Hoops Preview: Villanova, National Championship Comment Count

Brian April 2nd, 2018 at 11:55 AM

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1985_villanova_logo.0THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT #7 Michigan (33-7) vs
#1 Villanova (35-4)
WHERE Alamodome
San Antonio, TX
WHEN 9:20 PM
LINE Villanova –6 (KenPom)

chance they use the same dang wildcat growl everyone else does: 82%.


It's all about the window. Over the course of the season, Villanova has proven themselves to be the best team in the country by a considerable distance. Over the course of the tournament, same thing. Michigan's been in some dogfights and hasn't beaten a seed higher than #6 Houston; the closest anyone's come to Villanova is 12 points and they ended their semifinal against Kansas in the first four minutes.

But if you push the window back, things get interesting. And I'm not talking about cherry-picking Michigan's win streak. Here's a Torvik slice since January 1st, when Zavier Simpson came off the bench to play 32 minutes against Iowa and established himself the starting point guard, against Quad 1 and Quad 2 teams*:


That's half the season—far more than half of the quality opponents—during which Villanova is a point or two better over the course of a 60-possession game. Not Vegas's 7 point gap, not Kenpom's 31% chance at winning, but damn near dead even. Big Ten Tournament Michigan—the Michigan that scored 1.1 and 1.2 PPP against the #10 and #31 defenses in the country, respectively—is a titan ready to go toe to toe with even Villanova and their holy grail offense.

Oops Sorry About Your Windshield I Don't Even Know How That Ball Got Out Of An Arena Michigan… not so much. The shooting that's barely gotten Michigan through four of five tourney games isn't going to cut it. For the love of everything good and holy, make some damn shots. Have a Stauskas seance. Whatever it takes.

*[FWIW: this skips the Northwestern L for Michigan by limiting it to Quad 2; it also skips Villanova's loss to Butler, which happened on 12/30. Since Villanova isn't going to run a zone, call it even?]


Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.

Pos. # Name Yr. Ht./Wt. %Min %Poss ORtg SIBMIHHAT
G 1 Jalen Brunson Jr. 6'2, 190 78* 26 129 No
KPOY #2 shoots 61/41 on big usage, has better than 2:1 A:TO.
G 10 Donte DiVincenzo Sr. 6'5, 205 63 22 119 No
Dual-threat SG is 57/39 w 20 A rate, technically bench player.
F 25 Mikal Bridges Jr. 6'7, 210 70 22 130 God no
KPOY #6 is future lottery pick. 59/44, not much in the way of assists.
F 4 Eric Paschall Jr. 6'7 250 75 18 123 No
Started 1/27 from 3, 48% since. Also shooting 64% and adding OREBs.
F 25 Omari Spellman Fr. 6'8, 255 67 18 121 God no
Stretch 5 hitting 51/44; solid 6% block rate, top 100 DREB guy.
G 21 Phil Booth Jr. 6'3, 195 61 18 119 No
Oh look it's another inside-outside threat hitting nearly 40% from 3.
G 2 Collin Gillespie Fr. 6'2", 185 28 13 125 No
Just A Shooter hitting 39%.
C 2 Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree Fr. 6'8, 195 31 12 132 Yes!
Rudy! Theo! Roy!

*[last five games minutes from Kenpom.]

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]


Welp, it's the Golden State Warriors. If we overlook Eric Paschall's 1/25 start from three on the year there is exactly one Villanova rotation player who isn't shooting at least 39% from deep, and that's freshman backup post Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Everyone else will murder you dead if you give them an open look, which Kansas learned, and learned, and learned, and WHAT IS TAKING SO LONG TO GET THIS THROUGH YOUR HEAD, KANSAS, in the second semi-final.

Kansas's nonsense game plan led to nonsense numbers on Saturday. Villanova took four twos in the first half, didn't shoot a free throw until 30 minutes had elapsed, and broke the Final Four record for number of threes by a whopping five. Michigan would be advised to do the exact opposite tonight. That's not going to shut off an offense that hits 59% from two, but it will prevent Michigan from scoring on five straight possessions and finding themselves even further behind, which is a real thing that happened to the Jayhawks.

