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National Championship Underdogs: Don’t expect Michigan to get demolished

We take a look at the facts and let them be our guide

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Loyola vs Michigan Detroit Free Press-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines have won 14 games in a row, dating back to February 11th.

It’s been awhile since Michigan lost a game, and even longer since they were blown out in one.

The last time Michigan lost by more than 9 points was on January 18th, losing to Nebraska 72-52.

That’s the last time Michigan has trailed by more than ten points in a game as well. We’ve seen U-M trail Montana and Loyola by ten in the tournament, but the Wolverines haven’t let an opponents lead get out of hand in quite some time.

That’s a big deal.

Michigan has a a large sample size that would lead to believing they probably won’t get destroyed by the Villanova Wildcats in the National Championship.

Villanova appears to be the best team in the country, but Michigan has played a handful of fine teams throughout the year and have held their own... beating Purdue, Michigan State twice, Ohio State, Houston, and Texas A&M to name a small handful. All good teams.

While Villanova has more wins (35-4) and less losses than Michigan (33-7), Michigan’s losses are a bit deceiving, as they lost three games by four points or less. Two of those narrow defeats were to a great Purdue team.

While there’s really no such thing as a “better loss”, Michigan did lose to some better teams than Villanova did. The Wildcats dropped games to St. John’s, Creighton, Butler, and Providence.

But to Villanova’s credit, they didn’t lose any game by more than eight points, something Michigan did on four occasions.

‘Nova has the best offense in the country, while Michigan has the third best defense, according to KenPom’s latest ratings. Iron sharpens iron? Something’s gotta give? Who blinks first?

On the flip side, ‘Nova isn’t a slouch on defense, ranking 14th. Michigan’s offense is solid, although inconsistent, and is ranked 31st.

Statistics have been used to this point making the case that this will be a close game, but now it’s time for the eye and gut tests.

Villanova was on fire against Kansas on Saturday, they torched the Jayhawks from beyond the arc, hitting 18 three pointers. That isn’t going to happen against Michigan. The Jayhawks are a good team, but their defense was average at best versus the Wildcats, Villanova had plenty of open looks.

Michigan doesn’t give teams many open opportunities from three, their brand of defense suffocates offenses and forces them to make tough shots. ‘Nova may very well make a good amount of these tough shots, but they aren’t going to be getting easy shots off in droves as they did against Kansas.

The bigger issue for Michigan is their offense, it needs to get going. Without draining some threes of their own, winning the game isn’t realistic. Yes, Moe Wagner needs to be fed inside, Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews need to penetrate and make buckets in the paint, but the three ball is necessary against a great team like ‘Nova.

The good news is ‘Nova does allow some space and windows for an opposing offense to get their threes off, and Michigan will have to make those shots when the opportunities present themselves. Making the extra pass and finding the open man, then shooting the three without hesitation is what will be required.

The major question is what Michigan offense shows up tonight? The one that shoots with confidence and quickness, or the offense that doesn’t run their scheme, forces things, and hesitates shooting the rock when they should fire away.

The final part of the equation is what we call heart. The Wolverines team has a lot of heart. From coach John Beilein to Moe Wagner, there are plenty of max-effort players who don’t give up but do give it their all and then some. If you’ve watched Michigan for any length of time this season, it would be hard to think they’d let this one slip away and for the game to become a blowout.

Two great teams are going at it, and there are pros and cons to both of them winning the National Championship.

When looking at all the evidence above, my conclusion is it should be an entertaining and close game. Beyond that, I’ll leave the predictions to you.