Griffith's Got Stats: Final Four

by Evan Griffith | 4/2/18 2:05am

The Final Four is here, and since I’m firmly out of the running for the top spot in my bracket pool after Duke lost last weekend, I was able to enjoy the games more fully and without bias as a neutral fan.

Before I review Saturday’s games, there is some Ivy League news to talk about. Dartmouth standout Evan Boudreaux decided to forgo his junior season and graduate early to play out his final two years of NCAA eligibility at a power conference school, Purdue University. Previously Boudreaux had intended to enroll at Xavier University, but decommitted following the departure of head coach Chris Mack, who left to become head coach at the University of Louisville. Boudreaux, who almost averaged a double-double with 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore, has the opportunity to make an immediate impact on a Boilermakers team that will lose a lot of talent next year. Purdue started four seniors in their starting five, with the only underclassman returning being current sophomore guard Carsen Edwards. Even though Boudreaux mostly played the big man role at Dartmouth at 6 feet 8 inches, he will probably take over graduating senior Vincent Edwards’ (no relation) spot as starting power forward at Purdue. Purdue is known for developing big men, and 7-foot-2-inch senior Isaac Haas’ spot at center will be taken up by the 7-foot-3-inch current freshman Matt Haarms. Boudreaux has an opportunity to make an immediate impact at Purdue as someone with experience on a team that will lack it next year.

I should also mention that Pennsylvania State University won the National Invitation Tournament (they beat Ohio State three times this season) and the University of Connecticut Women’s team lost their first game of the season to the University of Notre Dame in the Women’s NCAA Tournament. To put that in perspective, since the beginning of 2012, the UConn women are 8-7 against Notre Dame and 249-5 against everyone else.

Now back to the tournament. There were two games on Saturday: 11-seed Loyola University Chicago versus 3-seed University of Michigan and 1-seed Villanova University versus 1-seed University of Kansas. Conveniently, one of the games was fairly exciting while the other was less so. Interestingly, the not-very-exciting game was between the two 1-seeds. Villanova put on a clinic against Kansas, defeating the Jayhawks 95-79. Villanova’s strength throughout the season has been its ability to shoot from three, and it showed in this game. Villanova broke the record for the number of three-point shots made in a Final Four game with 18. They also broke the record for the number of three-pointers made in a season during the game, breaking the previous record of 442 set by the Virginia Military Institute in 2007. A team that shoots so well from three (40.1 percent) and that relies on the three-point shot so much (40.5 percent of Villanova’s points come from three-point shots) isn’t set up for success in the tournament, because it’s difficult to keep up a stretch of deep shooting over a six-game stretch. However, Villanova may have already had their bad shooting game of the tournament. When Villanova played Texas Tech University in the Elite Eight, the Wildcats won 71-59, their lowest point total in the tournament thus far and the only time they scored below 80 in the tournament. Texas Tech was a strong defensive team, ranked fourth in Adjusted Defensive efficiency for allowing 90.8 points per 100 possessions. However, Villanova went 4-24 from three (.167) during that game. That’s really bad. For reference, Villanova’s 3P% during their other games were as follows: 14-27 (.519) against Radford University, 17-41 (.415) against the University of Alabama, 13-24 (.542) against the University of West Virginia and 18-40 (.450) against Kansas. Villanova shot poorly against a good defensive team in Texas Tech, but still managed to win that game by outrebounding the Red Raiders 51 to 33 (!!) and connecting on 29 of 35 free throws, compared to Texas Tech’s 14 of 18. Texas Tech also shot 20-60 (.333) from the field and 5-20 (.250) from three, which didn’t do them any favors. Villanova had their bad shooting game of the tournament, but managed to do enough things right against a Texas Tech team that also didn’t play well. Villanova got back in to form against Kansas, and if the Wildcats can shoot the lights out like they’ve done in four of their five games this season, they’ll be scary in the championship game.

The other game featured a Michigan team that hasn’t lost since Feb. 6  (61-52 against Northwestern University), who went up against this year’s Cinderella, the Loyola Chicago Fighting Sister Jeans. Michigan was down by ten points at one point in the second half; however, the Wolverines managed to pull out the victory behind 6-foot-11-inch junior Mo Wagner’s double double with 24 points and 15 rebounds, in addition to his three steals and one assist. Wagner is the third person in the last 40 years to score at least 20 points and record at least 15 rebounds, joining some pretty good company in Hakeem Olajuwon and Larry Bird. The 11-seeded Ramblers fell in the Final Four like the three other 11-seeds that made the Final Four before them. Loyola’s magic seemed to run out during the Easter holiday, committing 17 turnovers against Michigan.

The championship game takes place Monday night at 9:20 p.m. How will Villanova’s high-powered offense fare against the best defensive team that Michigan Coach John Beilein has ever coached, with an Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of 90.4 points per 100 possessions)? I think Villanova pulls out the win. Michigan, even though they’re on a hot streak, is the first team to reach the national title game without playing a top five seed along the way (14, 6, 7, 9, 11). The toughest team the Wolverines have played was arguably 6-seed University of Houston, and Michigan needed a buzzer beater to win that game. I have Villanova over Michigan 74-68, with Villanova’s coach Jay Wright headed to the NBA in a couple of years with two NCAA championships in the past three years on his resume.