The 2018 NCAA Final Four is composed of three traditional powerhouses and one Cinderella story. The Villanova Wildcats have looked like the best team all tournament long, and Vegas agrees. Villanova is now the favorite to win it all at -110, followed by the Michigan Wolverines at +250, the Kansas Jayhawks +350, and the Loyola Ramblers at +850. It’s been a wild tournament so far where a lot of dogs have barked…let’s breakdown the two games from a betting perspective:
Vik’s Record: 34-23-2
Jason’s Record: 20-22
#11 Loyola vs. #3 Michigan (-5)
538 Win Prob: Michigan 69%
Ken Pom says: Michigan 65-60
Joes vs. Pros: 55% of the public is on Michigan. Some of the sharps took Loyola early when the line first opened at Michigan -6.
Vik’s Pick: Michigan -5/ Loyola TT under 62.5
I hate going against Loyola as they have been great to me all tournament long from a betting perspective, but I can’t get over the numbers in this one. Loyola has had a nice draw so far as they’ve faced some young, offensive-minded teams, and don’t forget that Kansas State and Tennessee just had one day to prepare for Loyola’s complex offense. Now the Ramblers will face a Michigan team that has the best defense they’ve seen all tournament long (AdjD rank of 4). This matchup will be a step up in competition, defense, and coaching for the Ramblers. The layup lines they were executing against Nevada will be a distant memory. Michigan’s assistant coach Luke Yaklich also gives Michigan an edge in scouting and preparation for this big game. Here is a great read about why, but this nugget caught my eye:
" Ties are one thing, but institutional knowledge of the opponent’s roster is another. And Yaklich has that. An assistant coach at Illinois State in 2013-17 before joining John Beilein’s staff this offseason, Yaklich scouted and coached against Moser’s Loyola squad eight times. The Redbirds went 7-1 in those meetings. "
John Beilein is already one of the best coaches in the country, but every little edge helps. The cover will again come down to Michigan’s atrocious free throw shooting, which is why I will also be on the Loyola team total under. This should be a grinder of a game, but look for Michigan to pull away in the second half.
Jason’s pick: Michigan -5. Loyola is a tremendous story and certainly has the coach, players, and offensive sets to hang with and even beat Michigan. The problem is that Loyola has upset teams that are extremely athletic – Miami, Tennessee, Nevada – but far from polished running a half court offense. All three of those teams took an early lead against Loyola, only to slowly crumble. Loyola of course needed a Miami choke, then a buzzer shot; a late make by Clayton Custer and then a Tennessee miss; and Nevada had the ball down one but missed two three-pointers in the final minute. It’s tough to back a bad Michigan free-throw shooting team, but John Beilein was here five years ago, so the moment won’t be too big. We’ve seen mid-majors crumble in the Final 4 spotlight; how will Loyola handle the Alamodome after being the biggest story in the media all week? Michigan played perhaps the best all-around game of the tournament against Texas A&M, but hasn’t looked great in the three other wins. If Moe Wagner gets in foul trouble, Loyola will cover, and probably win. I’ll go with Michigan 68, Loyola 62.
#1 Kansas vs. #1 villanova (-5)
538 Win Prob: Villanova 64%
Ken Pom says: Villanova 82-76
Joes vs. Pros: Surprisingly, 57% the public is on Kansas.
Vik’s Pick: Villanova -5
The Wildcats just went up against two of the most physical teams in the country and did not back down. They scored 71 points against Texas Tech (AdjD 3) and 90 against West Virginia (AdjD 43). Nova also had a terrible shooting game (33% FG% & 16.7 3PT%) against Texas Tech, and still covered! Now they face a Kansas team that does not get a lot of steals (Steal% 112), which should allow the Wildcats to setup their offense easily. If you don’t pressure or get physical with the Wildcats, they are just too good at executing their offense. They also will not give the ball away. Once they get set, they will get good looks, and I don’t see Nova shooting that poorly again. Kansas is also coming off of a big overtime win against Duke as an underdog, which puts them in a let down spot. Nova has been the best team all tournament long, and has covered every spread. I look for them to do the same in this one.
Jason’s pick: Villanova -5. Kansas is a horrendous defensive team, by far the worst left in the tournament (41st per Ken Pom). How will they slow the #1 offense in the country? The Wildcats are basically the Warriors of college basketball – they will put five guys on the floor at all times who can make 3-pointers. Omari Spellman will bang inside with Udoka Azubuike, then take him out and bury 3’s (44 percent this season; 9-for-19 in the NCAA Tournament); Mikal Bridges shot 43 percent on 3’s this year; Jalen Brunson 41 percent; Donte DiVincenzo 38 percent and guards Phil Booth and Collin Gillespie both 39 percent. The Jayhawks gave up 76 points to Clemson, 79 to Seton Hall and 81 to Duke (in overtime), and Villanova is better offensively than all of them. Best case scenario for Kansas is Devonte Graham’s offensive struggles vanish – he’s 5-for-29 in the last three games – and he plays the defensive game of his life against Brunson. But I like the over 155 as well, this one feels like 85-75, Villanova.