We are down to four. All of these teams have had a tough path to this point, and all of them have absolutely earned the right to be in San Antonio. Here is a quick look at the first two matchups that will decide who will play for the right to cut down the nets on Monday.
#11 Loyola-Chicago (32-5, 15-3 Missouri Valley) vs. #3 Michigan (32-7, 13-5 Big 10)
Michigan -5.5, O/U129.5
Loyola is the undisputed Cinderella of the dance this year, and they are hoping there are a couple more chapters left in their storybook season. Loyola does a good job of spacing the floor on offense, and are always willing to make the extra pass. Coach Porter Moser prefers to play a small lineup, sometimes playing with five guards. When they go big, the key for them is Cameron Krutwig, at least on the offensive end of the floor. He could be a key factor for Loyola on that end, but he is a serious liability against the pick and roll offense of Michigan on the other end of the floor. Michigan showed against Texas A&M what they, and particularly Moe Wagner, can do when your bigs can’t defend on the perimeter. For this reason I would expect Loyola to play with a mostly small lineup and try to win with Clayton Custer penetrating and defenses collapsing on him to open up teammates. Assuming the small lineup is in play, Michigan is going to have a massive size advantage. Wagner is 6’11”. Duncan Robinson is 6’8.” Even Charles Matthews, at 6’6” is going to have a size advantage over the Ramblers guards. All of these guys can shoot, and all of them create matchup problems on offense. If Loyola can keep their shooting percentage around their season average of 50%, they could play for the title on Monday. As fun as that would be, it will be tough against one of the best defenses in the country.
PREDICTION: Michigan 65, Loyola 61
#1 Kansas (31-7, 13-5 Big XII) vs. #1 Villanova (34-4, 14-4 Big East)
Villanova -5, O/U 155
Villanova is the best offensive team in the country. They score 87 points per game. They shoot 50% from the floor and they average 12 3-pointers per game. They are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, and they don’t turn the ball over. This is a juggernaut offense. Jalen Brunson should be the player of the year, and he has looked unstoppable in the tournament. This team can play defense too, though. They beat Texas Tech on that end, and they will look to do it again against the Jayhawks. Kansas looks like Nova in a lot of ways. They are excellent from distance, with their backcourt of Malik Newman, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, and Devonte’ Graham leading the way. Graham is just as legit a contender for Player of the Year honors as Brunson. Their 7-footer, Udoka Azubuike, could be the X-factor in the matchup. He was key in Kansas’ win over Duke, who are better in the frontcourt than the Wildcats, but Jay Wright has a way of making opposing big men seem obsolete. Newman has been unstoppable in this tournament, but Nova has Mikal Bridges to defend him. Bridges is a likely NBA lottery pick who presents a different level of size and athleticism than Newman has seen in the tournament. It’s easy to say whoever hits their shots will win this game, but Nova’s ability to play 5-out and Kansas’ inability to match it seems to be the key in this matchup.
PREDICTION: Villanova 91, Kansas 79