Everything starts with point guard, Naismith winner, and erstwhile Michigan recruiting target Jalen Brunson. Brunson is the only Nova player to carry the kind of usage burden that might depress your efficiency, but 26% isn't extreme and is emphatically not denting Brunson's ORTG. That hovers just under 130(!) thanks to Brunson's ability to do everything well.

And I mean everything. Brunson hits 41% from deep and an incredible 61% inside the line despite creating the vast majority of his own shots. He hits 52% on non-rim twos, all of which he generates himself. He hits a post-like 71% at the rim. He catches and shoots, he pulls up off the dribble from both two and three, and he backs down opposition point guards like Chauncey Billups. He shoots 80% from the line and has a more than 2:1 A:TO ratio despite heavy usage.

All of this is elite. He gets a considerable amount of help from the shooters that surround him, but the ruthlessness with which he takes advantage of the situations he finds himself in is unparalleled.

Brunson's primary backcourt sidekick is in a Duncan Robinson situation where he's a starter in all but name. Donte DiVincenzo continues Villanova's streak of having the most ostentatiously Italian name in college basketball. Also he is a 57%/39% shooter with an assist rate not far off Brunson's. He can shoot, drive, and pass. On the bright side, his turnover rate is a little high.

On most other teams he'd be the alpha dog scraping 30% usage; here he's a third banana barely above 20. ESPN projects him as a late first rounder in 2019.

And then there's the projected 2018 lottery pick with a 130 ORTG. Mikal Bridges is a rim-and-three guy hitting 59/44 with a 7' wingspan; he's incredibly lethal as a spot-up shooter, averaging 1.35 PPP. He's equally capable running the pick and roll and, like everyone, can post up effectively. Bridges isn't much of an assist guy and could be a help defense target if Michigan would be so bold as to momentarily double a gent.

Bridges is also a crucial component of the switch-heavy Villanova defense:

The way Villanova defends really showcases Bridges at his best. I found myself waiting for games to return to that end of the floor, if only to watch him cycle from opponent to opponent without leaving the slightest gap in the coverage. Defensive switching has many forms and competencies. This is the most promising kind—the switch not as a last resort, but as a form of control. Bridges does so much to dictate where his opponents can go and, crucially, where they cannot.

His ability to guard 1-5 is going to be a problem.

Stretch four Eric Paschall set Kansas on fire in the semifinal, continuing a season-long trend where his 3P% just goes up and up. When not lighting up the nets from deep he's hitting 64% inside the arc because he gets half his shots at the rim. He's mostly a spot-up shooter and a cutter, and if Michigan can force him out of those categories his efficiency drops considerably. A Paschall post-up or drive to the rim is a (relatively) good scenario for Michigan. He's Wildcat least capable of creating his own shot. For what little that will matter.

Omari Spellman is the first real stretch five Michigan has seen this season. Almost half of his shots are from beyond the arc, where he hits an astounding 44%; forays inside the line aren't bad largely because his TO rate is top 150; he's hitting 51% from two. Those twos are biased towards jumpers that aren't terrifically efficient—like Wagner, Spellman is capable of taking his man off the bounce but he gets stopped short of the rim fairly often and isn't a killer once he gets there.

Despite the perimeter orientation on offense, Spellman checks many of the Big Man Boxes with a 10% OREB rate and a 6% block rate. He isn't a stretch four shoehorned into a job at center; he is a legitimate C who happens to knock down threes at a top 100 rate.

Villanova's bench is thin. Nominal starter Phil Booth is an efficient player but he's a little more perimeter-oriented than much of the rest of the roster, with about 60% of his shots from behind the line and 18% usage. He is ineffective in the midrange and his shot distribution reflects that, with just 15% of his shots checking in as 2PJs. Booth will pull up from three more than anyone else save Brunson.

