What will go down in history on Saturday night in San Antonio as one of the most exciting and eventful Final Fours in recent years? A big part of the attraction is that, for all sorts of reasons, all four remaining teams will be able to win two more games and break the nets.
Let's look at the biggest reason why each of the four national semi-finalists will take this thing home, and then one reason why we should curb that optimism.
Why They Win It: They Are the Best Two-Digit Seed That Ever Makes the Final Four
The easy way would have been "divine intervention" here, but we go to SB Nation not easy. In addition, Villanova has its own religious Mojo work.
Four double-digit seeds, including three 1
The reason to believe that Loyola will be better than its two digit predecessors is because Loyola is better than its two digit predecessor.
The Ramblers ranked in the nation's top 30 in matched defensive efficiency for much of the season. On their way to the Final Four, they have sailed four teams with less than 70 points among the talents of Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State. Their average season of only 62.4 points per game is the fourth best in the country.
But this is not a team that can only win rock fights. In fact, the Ramblers could have the best half-court tribute of a team still standing next to Villanova. They shot 57.4 percent of the field against Kansas State on Sunday and for the 24th time scored at least 50 percent of the field in this game. No team in the country can claim more. All five starters are double digits on average and four of them shoot better than 50 percent out of the field for the season.
They are well rounded, they are balanced and they are battle-tested. The big stage should not overwhelm her.
Why They Will not Win It: The Competition
Loyola had to drop some good teams to win the South Region, but the three groups that join the Ramblers in San Antonio are all better than everyone else they have encountered so far.
This is the best defense team that John Beilein trained in Michigan. The Wolverines have an absolute center-piece that Loyola has never seen this season, and they have the size and athleticism elsewhere to keep the Ramblers from having the kind of success they have against teams had Tennessee and Miami. When Loyola passes the Wolverines, they have to deal with a number 1 in the championship game with several professionals.
Loyola has the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in Clayton Custer, but there is no potential NBA player to survive a match when his teammates are overwhelmed with the talent they face. The Ramblers do not have Gordon Hayward, who remembers Butler in 2010, so it's hard to see them winning back-to-back games against elite elite in college basketball.
Why They Win It: They Are the Best Defending Team Still Standing
It feels weird to focus on defense when talking about a Beilein team but this requires it. Beilein has never trained a team that has finished a season better than 37th in defensive efficiency. The Wolverines are currently # 4.
Michigan devoured its first four opponents in the NCAA tournament, leaving only Texas A & M with more than 70 points. And only because the game went well in the second half. In the Western Regional Final, the Wolverines narrowed a very hot Florida State team to only 54 points, 31.7 percent shot off the field.
Zavier Simpson will be the best on-ball defender in San Antonio, Moe Wagner is dedicated to rim protection, and Beilein has greatness and strength in every other place on the ground.
Another reason for optimism? This is just the fourth Michigan team in history to win at least 30 games in a season. The previous three all played for the national title.
Why they will not win: The offense is inconsistent
To get to the Final Four, Michigan has played three really under-average offensive games and a damn perfect one. Based on what only happened to Houston, it's easy to claim that the Wolverines should not even be here. It took a handful of missed free throws and a miraculous shot at the buzzer to progress on a night that looked like a losing team for 39 minutes and 58 seconds.
After doing all he could and hanging on Texas Sweet 16 on Texas A & M, Michigan scored just 4 out of 22 when defeating Florida State. Outside of this match against the Aggies, Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman were downright evil throughout the tournament. West MOP region Charles Matthews has picked up the slack, but that alone may not be enough to beat Loyola on Saturday, and it certainly will not be enough to beat the top seed the Wolverines would hit on Monday.
Why they win: They are the best team
Pretty easy here. Villanova was the most complete team in college basketball this entire season. They are also the class of the four teams that still pursue the national championship.
Jalen Brunson has already been the Associated Press National Player of the Year, Mikal Bridges is a few months away from a lottery pick, Donte DiVincenzo has the ability to go for 30 nights when the others have stars, and Omari Spellman is the versatile big man who was sorely missed by the team a year ago. The Wildcats check every box on the profile of a national champion.
Why They Will not Win It: Excessive Dependence on the Thirties
Like two years ago, Villanova arrived at the Final Four after winning the first three games with a blunt offensive and then a rock fight in the Beat Elite Eight. The Wildcats were only four of 24 out of three against the Red Raiders, but 29 points in the free throw line to make up for the difference. They also held their opponents 33.3 percent off the field.
In 2016, Nova returned from a similarly inconsistent offensive performance in the regional final against Kansas to reach a Final Four record with a 44-point strike from Oklahoma. Two nights later, they defeated North Carolina in one of the biggest national championship games of all time.
Perhaps the most recent story will be repeated this year. Or the Wildcats, who rely too much on the outdoor scenes, will cost them the biggest prize of the sport. Both Kansas and Michigan have the pieces necessary to prevent them from being exploited by Villanova's "small ball" style. The wildcats will not be able to create the same kinds of discrepancies they have with almost every other team in their schedule. Maybe they can overcome this obstacle by simply being better in style than their opponents. Maybe that can not be.
Why they will win it: Devonte? Graham is due
It is notable to think that Kansas has made it so far, despite being the Big 12 Player of the Year and national POY has got so little finalist. Graham only scores 18 out of 53 (33.9 percent) from the tournament field and only 8 out of 25 (32.0 percent) from outside the arc. He has also made 12 sales.
Fortunately, Graham Malik Newman is arguably the best player in the tournament. The former five-star recruit in Mississippi State Transfer has averaged 25.7 points per game in the Jayhawks' last three games, and scored all 13 KU overtime points in his Midwest Regional Final victory over Duke. If he can handle it and Graham is able to shake the radio he's been in, there's no reason to believe that Kansas will not win two more games.
Why they will not win: They have a big man problem
Udoka Azubuike is the only major post presence in this Kansas team. He's also been fouled out of the Jayhawks' last two games, is a horrendous free throw shooter and does not have the versatility to guard a guy like Villanova's Omari Spellman or Michigans Moe Wagner. That's a terrifying combination of facts.
Silvio De Sousa has brought a nice boost to Bill Self's team, but a guy who feels unwise about trusting a kid who was in high school 12 weeks ago, with important minutes in the Final Four. This means that the self must either become very small and risk being destroyed on the glass, or that Azubuike must find a way to stay out of trouble and maybe throw a free throw or two.