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The one stat that will decide Michigan-Villanova

The Wildcats are excellent at shooting and making threes. Can Michigan lock them up?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Villanova vs Kansas Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Most Michigan fans probably had their elation after Saturday night’s victory seriously dampened upon watching the onslaught in the next National Semifinal matchup.

Villanova ended Kansas’s chances before halftime, thanks to a barrage of three pointers. Featuring the No. 1 ranked offensive efficiency by Kenpom, Saturday’s performance was not just an anomaly for Villanova. Their ability beyond the arc has been well documented all season long.

The opposite could be said for Michigan. Typically known for their sharpshooting from deep, the Wolverines have instead been led by their defense during this Tournament run. In four of their five victories, Michigan has grinded out wins that started on the defensive end of the floor, often with outside shots not falling like they have so many times in the past.

Of course, Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen game showed a glimpse of what can happen when both are functioning. The Wolverines blitzed Texas A&M with an assault of threes, many coming from steals and transition, thanks to the aforementioned defense.

While that type of performance would be welcomed on Monday night, the Maize and Blue have not been consistent enough this postseason to expect a repeat. Instead, Michigan’s fate lies with its revitalized defense.

Villanova 3-point shooting

Opponent Nova 3PA Opp Avg Nova 3P% Opp Avg
Opponent Nova 3PA Opp Avg Nova 3P% Opp Avg
Marquette 29 19.4 0.517 0.359
Butler 34 21.0 0.412 0.373
Providence 25 21.3 0.360 0.322
Radford 27 20.7 0.519 0.350
Alabama 41 22.2 0.415 0.328
West Virginia 24 20.5 0.542 0.380
Texas Tech 24 20.8 0.167 0.323
Kansas 40 24.3 0.450 0.333

The Championship is likely to be decided by one factor, and that is Villanova’s three-point shooting. The above table shows the Wildcats attempts per game and accuracy from deep compared to their opponents in the postseason. One quick glance shows just how dangerous they have been from behind the arc.

In all eight of these matchups, Villanova shot more threes than their opponents give up on average. In fact, the Wildcats averaged over nine more attempts in these games than their opponent typically saw. In every game but one, this was accompanied by an increased three-point accuracy as well, with an overall mark of 42.6 percent, eight percentage points higher than their opponent’s norm.

In short: Villanova has been shooting more threes than their opponents are used to facing, and more of the attempts are finding the bottom of the net than usual.

Michigan Defense 3-point shooting

Opponent Mich D 3PA Opp Avg Mich D 3P% Opp Avg
Opponent Mich D 3PA Opp Avg Mich D 3P% Opp Avg
Iowa 23 20.4 0.304 0.375
Nebraska 16 20.3 0.250 0.346
Michigan State 25 20.7 0.280 0.400
Purdue 17 22.7 0.235 0.420
Montana 15 16.1 0.200 0.339
Houston 18 21.9 0.389 0.387
Texas A&M 15 20.0 0.200 0.329
Florida State 17 22.3 0.235 0.350
Loyola 10 18.4 0.100 0.396

No doubt about it, Villanova’s numbers should strike fear in its opponents. However, Michigan can find some encouragement in how it has defended the arc in recent games. A surprising strength of the team has been limiting three-point attempts, especially in the NCCA Tournament. While the Big Ten Tournament saw most opponents reach their season average, the last five teams Michigan has faced have all been held under their typical mark.

Furthermore, four of these five teams have been much less accurate when facing the Wolverines. Their combined .240 three-point percentage is significantly under their average of .361 percent when facing other opponents. Call it a small sample size, but clearly Michigan has been defending at their best during their Tournament run.

How Villanova shoots from three will decide who ends up with the trophy at the end of Monday night. This is a strength-on-strength matchup, with both teams entering hot and both teams able to master their opponent in this department.

For Michigan, the goal is simple, at least on paper. If the Wolverines can continue running shooters off the line and limiting the number of attempts from deep, they will have an excellent chance at securing the National Championship.