A thrilling month of basketball has all led up to this. The Final Four in San Antonio features the Big East champion (No. 1 seed Villanova), Big 12 champion (No. 1 seed Kansas), Big Ten champion (No. 3 seed Michigan), and Cinderella and Missouri Valley champ (No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago). Anything can happen in 60 minutes (or more) of basketball, and the Final Four games should be very exciting.
No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago vs. No. 3 seed Michigan
Loyola Chicago is a Cinderella, but they’ve played like top-five team in the nation for a while now. The Ramblers are on a 14-game win streak, and they simply have really good players. Loyola Chicago’s success comes from the unit as a whole, as they play team basketball and really good defense. They will also have the benefit of the crowd likely being on their side for the game.
Meanwhile, Michigan is on a 13-game win streak, so this is a matchup of the two hottest teams. The Wolverines have also played very good defense, which has allowed them to advance even when the offense wasn’t clicking. However, Michigan clearly has the ability to light it up—as shown in their 99-point Sweet 16 victory against Texas A&M.
The matchups between the guards and forwards like Loyola Chicago’s Clayton Custer, Ben Richardson, and Marques Townes and Michigan’s Muhammad Ali-Abdur-Rahkman, Charles Matthews, Xavier Simpson, and Duncan Robinson will be big. Knocking down tough shots late could be the difference in the game. But I think Moritz Wagner down low will be the difference in a close win for Michigan.
Prediction: Michigan 66, Loyola Chicago 62
No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 1 seed Villanova
Despite Loyola Chicago and Michigan holding the longest win streaks heading into the Final Four, the winner of the Kansas-Villanova matchup will be the favorite in the national championship game on Monday.
For Kansas, it’s hard not to like Devonte’ Graham’s senior leadership, as he’s making the right plays to help his team keep advancing even if it isn’t scoring the ball a ton. The talented Malik Newman, who deserves a lot of credit for transferring from Mississippi State to Kansas instead of going right into the NBA after his freshman season, is shooting 48% from three and averaging 25.7 points per game over the last three games. If Graham and Newman play well, the Jayhawks are tough to stop.
Villanova has found a way to separate in each of their four games on their path to the Final Four, and they’re just a really, really good team. Jalen Brunson is probably going to win the Naismith Award (and he was already named AP Player of the Year), and Mikal Bridges has played just as well as his teammate. Both Brunson and Bridges could be off to the NBA after this season, so they should have the senior-like drive to win another title after they did won as freshman.
Nova and Kansas met in the 2016 Elite Eight, which the Wildcats won despite going 4-for-18 from three. Bill Self is a great coach that’ll almost certainly attempt to limit Villanova from deep again, but Jay Wright is obviously a great coach as well and will have a gameplan and adjustments of his own. This should be fun to watch.
Prediction: Villanova 68, Kansas 67