The Michigan Wolverines ended Loyola-Chicago’s Cinderella story on Saturday with a convincing comeback win the Final Four. On Monday, John Beilein’s squad will enter as the big underdogs when they face the Villanova Wildcats in the national championship in San Antonio.
The Wildcats, who cruised to a win over the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday, are favored by 6.5 points with the over/under at 145.5 points, according to betting site Vegas Insider. Oddsmakers did a rather accurate job with their projections for both schools before the start of the tournament, with Villanova the favorite at 9/2 and giving Michigan the fifth-best odds at 9/1.
But Michigan’s run to the national championship was its own underdog story. The Wolverines entered the season unranked and were predicted to finish fifth in the Big Ten, but a late-season run of 12 wins in 13 games thrust them into the tournament spotlight, earning a No. 3 seed in the West. In their tournament run, Michigan managed to escape with tight wins over Houston and Florida State.
“This team’s had no attention at all,” Beilein said Saturday. “Until we went up to beat Michigan State we weren’t nationally ranked. Now we’re playing on Monday night.”
Defense was key for Michigan in their victory over Loyola, as they held the Ramblers to 43.4 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers. Forward Moritz Wagner picked up the scoring slack, leading the Wolverines with 24 points on 10-16 shooting.
While Michigan appears to have the momentum, it will be a tough task to overcome Villanova. Head coach Jay Wright boasts a deep roster that had little trouble keeping scoring against Kansas with an impressive an 18-40 shooting night from beyond the arc.
Villanova has played like a championship team from the start of the season and it has carried into the tournament. The Wildcats entered the season as the No. 6 team in the nation and then rattled off 13 straight wins. But the tournament run has been more impressive, with all five victories coming by a margin of 12 points or more.
Though Jalen Brunson leads the team with a 19.2 scoring average, Villanova’s success can be credited with five other players scoring in double digits and a 50.1 percent team field-goal percentage.
Kansas center Udoka Azubuike seemed taken aback by how well the Wildcats executed their offense.
“It was unreal. I had never seen that before. It lowered our confidence a little bit, and they were just shooting and making everything, it seemed,” he said.
Villanova is seeking their second title in three years. Michigan is looking for their first championship since 1989.