The 2018 Final Four is set. In the first game on Saturday, March 31, the underdog Loyola-Chicago Ramblers battle the second choice Michigan Wolverines. In the second game on Saturday, the Kansas Jayhawks take on the Michigan Wolverines.
Whose got the upper hand in this year’s Final Four? Check it out!
2018 Final Four: Semifinal Picks
Below, I profile the last remaining teams in this year’s NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament. After profiling the four teams, I analyze both Final Four Semifinal games before picking the winner of this year’s college hoops championship.
Villanova Wildcats Even
Villanova is even for a reason. The Wildcats have been the most impressive team in this year’s NCAA College Basketball Tournament. They beat Radford 87 to 61 as a -22.5 favorite. They covered the spread versus Alabama 81 to 58 as a -11 favorite. Then, they beat West Virginia 90 to 78 as a -5 favorite. In the Elite 8, Villanova beat Texas Tech 71 to 59.
The Villanova Wildcats were around a 9/2 favorite at the start of the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament. They’re listed as even because it should be difficult for any team left in the tourney to beat Villanova.
Michigan Wolverines 5/2
Most basketball handicappers believe that Michigan is a lock to make it to the NCAA College Basketball National Championship Game on Monday, April 2. What’s the reason? Michigan battles Loyola-Chicago on Saturday. The Ramblers are a 12 to 1 shot to win the national title.
Because Michigan faces the biggest underdog in the 2018 Final Four, the Wolverines are a veritable lock to make it to the championship game. But, is that true? Are the Michigan Wolverines that much better than Loyola-Chicago?
Kansas Jayhawks 3/1
If you believe Villanova is as good as so many other college hoops analysts do, then the 3 to 1 odds on the Kansas Jayhawks makes Rock Chalk a bad bet. Kansas should offer much higher odds than 3 to 1 to beat the best team in college hoops.
Then again, if you believe the Kansas Jayhawks are the best team in college basketball, definitely the best team in this year’s Final Four, the 3 to 1 odds are a gift. Why would anyone believe Kansas is the best team in college hoops? Rock Chalk beat Duke 85 to 81 in the Elite 8.
More than a few NCAA Tournament Brackets had Duke winning the entire tourney. In fact, Duke, the 2-seed in the Midwest Region, went off as -3.5 favorites to end Kansas’ run to the national championship.
Loyola-Chicago Ramblers 12/1
Miracles do happen in the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament. Loyola-Chicago winning the NCAA Tournament might not constitute a miracle, though. The Ramblers, the 11-seed in the South Region, beat Miami-FL 64 to 62. In Round 2, the Ramblers beat 3-seed Tennessee 63 to 62. Loyola-Chicago beat Nevada 69 to 68 before dominating the Kansas State Wildcats 78 to 62 in the Elite 8.
Loyola-Chicago worked hard to get to the Final Four. Do the Ramblers any shot of winning the National Championship? Or, does their dream end versus Michigan on Saturday?
2018 Final Four Semifinal 1
Loyola-Chicago Ramblers -5.5 vs Michigan Wolverines +5.5
When: Saturday, March 31 at 6:09 pm ET
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
The Michigan Wolverines are a pretty good basketball team. The Wolverines average over 74 points per game off 47% shooting. That’s from the field. From behind the 3-point line, Michigan shoots 36.6%. The Wolverines lean heavily on forward Moritz Wagner. Wagner, 6′ 11″ and 245 lbs, averages 14.3 points and 6.9 boards per game. He also averages close to an assist.
But, stats aren’t what makes Wagner so difficult to deal with. He’s got underrated defensive skills. He can run the floor. He can also shoot threes. Wagner hits on close to 40% of his three-point shots. That makes Wagner one of the most versatile players in college basketball.
Wagner’s versatility might work against him versus Loyola-Chicago, though. The Ramblers counter Wagner with this year’s Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, Cameron Krutwig. Krutwig’s claims to fame are his defensive skills and passing ability. Krutwig should contain Wagner.
