villanova bested Michigan in the 2018 national championship game, earning Jay Wright and the Wildcats their second title in just three years. Two of Villanova's contributors in that game are still on the roster and will start Thursday night.
Michigan has a new coach and a crop of younger, fresh talent, with eyes on revenge and a spot in the Elite Eight. Are the Wolverines a worthy underdog for your wagering dollar?
Wright's squad has been a team of absolutes this season.
The Wildcats are one of the most experienced and veteran units in college basketball. That has manifested itself in several ways. Villanova is currently in line to break the all-time team free throw percentage record, while also rarely turning the ball over or making glaring miscues.
Wright keeps his rotation remarkably tight, really only relying on six players. Villanova ranks 318th in bench minutes, per KenPom.
That shallow bench is aided by Villanova playing as one of the slowest teams in the country. The Wildcats rank 345th in tempo, preferring to let star guards Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore work to create a quality shot in the half-court rather than getting sped into transition.
That does not mean this team plays like Rollie Massimino's 1985 Wildcats. Villanova ranks 20th in the nation in 3-point rate, hoisting 26 long balls per game.
The recipe to shake Villanova is clear: speed up the game and either keep it off the 3-point arc and foul line or pray for a cold night from both spots. Against a team as smart and unflappable as Villanova, a plan only gets you so far.
Every college basketball season sees plenty of teams that start the season ranked highly in the preseason polls get their expectations and achievements dragged down by the reality of a long campaign.
Most seasons, however, also have a team that begins the year highly touted and struggles to pull themselves together before rebounding with a hot streak in March. Last year's UCLA team that made the Final Four as an 11-seed comes to mind.
So does this current Michigan team.
Juwan Howard returned three key contributors from last season's Wolverines that reached the Elite Eight (where they lost by two points to the aforementioned UCLA Bruins), primarily star center Hunter Dickinson.
Michigan also added multiple highly-touted freshmen and replaced mid-major grad transfer point guard Mike Smith with mid-major grad transfer point guard DaVante' Jones.
In theory, the pieces of a Big Ten contender were in place.
In practice, Michigan's plan to replace its three veteran wing players — all of whom have played NBA minutes this season — with fresh faces has made life more difficult, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
It's been an uphill climb for the Wolverines, falling from the fourth-best defense in the nation last season to the 11th-ranked defense in the Big Ten this year.
Dickinson is still one of the most reliable post scorers in college basketball, but has much less space to operate this year. Michigan shot over 38% from 3-point range last year (13th-best nationally), but has only hit 33.9% (166th in the country).
That hasn't changed, as Michigan has made a run in March. The Wolverines are just 10-of-30 from deep in the tournament, but are supplementing Dickinson's post touches with timely cuts and clutch 2-point shot-making on the perimeter.
Michigan vs. Villanova Betting Pick
Dickinson should be primed for a big night. The 7-foot-1 sophomore dwarfs Villanova's biggest starter, 6-foot-8 Eric Dixon. Dickinson's go-to baby hook shot should be available all night long.
If Dixon gets into foul trouble, Villanova doesn't play any other big man taller than 6-foot-7.
Jermaine Samuels is a springy athlete but would be wildly outmatched trying to contain Dickinson in the post.
Wright has to be scheming up double teams from all over the court, and Villanova's strategy to slow down Dickinson is the key item to watch in this game.
As an underdog with the primary focus in the game on its side, Michigan has to like its chances. Villanova is always capable of shooting its way into any win, but the Wildcats' lack of size and depth has to factor in as this tournament continues.
I'll take my chances on the Wolverines.