2018 Final Four Odds: Michigan and Loyola Chicago

loyola-michigan-final-four-oddsLoyola Chicago has been the story of this year’s March Madness. The No. 11 seed has beaten Miami, Tennessee, Nevada, and Kansas State on their march to the Final Four.

They’ve tied LSU (1986), George Mason (2006), and VCU (2011) as the lowest seed to make a Final Four. By winning against Michigan, they can become the first 11 seed to make the title game.

Michigan is trying to become the second Big Ten team to win a national championship in the last four years. Wisconsin pulled off the feat in 2015, and the Wolverines now have a chance to do the same.

The Wolverines no doubt have the talent edge. But so far, Loyola has been unfazed by the slew of 4 and 5-star recruits they faced.

I’ll discuss if they can topple another giant, or at least cover their spread. Also keep in mind that you can wager on this game via GTBets.

Loyola Chicago vs. Michigan Odds – 6:05pm on March 31 (Saturday)

  • Michigan -5.5 / -270 moneyline
  • Loyola Chicago +5.5 / +230
  • Over/under 129.5

Why Michigan Will Cover -5.5

charles-matthews-michiganJohn Beilein’s teams are normally known for outstanding offense. But this year’s squad has been all about defense.

Case in point, they’ve held their tournament opponents to 47, 62, 72, and 58 points. I’m betting that upcoming contest against Loyola doesn’t make it out of the 60s.

Aside from holding opponents to low scores, the Wolverines also rank fourth in the nation in defense efficiency and force opposing teams into 38% shooting.

Given that Michigan always brings the defense, it’s no surprise that they find ways to win games. During their current 13-game winning streak, they’ve won eight of these contests by double digits.

And although they’re not great on offense, they somehow mustered 99 points against Texas A&M in their Sweet 16 contest. This is the most points scored by a Michigan NCAA Tournament team since 1992.

Beilein has led his second Michigan team to the Final Four in the last six years. He’s also produced a school-record 32 wins.

Both teams that won the previous record of 31 games advanced to the national title. This is a good omen for a Wolverines squad that has a realistic chance of pulling off the same feat.

One more bit of good history for this team is that they’re 6-1 all time in semi-final games, which is the best ever of any team with at least five appearances.

Charles Matthews leads this Wolverines squad with 16.5 PPG and 7.3 RPG in the tournament so far. He’s especially good in non-conference showdowns, averaging 17.4 PPG and shooting over 56% from the floor.

xavier-simpson-mighican-defenseAnother key factor for Michigan will be Xavier Simpson, who’s done a great job of shutting down opposing point guards. During Michigan’s tournament run, opposing the guards have only averaged 11.8 PPG on 34.6% shooting. They also have just eight assists compared to 13 turnovers.

This is big, because Simpson will match up against Missouri Valley Player of the Year Clayton Cluster. If he can shut down Loyola’s top player, then the Wolverines have a great chance to win this contest.

It also doesn’t bode well for the Ramblers that they’ve had turnover issues throughout the season. They turn over the ball on 19% of their possessions, which ranks a dismal 218th in the nation. This is another area that Michigan can take advantage of in a possible victory.

Why Loyola Will Cover +5.5

loyola-final-four-oddsThe reason why Loyola has made a surprise Final Four run is that they’re extremely efficient. They’ve shot 53% from the field, which is better than any tournament team with at least two games played. They’re also hitting almost 42% of their three-point shots.

And it’s not just one guy who’s filling the basket up. Instead, the Ramblers have had a different leading scorer in each of their four tournament contests.

A perfect example of this is Ben Richardson, who was the South Region’s Most Outstanding player, despite averaging just 7 PPG on the regular season. He scored 23 points in the Elite Eight matchup against Kansas State to claim these honors.

Another thing that the Ramblers do really well is drive to the basket. Of their 274 points in March Madness so far, 136 of these have come in the paint. This, despite the fact that they don’t have anybody taller than 6’6″ in the regular rotation. Loyola has multiple players who can put the ball on the floor and finish, meaning Michigan can’t slack off when guarding anybody.

The Ramblers have also been really good on defense, ranking 19th in the nation in defensive efficiency. The key behind their strong play has been forcing opponents to just 32.2% three-point shooting, which ranks the top 30 nationally. They’ve stepped things up in the tournament, holding opposing teams to less than 30% three-point shooting.

loyola-miami-oddsAnother driving force behind their success is the fact that Loyola guards well without fouling. They rank 15th of the nation in fewest fouls per game. But even if they do foul Michigan, the latter has shot poorly from the free throw line (66%, 326th nationally).

Outside of their first-round contest against Miami, the Ramblers have been counted out in every game they’ve played thus far in the tournament. This time won’t be any different, because they face a Michigan team with superior talent.

They’re also trying to become the first Cinderella to actually make the championship game. Double-digit seeded teams are 0 for 4 in the Final Four. But Loyola plays such a good team game that I wouldn’t be surprised if they become the first double digit seed to advance to the title.

Final Thoughts on Michigan vs. Loyola

The Ramblers are the only team that’s hotter than Michigan right now. They’ve won 14 straight games, which is one more than the Wolverines. The last time that Loyola tasted defeat was a January 31 contest against Bradley.

moritz-wagner-michiganOne reason why teams have had such a problem with Loyola in the tournament is because they don’t beat themselves. This team is efficient on offense and they play strong defense. They also rebound the ball relatively well for their lack of height, holding teams to one shot on 75% of their possessions.

