The No. 11-seed Michigan Wolverines take on No. 2-seed Villanova Wildcats in the Sweet 16 South Region on Thursday. Michigan enters the game off two-straight upsets over No. 6 Colorado State, and No. 3 Tennessee, but they’ll face their toughest test of the tournament yet in Villanova.
So, what makes Villanova such a difficult matchup? Well, it’s not any one thing in particular, really. It’s a combination of doing basically everything well, limiting mistakes, and playing disciplined that makes Villanova such a tough team to beat. Jay Wright hasn’t won two national championships for nothing; Wright is a master at getting the most out of the talent he has and instilling fundamentals in his ‘Nova teams.
While this particular team certainly isn’t Jay Wright’s most talented, what they do have is a certain point guard named Collin Gillespie. Gillespie was named Big East player of the year, and is exactly the kind of player whose hands you want the ball in down the stretch. He ranks top-five in the Big East in offensive rating, and top-three in true shooting percentage, per KenPom. Oh, and he makes 90 percent of his free throws, good for 20th in the nation.
Gillespie isn’t the only one who is automatic from the free throw line; the entire team makes an average of 83 percent of their free throws, which ranks first in the NCAA. The Wildcats don’t have a single player shooting worse than 74 percent. Pair this with its 31st-ranked turnover percentage, and Villanova becomes incredibly difficult to come back on. Not to mention, Villanova ranks 51st in experience, had a top-20 SOS this year, and won the Big East tournament. Needless to say, this team will not back down from the bright lights.
This isn’t to say Michigan can’t exploit anything. Michigan definitely has an advantage on the glass, thanks in part to its star center Hunter Dickinson. Villanova ranks 75th in offensive rebounding percentage and only 187th in defensive rebounding percentage. The Wildcats are also far more susceptible to two-point shooting than three-point shooting, ranking 133rd in opponent two-point percentage and 38th in opponent three-point percentage.
Hunter Dickinson will need to have an excellent game if Michigan wants to have a shot. He should be able to get his in the post and crash the glass hard against Villanova’s relative size disadvantage. This style of play is familiar to Michigan as 57 percent of its points come from two, good for 39th in the NCAA.
Michigan and Villanova is a very interesting matchup, and ultimately I expect Villanova’s experience and discipline to win out. But if Juwan Howard and his staff put together an effective gameplan, I could see them hanging around.