Michigan center Hunter Dickinson made headlines yesterday saying that Villanova is just a more disciplined version of Big Ten foe Iowa Hawkeyes. That’s simple enough. Michigan was able to knock off Iowa once already this season, so they should be able to handle Villanova... right?
Well, not exactly. While Dickinson’s evaluation of Villanova gave me a good chuckle, it actually couldn’t be farther from the truth. For starters, Villanova has two NCAA titles in the past 6 years, while Iowa hasn’t made it to the Sweet 16 since 1999. Then there’s the fact that Villanova actually plays defense—ranking top-30 in defensive efficiency, compared to Iowa’s 78th ranking.
But I’ll give Dickinson props, he was right about Villanova being more disciplined!
In all seriousness, this is a tough matchup for Michigan. I’m not going to take away anything from the Wolverines’ improbable run through the South region on their way to the Sweet 16. I’ve been seriously impressed by their play, especially in dismantling a top-3 Tennessee defense. But Michigan had two distinct matchup advantages that led them to win the Tennessee game, which they won’t have against Villanova.
I’ll start with the obvious. Tennessee—who averaged 36% from deep—shot just 11% against Michigan. While some credit is due to Michigan for defending the three well, it isn’t like this is a season-long trend they can expect to continue against Villanova. Michigan is only slightly better than average at limiting opponents’ 3P%, and Villanova shoots a ton of threes. The Wildcats rank 51st in 3P% and 38.6 percent of their total points come from three (25th in the NCAA).
Michigan also had a distinct advantage in getting to the line against Tennessee, shooting 20 free throws compared to Tennessee’s 12. And again, this hasn’t been something Michigan excelled at this season. The Wolverines rank just 201st in FTA/FGA—KenPom’s metric for measuring how effective a team is at getting to the free throw line. Villanova’s defense ranks top-50 in limiting FTA/FGA, as opposed to Tennessee, which ranks 217th.
But moving past Tennessee, Villanova is also an extremely disciplined (s/o Dickinson) and experienced team. The Wildcats rank 31st in turnover percentage, 51st in experience, and had a top-20 SOS this year. Additionally, Villanova is well known for shooting free throws at an incredible clip; its 83 percent of free throws made leads the nation. What this means is Villanova won’t shy away from the bright lights, and won’t let Michigan back in the game if they get a decent lead.
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.
At the end of the day, I think Michigan’s run ends here. Villanova is just too solid and experienced to come out flat, and I don’t see a world in which Michigan does enough to win. But I’ve been wrong about its first two games this tournament, so what the hell do I know?
- Prediction: Villanova wins, 72-65.