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The Seeming Inevitability of It All …

April 2, 2018

Turns out I just predicted the wrong final game.

Since the final of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships™ that I had predicted – Virginia vs. Michigan State – had died by that first Sunday afternoon, eliminating my bracket from every pool, my interest in March Madness has waned a touch. Sure, I watched all the National Quarterfinals except Loyola-Kansas State (as I said I would), and both Final Four games this past Saturday. Best thing I can say is that the games were mostly entertaining, especially Kansas-Duke in the Midwest Regional Final, and watching Villanova blitzkrieg Kansas from the three-point line. Yet there is and has been a considerable sense of inevitability to the proceedings.

The two teams I did pick correctly to make the Final Four, Villanova and Michigan, are the ones playing tonight for all the marbles. I’m still a bit red-faced at having picked Michigan State to win it all, mistakenly putting my faith on the come in what I thought was the best starting lineup in the country (and their ability to figure out Syracuse’s zone), instead of going with the team that I had thought was actually the best team I’d seen play all season, regardless of potential and talent and reputation. I won’t make that mistake tonight.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: (3) Michigan vs. (1) Villanova (6:20PM PST, TBS) – Both teams won on Saturday because they did what their opponents did, only better. Michigan closed their game against the Fighting Sister Jeans on a 38-16 run because they started taking better care of the ball – eight (8) first-half turnovers compared to three (3) second-half turnovers, while causing 11 of Loyola’s 17 turnovers in the second half – and finally started hitting their jump shots, which then opened the lane for Michigan’s guards to run a layup drill.  Villanova ran away and hid from Kansas, continuing their Final Four string of lights-out shooting in Texas Football Stadiums in shooting .554 FG% from the floor. In a clear display of the mathematical trend of the modern game, Jay Wright’s squad personified the ideals of volume (18 threes) and efficiency (a tidy 45%) from outside the three-point arc. When the threes momentarily stopped falling for ‘Nova in the middle of the second half, and Kansas was starting to look a little frisky in narrowing the lead to 14 with just under 10 minutes to go, Villanova kept Kansas at bay by finding endless cutters to the basket and driving the lane, the residue of their “outside-in” design.  Not only does Villanova have shooters at every position, they have guys who can attack the rim at every position, which has resulted in not only the best offense in the country (#1 in both points per game at 86.9 and AdjO at 127.6 points per 100 possession, there’s that volume and efficiency thing again), but the second most efficient offense in the “KenPom Era” (since the 2002 season, only the 2015 National Runners-up Wisconsin team has had a higher AdjO, 129.0).  Michigan has a lot of those same qualities  too on offense with a similar approach, as well as a statistically stingier defense (#3 AdjD in the country at 90.4), and their biggest “outside-in” threat Moritz Wagner will present a different challenge for Villanova’s defense than anything Kansas and Udoka Azubuike could muster. Michigan could get hot from outside, with four players who shoot between 37-40% from three, and open up Villanova’s defense in the lane much like Villanova has done to their opponents on Saturday and all season long. Yet the stars seem to be in alignment here. Vegas favors Villanova by a touchdown. Everyone at ESPN save for one holdout has picked Villanova, and two major historical trends since 2004 – Tournament Scoring Margin (team in the Final with higher margin entering the game wins) and the Week 6 AP Poll (every national champion was ranked in the Top 12 in Week 6)  – also favor Villanova (who was ranked #1 while Michigan didn’t even get a vote). I am not going to buck any of that. Villanova has a Top 14 Adj D themselves, and across the board shoot the ball better (Top 11 in Overall FG%, 2P%, 3P%, and FT%) then Michigan. Michigan may have the longest current winning streak on college basketball, but Villanova is the best team I’ve seen all season, and they will cut down the nets tonight. Which would continue quite the year for Philly.

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From → Basketball, Sports

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