2018 Final Four Bracket Picks and Expert Predictions
Well, we re-picked the bracket again before the Final Four, and it went… okay. I picked Villanova to lose to Texas Tech, but more because I was bored by how chalky the right side of the bracket has been as anything. And I truly believed that Kansas wasn't going to be able to overcome a talent deficit against Duke. So, the right side was a bit of a disaster. But on the left we had Michigan winning the region - as we have since the start of the tournament - and we had Loyola continuing their hot streak against Kansas State. And now we are down to the Final Four, so we have one more chance to revisit the bracket and see how things set up. Here, then, are my Final Four bracket picks:
Loyola vs. Michigan
The early game of the Final Four Saturday puts me in a bit of an awkward situation. As a lifelong Michigan fan I am sincerely and intensely hoping to make a 98-year-old nun cry. Sister Jean has been a remarkable story, but this is where her magical touch just isn't going to be enough.
Loyola's problem here is that they do much the same thing as Michigan does. They slow things down playing strong defense, they score enough while keeping the pace under control, they play smart, and they are brutal to play against right now because they are so hot and dialed in. While Loyola has won 14 straight, though, Michigan has won 13 and has done it with much the same formula - and better talent overall. Loyola and Michigan have both caught opponents off guard with their style this tournament, but that isn't going to happen here. And when you have a guy who has been coaching since 1975 and has 15 tournament wins since 2013 - tied with Roy Williams for the most in that period - in John Beilein with a week to prepare for a game, going up against a guy who had never been in the tournament as a coach before, you have the makings of an unfair fight. Both teams have struggled at time to score, and both have had one offensive breakout game. But when they are struggling I have more faith in Michigan to make the difference that needs to be made. Loyola has been on an incredible run, and I have nothing but respect, but this is a tougher opponent than they have faced, and a more creative coach, and I just don't think the Ramblers will be quite up to the challenge.
From a betting perspective it is interesting to note here that the public has been all over Loyola in early action. Public bettors love stories, and this is a great one.
Villanova vs. Kansas
This is a tough spot for me because I have not respected Kansas much at all and yet here they are. They had an easy trip to the Elite Eight, but then I was certain either Duke or Michigan State would beat them. Oops. I still don't think this is nearly as talented a team as we have seen from Kansas in recent years, and I don't like them under pressure, so I still don't trust them here at all. Villanova is much deeper, more experienced, and talented. They play a smarter brand of basketball, and they have at least the two best players in the game. I don't think it is very hard at all to discount Kansas and take the Wildcats here, but then I thought the same in the last Kansas game, and look at how that turned out.
Championship game - Villanova vs. Michigan
This is the matchup I picked in my own bracket, and I took a lot of grief from friends and family for picking against my Wolverines. It was the right thing to do, though, and I'll do it again. Michigan is red hot and playing dangerous basketball, but Villanova is smarter and shiftier than any team they have faced here and more capable of limiting the effectiveness of what the team can do defensively than any team here - or in the country for that matter. John Beilein can outcoach almost anyone, which is why Michigan is here. But his advantage is less when he has only two days to get ready, and less again against a guy as experienced as Jay Wright, and against an offense as potent as Villanova's. A little tear rolls down my cheek as I write this, but Villanova will beat Michigan to win the National Championship, and it will be a reasonably decisive victory.
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