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Michigan, Nova battle for NCAA 'ship Monday
By: Sam Chase - StatFox
Published: 4/2/2018  at  1:53:00 PM
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NCAA Tournament – Championship Game – Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
Tip-off: Monday, 9:20 pm ET
Line: Villanova -6.5, Total: 144.5

Villanova looked unbeatable on Saturday night. Are they?

After their 95-79 thrashing of Kansas on Saturday night, America can't stop talking about the national championship-winning Villanova Wildcats. Wait, what's that? They haven't won yet? Well, that hasn't stopped the college basketball world from treating them as such, but one last hurdle remains before the game-changing, three-point-heaving Wildcats can claim their second trophy in three years. That hurdle comes in the form of the Michigan Wolverines, the winners of 14 straight games after a second-half run launched them past Loyola in the Final Four to win by a final score of 69-57. Not that its within their control, but Michigan is yet to play a top-five seed in this tournament (although they did beat Michigan State and Purdue—eventual three and two seeds, respectively, during the Big Ten Tournament). Villanova has beaten three top-five seeded teams to get this far. Over the last five seasons, neutral court games featuring two teams with records at .800 or better and at least one team playing on one or zero day's rest are 188-124 Under against the total. Since 1997, neutral court games featuring two teams outscoring opponents by at least 8.0 PPG and one team coming off a game in which the total hit 155 or higher (NOVA) ae 182-123 Under against totals between 140 and 149.5.

After scoring only 22 points in the first half and facing a 10-point deficit in the second half, Michigan looked like it was about to be another victim of Loyola's Cinderella run. And then F Moe Wagner took over. The Wolverines' star finished the night with 24 points, a career-high 15 points and three steals to carry his team to victory. Considering he's one of the biggest names in college basketball, those types of big-time performances out of Wagner are surprisingly rare in an offense that tends to spread the wealth. But for Michigan to keep up with Villanova, it seems safe to say that Wagner will need another big game both in scoring and on the boards. G Charles Matthews was really the only other thing working for the UM offense on Saturday, as he put in 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting and matched Wagner with three steals. Everyone else was pretty much cold. Starters G Zavier Simpson and F Isaiah Livers combined for a grand total of zero points, although Livers rarely plays more than 15 minutes and played 12 on Saturday. G Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman managed only seven points on 2-of-11 shooting, and G Duncan Robinson—the team's sixth man—had nine points off the bench thanks to two three-pointers and three free throws. G Jordan Poole's 12 minutes were his most in the tournament so far, and he turned in seven points. The offensive inconsistency across Michigan's lineup doesn't bode well for a matchup with the juggernaut that is Villanova. On the other hand, a 99-point outburst against Texas A&M in the Sweet Sixteen showed us a team that's unstoppable when it's firing on all cylinders. If they can put it all together on Monday night, they absolutely have a shot of downing the Wildcats.

It's hard to know where to start with a run-down of Villanova's talent, but a recap of Saturday's win has to start with F Eric Paschall. Probably the sixth-best-known player in the Wildcat's mostly six-man rotation, Paschall was breathing fire against the Jayhawks, as he shot 10-of-11 from the field and 4-of-5 from three to finish with 24 points. When Nova's big—Paschall is 6-9, 255—is hitting like that, there's not much opposing defenses can do. Their freshman in the frontcourt, F Omari Spellman, hit three three-pointers of his own to finish with 15 points, and also added a game-high 13 rebounds. G Donte DiVincenzo would seem an unlikely candidate to finish second in rebounding on the Wildcats—he had eight—but he's not: It was his second consecutive game with eight boards. He, too, was hot, hitting 3-of-5 from beyond the arc to also finish with 15 points. The Wildcats' Player of the Year candidate, G Jalen Brunson, was quieter than some of his teammates but still arguably the best player on the floor, finishing with 18 points and six assists. Villanova's other starting guards, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth, combined for 20 points—10 each—on 8-of-17 shooting. Booth added in six assists. While Michigan needs a big night from Wagner to get the win, Villanova doesn't necessarily need the same from Brunson or Bridges—they have six players that are all scary on offense.

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