Loyola’s starting lineup is mostly around the same height, allowing them to switch defenders on multiple positions. This can be a problem for Michigan, because they like to take advantage of mismatches.

On the Wolverines side, they undoubtedly have the talent edge. This includes 6’11” Moritz Wagner, who can play inside while also shooting 40% from the three-point line.

Loyola doesn’t anybody talented enough to cover Wagner one on one. If the big man gets going, then Michigan has a strong chance to not only win but also cover their spread.

Final Score Prediction: Michigan wins 67-60 and covers their +5 spread

2018 Final Four Odds: Villanova vs. Kansas

villanova-kansas-oddsNo offense to Michigan and Loyola, but the toughest Final Four matchup is definitely Villanova and Kansas. The two No. 1 seeds will battle in a game that feels like a championship.

Besides two top seeds facing off, this matchup has an interesting subplot, with Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Kansas’ Devonte Graham battling for Player of the Year honors.

These are both perimeter-oriented teams, meaning the squad that gets hot from outside could very likely move on to the championship. But on the other side, the team that forces in its opponent off the three-point and focuses on the intangibles can also claim victory.

I’ll continue discussing this matchup by looking at the GTBets Final Four odds and analyze both team’s chances of covering their spread.

Kansas vs. Villanova Odds – 8:45pm on March 31 (Saturday)

  • Villanova -5 / -235 moneyline
  • Kansas +5 / +200 moneyline
  • Over/under 154.5 (-110)

How Both Teams Got Here

In a tournament where two No. 1 seeds didn’t make it out of the second round – including Virginia’s shocking loss to No. 16 UMBC – Kansas and Villanova stand out. In a way, these two teams are punished for being on the same side of the bracket, because they now have to play each other in the first leg of the Final Four.

The Jayhawks began their tournament run by easily beating Penn and slipping by Seton Hall in the second round. They didn’t have much trouble with Clemson in the Sweet 16, but needed overtime to beat a talented Duke squad in the Elite Eight.

The Wildcasts dominated Radford in the first round, and needed a good second half run to put No. 9 Alabama away. Villanova was down to No. 5 West Virginia in the second half, but went on a big run to win this Sweet 16 matchup. They also outplayed No. 3 Texas Tech in a close Elite Eight game.

Why Villanova Will Cover -5

2018-final-four-futuresThe toughest thing about playing Villanova is stopping them from putting the ball in the basket. They lead the nation in scoring with 87 points per game and also hit 12 three-pointers per contest.

This isn’t just some run-and-gun team, though, because the Wildcats also rebound, pass, and play strong defense. Highlighting the passing, Villanova ranked fourth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio. This is the best Jay Wright squad ever when looking at statistics alone.

Jalen Brunson, who averages 19.2 PPG and 4.6 APG, is the top leading player that Wright has had in his coaching career. Villanova also has a future NBA lottery pick in Mikal Bridges, who averages 17.8 PPG and 5.4 RPG.

In addition to having elite guards, the Wildcats feature big men Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall, who give this team a good presence down low. And guards Donte DiVincenzo and Phil Booth are experienced role players who help this team click.

Why Kansas Will Cover +5

devonte-graham-kansasThe Jayhawks already played a championship-style game against Duke, a team that was loaded with first-round of NBA prospects. The fact that Kansas came out on top of this game prepares them well for what could be an even tougher opponent in Villanova.

Graham has been a great leader for this squad all season, so I expect him to play well once again in this contest. He’ll need a sidekick to step it up, which could come from either Malik Newman or Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk.

This is an unconventional starting lineup that includes four guards and one center. And Kansas’ mid-major style offense has produced great results. The big man down low is 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, who has the ability to contain Villanova’s solid frontcourt. Bill Self’s squad will hope that freshman Silvio De Sousa can also provide important contributions down low.

Kansas has been truly battle tested, given how they navigated through the toughest region (Midwest) and the nation’s strongest conference in the Big 12. Nobody is better prepared to face and possibly defeat Villanova.

X-Factors for Kansas and Villanova

mikal-bridges-villanovaBrunson is almost guaranteed to come through in this contest. But Bridges is more of a wild card.

The 6’6″ shooting guard no doubt has the talent to excel against any opponent. But he’ll need to avoid a repeat of the Texas Tech game, where he went 0-for-5 from three-point range. If Bridges gets going, then it frees Brunson up to play even better.

Kansas is in a similar situation to Villanova, where they can count on Graham to play like a national player of the year candidate. But they also need Newman to continue stepping up and providing support in order to win.

Newman has been huge throughout the tournament, including a 32-point performance against the Blue Devils and 28 against Seton Hall. He’s come through in the clutch when the Jayhawks have needed him most. And they’ll definitely need him against Villanova.

Final Thoughts on Kansas vs. Villanova

malik-newman-kansasThe Wildcats are favored by 5 points on the spread, which is a significant amount in a game between two top seeds. They also have the best odds of winning the Final Four. This team does pretty much everything right, and they have elite players in Brunson and Bridges leading them.

Of course, Kansas is no slouch either. They’ve proven themselves again and again against other top-tier competition. So it would be no surprise if they also won this game.

Either squad can claim victory here. But Villanova has the look and feel of an eventual champion. I expect them to win, but I also think that Kansas will make it close and cover their spread.

Final Score Prediction: Villanova wins 84 to 81 – Kansas covers their +5 spread.