If Krutwig is able to contain Wagner, the Michigan Wolverines must then find alternatives to score against Loyola-Chicago’s defense. I predict that won’t happen.
The Ramblers’ D has been one of the very best in the tournament. No team has scored more than 68 points in the tourney versus Loyola-Chicago’s D. Miami, Tennessee, and Kansas State have each scored 62. Counting the regular season, the Ramblers allowed 62.4 points per. Opponents shoot 41.4% from the field and 32.6% from three against the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers.
It should be tough for Michigan to score more than 62 against Loyola-Chicago. Can Michigan beat Loyola-Chicago without scoring more than 62 points? Maybe, but I doubt it. The problem with facing the Ramblers in the Final Four is that their offense finally caught up with their defense in the Elite 8.
Loyola-Chicago pummeled the Kansas State Wildcats by shooting 57.4% from the field and over 50% from three. Up until facing Loyola-Chicago, K-State had stopped Creighton and Kentucky from scoring 60. They had held UMBC to only 43 points.
Loyola-Chicago scored 78 versus K-State. Michigan is definitely a good team. But, I believe the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers are the better team right now. Not only will Loyola-Chicago cover the spread versus the Wolverines, they’re going to beat the Wolverines straight up.
Score Prediction: Loyola-Chicago Ramblers 74, Michigan Wolverines 67
2018 Final Four Semifinal 2
Villanova Wildcats -5 vs Kansas Jayhawks +5
When: Saturday, March 31 at 8:49 pm ET
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
The Kansas Jayhawks were impressive in the 85 to 81 win over the Duke Blue Devils. Impressive is the only word to describe it. Most college basketball fans felt that Duke would beat Kansas. Kansas, before the NCAA Tournament started, was supposed to be one of the teams that failed to live up to expectations. Most thought they’d be the first 1-seed knocked out of the tournament.
It turns out that Kansas, along with Villanova, are the only 1-seeds to make it to this year’s Sweet 16. The Jayhawks then took care of business versus Clemson in the Sweet 16 and Duke in the Elite 8.
Although Kansas is deserving of their Final Four berth, I don’t believe they’ve got much shot of upsetting Villanova on March 31. The reason is because Kansas relies on Devonte’ Graham, the Big 12 Player of the Year. Don’t get me wrong. Devonte’ is an excellent basketball player. He’s got an incredible basketball IQ.
But, Graham is only a single player. He won’t control things versus Villanova the way that he did versus the Duke Blue Devils. Villanova is a different team than Duke. Duke relied on pure talent this season. That’s what you do when you start four freshman who are likely to end up getting drafted in the NBA this year.
Villanova starts 3 seniors, a junior, and a freshman. Every starter on Nova’s squad can hit the 3-point shot. This includes all 3 of Nova’s starting guards: Phil Booth, Jalen Brunson, and Mikal Bridges. Brunson and Bridges can take over the game while Omari Spellman has the ability to shoot the 3 or dominate inside.
That’s what makes Nova so dangerous. Every player in the starting five can shoot the 3. Every player in the starting five passes the basketball. All players help on the boards. How good is Villanova? They’re so good that they beat Texas Tech 71 to 59 while making 4 of 24 three-point shots.
Think about the score if Nova had shot 40% from three. Kansas doesn’t have much of a shot on Saturday.
Score Prediction: Villanova Wildcats 86, Kansas Jayhawks 72
2018 March Madness Championship Game Prediction
Loyola-Chicago Ramblers vs Villanova Wildcats
If it ends up Loyola-Chicago versus Villanova, it becomes sort of a no-brainer. Although Loyola-Chicago has what it takes to win the College Basketball National Championship, they don’t this season because Villanova made it to the Final Four.
The Villanova Wildcats can play any style. Almost as important? Villanova coach Jay Wright is a genius at making the necessary adjustments. Loyola-Chicago should put up a fight in the first half, just like Alabama did in Round 2. Then, Jay Wright will make the adjustments for Nova to easily handle the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers.
The National Championship game should be a blowout.