Past Booth there isn't much. A couple of relatively limited freshmen fill out 10 MPG each. Collin Gillespie is Just A Shooter with 22 2PA on the year; he is 39% from three. The aforementioned Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is a wispy 195 at 6'8"; his usage is almost entirely dunking off of dishes and putbacks. His block and DREB rates are poor, as well. Michigan will no doubt seek to match Teske against him, and should have an advantage when that happens.



lotta green, via Bart Torvik

There's bad news and slightly less bad news. The bad news: Villanova enters the final with the top offense in the country and a near five point gap back to #2 (which is Purdue, FWIW). The gap from Villanova to #31 Michigan is the same as the gap between Michigan and #212 Detroit.

Nova does this with elite shooting from everywhere and an offense that spends just 20% of their shots on non-rim 2s; they pair that shooting with a Beilein-worthy TO rate. Despite being fairly small they rack up a reasonable number of OREBs; the only thing they don't do is get to the line much… because 48% of their shots are threes.

You can take a small amount of solace in Nova's relatively high rate of transition opportunities (19%, not FSU level but pretty high), because even though the Wildcats' halfcourt offense is the best in the country it is a bit less efficient than those guys in the open court.

The slightly less bad news: Villanova's defense is not quite as good as their offense. It's 14th on Kenpom and 10th on Torvik, which is pretty impressive for a bunch of guys who top out at 6'8". Individual components aren't quite as impressive. They don't give up many free throws and their FG% D is dependent on a bunch of misses from three.

Usually you'd chalk that up to randomness and seek to exploit it, but these are Villanova's 3P% D rankings over the past four years: 21st, 135th, 18th, 30th. There's something there, and it's probably the constant switching Villanova can manage because they play a big, burly PG and nobody over 6'8".

There's also a bizarre aspect to that D: Villanova is 40th in defensive tempo—ie, teams shoot fast against them. A full 25% of opponent shots come in the first ten seconds of the shot clock, but opponent eFG on those attempts is a mere 50%. That may be desperation as Villanova pushes out to big leads that force opponents to speed it up in the vague hope of a comeback.


Prevent launches. IE, do whatever the opposite of Kansas did. If Michigan loses because Villanova hits 70% from two, so be it. This is a clash against a super-elite three point shooting team that averages 40% despite having nearly half their shots come from behind the line. They're 12th in 3PA/FGA. They slaughtered the Jayhawks because Bill Self coached that game like it was 1989.

Michigan won't do that. They are top ten in preventing 3PAs. After holding Loyola to just ten attempts in the semi they are in fact fifth, with just 30% of opponent shots coming from behind the line. Run them off the line and live with the consequences.

Hit a shot! HIT A SHOT. Tournament so far: crappy shooting, crappy shooting, inferno, crappy shooting, crappy shooting. Just in time for another inferno. That's the ticket.

Michigan cannot win this game by scoring a point per possession and has to fling in at least their season average from three. This is not really analysis. Michigan is going to have to make a fair number of terrible shots after Villanova switching bogs their offense down. That's more like analysis.

Send Zavier Simpson every mean tweet from the semi. Brunson is the best point guard in the country. Simpson has annihilated virtually every opponent he's faced for two months. Michigan's best shot here is for an insane defensive game by Simpson that frustrates Brunson into Rob Gray numbers. It could happen.

Uh… Livers? I don't think Teske can play in this game unless Cosby-Roundtree is in. When Mo is out and Cosby-Roundtree isn't, Michigan's going to have to steal some minutes from Livers at the 5, switching everything and hoping that Livers looks less lost on offense than he did when he briefly played the 5 earlier in the tournament.


Villanova by 6.



April 2nd, 2018 at 12:00 PM ^

I get this, but isn't a better category "Should I be mad if I see him put up a three?"  Like I'll be upset when Bridges makes one not because it was lucky (obviously) but dammit, run that guy off the line. 

