Loyola’s run ends as Michigan and Villanova meet in NCAA Final

Michigan Wolverines guard Charles Matthews (1) shoots against the Loyola Ramblers in the first half in the semifinals of the 2018 men's Final Four at Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Brett Wilhelm/Pool Photo via USA TODAY SportsThe NCAA men’s basketball tournament will conclude Monday with a matchup that defies the madness of the past few weeks. Instead of featuring a double-digit seed like Loyola-Chicago, or any of the other teams that pulled off big upsets in one of the most unpredictable brackets in tournament history, Monday’s game is between a major conference champion and the pre-tournament betting favourite. Michigan has won 14 straight games to reach the final for the first time since 2013, while Villanova has been every bit as dominant as people predicted.

Michigan defeated Loyola-Chicago on Saturday with a thrilling second-half comeback. Loyola-Chicago was up by 10 points early in the second half but a 12-0 run by Michigan proved to be the turning point. Villanova cruised to victory against fellow 1-seed Kansas after building a 22-4 lead in the opening seven minutes of their semifinal and enters Monday’s final as the biggest favourite in the NCAA title game since Duke in 2010.

Villanova may look like the heavy favourite, but Michigan has been defying the odds to get to this point. Taking down Michigan State and Purdue to win the Big Ten conference tournament showed what they are capable of against top-ranked teams - something their unorthodox road to the NCAA championship game didn’t have. The top seed Michigan faced en route to the final was 6-seed Houston thanks to upset losses by the 1, 2, and 4-seeds in their region, not to mention the chaos in the South Region that led to Loyola-Chicago’s Final Four appearance.

Villanova’s balanced attack is deadly from the perimeter, with Jalen Brunson leading the way, while Michigan has German sensation Moritz Wagner playing the best basketball of his career, including a sensational 24-point, 15-rebound performance on Saturday. All five Villanova starters scored in double figures against Kansas, and the team made 45 percent of its 40 3-point attempts. Michigan’s defense needs to prevent Villanova from repeating that performance in order to stand a chance on Monday.