Why Michigan: Fast Start, Defensive Grit Could Boost Wolverines

Doug Upstone

Sunday, April 1, 2018 4:30 PM UTC

Sunday, Apr. 1, 2018 4:30 PM UTC

Villanova might be the best team in the country, but Michigan is the hottest. The Wolverines have won 14 games in a row (11-2-1 ATS) and deserve to be exactly where they are right now.

NCAA Championship Game: Michigan Wolverines

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If you saw Michigan lose both times in January to Purdue by five total points, you knew this was a very good squad. Sure the ugly setbacks at Nebraska (72-52) and at Northwestern (61-52) were cause for concern, but the talent was in place. They run an offense that is different, just like coach John Beilein teams always do, being able to find the open shooter whenever the defense would hedge toward another Michigan player with the ball.

As the calendar went from January to February, the defense, while much better than usual for the Wolverines, was visibly improving. Opposing three-point shooters had a hand in their face and players coming off screens did not find open space. Instead, someone in a Michigan jersey was in their path.

Though the college basketball odds board suggests Michigan is in trouble as a seven-point underdog to Villanova in Monday's NCAA Tournament final (9:20 p.m. ET; TBS), underdogs of 6.5 or more points are 6-3 ATS in the title tilt and a more-than-respectable 4-5 SU.

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Michigan vs. Villanova in NCAA championship game Monday, tip-off 9:20 p.m. (TBS/950 AM) pic.twitter.com/4eWnUMxik0

— The Detroit News (@detroitnews) April 1, 2018
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Can Michigan actually pull this off against seemingly invincible Villanova? Yes they can, and here is how.

Michigan Must Be Fearless and Confident

One trait of Villanova's when they are motivated is they attack from the start. The players trust each other and their skills. Michigan has to match this and believe they deserve to be in the limelight and play the same way. The timid start against Loyola-Chicago in Saturday's semifinal will find them in the same predicament Kansas was in vs. Nova.

This will require running the offense through Moritz Wagner to start. Wagner has a nicely varied inside/outside game and is an above-average passer. Whether it is Charles Matthews or Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, both these players must not only make jump shots, but they need to attack the rim early to get in the flow of the game in the opening minutes. Their presence is too important to be spectators, like they were for the first 20 minutes Saturday.

Wagner needs another fully dialed-in effort like he had against Loyola, where he was the difference-maker. However, it's not just on this trio, as championships are seldom won without role players making major contributions.

That is why Duncan Robinson, Zavier Simpson, and freshman Jordan Poole will have to provide high-quality minutes when called upon on both ends of the floor.

Beilein's crew has to have tremendous defense, stay within six points of three-pointers made, win the rebounding battle by +5 or more and make 75 percent of their free throws. If the Wolverines do this, they will not only have been a wise choice with your college basketball picks but will be named college basketball champions.

Check out SBR’s college basketball odds page for updated lines. Also, head over to the March Madness Betting Headquarters for vital handicapping information, picks, and a list of the best sports books and live betting options for the tournament season.

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