Goggles Paisano

April 2nd, 2018 at 1:16 PM ^

After reading that, the line seems low at 6.5.  But...this is why you play the game.  You just never know.  I am certain our guards will play much better than they did Saturday and Nova will not shoot lights out like they did Saturday.  Hopefully we stay in it and have a shot to win it in the final minute.  


April 2nd, 2018 at 2:13 PM ^

and they are a good defensive team, and don't turn the ball over much, and there aren't really any weeknesses, and the fact Michigan is going in not shooting well for 4 of the 5 tournament games, I don't see a whole lot to worry about. 

Where's that tiny flag of mine I like to wave?


April 2nd, 2018 at 12:04 PM ^

I think I am going to be sick. I have been nervous since we murdered Sista Jean, and now I may puke. 


BTW - Met many Villanova fans at the game, and they are huge tools. 


See you guys on the other side. 

BG Wolverine

April 2nd, 2018 at 1:27 PM ^

Seriously, the best that can happen is UM wins a game they were supposed to be blown out in.  The worst that can happen is they lose a game they were supposed to get blown out in.  Is the athletic deparment going to go bankrupt if they lose or something?

As long as the players and coaches leave it all on the floor, I'm ok with any outcome.  It would have been way worse to lose to LCU.

Occam's Razor

April 2nd, 2018 at 12:05 PM ^

Jesus, have we ever had 2 "God No" SIBMIHHATs on top of 7 out of 8 Nos before? 


Hopefully the team finds its inner Wisconsin and just mucks it up on the defensive side of the court slowing the game down. 

Sauce Castillo

April 2nd, 2018 at 12:20 PM ^

Same. No one could have predicted we'd be in this position at Christmas. We all want to win this game, but know the odds are stacked against us, and we should all be happy with this season no matter what. With that said, WIN THE DANG GAME! Michigan by 3.

Yost Ghost

April 2nd, 2018 at 1:31 PM ^

I think if you look at TTU's loss to Nova you see a team that has a similar prowess on D as UM but does it with smaller players. They were able to hold Nova to 33% form the field, 16.7% from 3pt and created 12 TO's. They even outscored Nova in the 2nd half after a dreadful first half. TTU pulled within 6 points of Nova with only 2:12 to go but then went cold and gave up too many fouls.

The most glaring stat of all was rebounding. The got killed on the glass 31/55. They're top rebounders are both 6'5" whereas Nova gets most of their boards from a 6'7" and a 6'8" guy. I don't see UM having this problem. 

If UM can outrebound them, play their smothering brand of D, shoot 40% from 2pt and 33% from 3pt and limit TO's they can win this game. If they can do what they did to TAMU (shoot 61.9/58.3) then this could get stupid.


April 2nd, 2018 at 12:07 PM ^

Oh my goodness that's terrifying. A game where 4 or 5 of their starters would start over Michigan's starters under any coach.

I recognize this feeling, a feeling I haven't felt since...

When was it?

Oh, yeah, January 13. When MIchigan played on the road at Michigan State.

We don't have a great chance. Maybe 30% chance to win if our offense goes off and our defense does just enough.

But it's a chance. A chance any one of us would have taken in a heartbeat if presented to us at any time in the last two years. A chance to pull a massive upset and win a national championship.

The road ends tonight, one way or another. A wonderful road. A road that has brought excitement and joy. A road that has made fans like me proud to be called a fan of the team.

Fight hard. Fight well. Win the Game.

Go Blue.

The Man Down T…

April 2nd, 2018 at 2:25 PM ^

Yes, Michigan looked less than stellar in 4 of the 5 games.  It's what they do against lower opponents.  Purdue and Michigan State would like to remind everyone what happens when Michigan plays a super superior team they are supposed to lose to.   And Texas A&M would like to point out that they can light it up at any time.

SF Wolverine

April 2nd, 2018 at 12:19 PM ^

here's to hoping we come out hitting some threes and with a hair-on-fire defense they haven't seen in the tourney.  The idiocy Kansas tried probably made it less likely Nova will win tonight rather than more.  That was little more than a scrimmage against the junior varsity