The Final Four is set. Half of the bracket is chalk, with #1 Villanova (East) facing #1 Kansas (Midwest). The other half looks like someone was tickling the basketball gods as they tried to fill out their brackets, with #3 Michigan meeting #11 Loyola-Chicago.
By now, you know the main storylines, i.e. Loyola has Sister Jean’s divine intervention to thank for their Cinderella run. But there’s more to these teams than what CBS puts in their inspirational promos. Let’s get to know the Final Four competitors a little better by going through four important facts about each one.
- The Jayhawks are the best three-point shooting team in the Final Four (40.3%) and are the only one hitting at better than 40% from deep.
- While Kansas coach Bill Self has a spotty record in the Elite Eight (now 3-7), he has never lost in the Final Four (2-0). His 2008 Jayhawks routed UNC (84-66) on their way to the title, and his 2012 team squeaked past Ohio State (64-62) before losing to Anthony Davis and Kentucky.
- Kansas has the worst against-the-spread record of the remaining teams (20-16-1 ATS). Loyola (24-9-0 ATS) has the best mark, while Nova (25-12-1 ATS) and Michigan (24-13-1 ATS) are nearly identical. The Jayhawks opened as five-point underdogs to Villanova, while Michigan opened as a 5.5-point favorite over Loyola.
- The Jayhawks have the shortest bench/rotation. Four of Bill Self’s starters average over 31 minutes per game: Devonte’ Graham (37.8), Svi Mykhailiuk (34.7), Lagerald Vick (33.1), and Elite Eight hero Malik Newman (31.4). No other team has more than two players averaging 31-plus minutes.
- As a #11, the Ramblers are tied for the highest seed to ever reach the Final Four. They are the fourth #11 seed to do so, following in the footsteps of LSU (1986), George Mason (2006), and VCU (2011). None of the other #11 seeds made it to the championship game. LSU lost 88-77 to #2 Louisville; George Mason lost 73-58 to #3 Florida; and VCU lost 70-62 to #8 Butler.
- During the regular season, the Ramblers only faced one team that made the NCAA tournament. But they made quite the statement in their lone opportunity, beating Florida (65-59) in Gainesville in early December.
- Loyola has the longest winning streak in the nation at 14 games. They haven’t lost since January 31st, when they fell by two points to Bradley (69-67).
- If you’re looking for a reason to doubt what is ostensibly God’s team, the Ramblers are the luckiest squad left standing, currently sitting 20th in the nation in KenPom’s “Luck” metric. Kansas (30th) is second, followed by Michigan (65th), and Villanova (223rd). KenPom’s “Luck” calculation is based on the difference between a team’s expected number of wins — which, in turn, is based on stats like scoring differential — and their actual number of wins. “Lucky” teams tend to have a great record in close games, and regress toward the mean as the season wears on.
- The Wolverines have the best defense left in the tournament. In terms of efficiency, they are the only top-ten team remaining. And that staunch defense has been even better in the tournament, surrendering just 59.0 PPG though the first four games.
- Michigan’s field-goal percentage (47.1%) is, by a considerable margin, the worst among the Final Four teams. The Wolverines are only 53rd in the country in FG%, whereas the other three teams are all in the top-ten: Loyola (3rd, 50.7%), Villanova (5th, 50.4%), Kansas (9th, 49.8%).
- Michigan has the fewest double-digit scorers (three). Only Mo Wagner (14.3 PPG), Charles Matthews (13.0 PPG), and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12.8 PPG) average more than ten points per game for UM. Nova has six players in double-figures and Kansas and Loyola both have five.
- This is only coach John Beilein’s second trip to the Final Four. Led by future NBAers Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, and Tim Hardaway Jr. , the 2013 Wolverines edged #4 Syracuse 61-56 in the semifinals before losing to Louisville 82-76 in the title game, a championship that has since been stricken from the record books thanks to Louisville’s recruiting scandals.
- Villanova has the best offense, not just among the remaining teams, but in all of Division I, averaging 87.1 PPG and sitting first in offensive efficiency. Kansas is next: 81.5 PPG; fifth overall in efficiency.
- Nova is far and away the betting favorite heading into the Final Four. At the more reputable online betting sites, they range from even money to -110. Michigan (+250 to +260) is the second favorite, followed by Kansas (+325 to +400), with Loyola bringing up the rear (+900 to +1000).
- Villanova’s 77.1% team free-throw percentage is the best in the Final Four. Every player on their roster shoots better than 62% from the line. Every player who’s attempted more than 30 free throws averages better than 69%. That’s a big reason why this team tends to pull away late and cover so many spreads, despite being hefty favorites more often than not. Loyola hits at 72.2%, Kansas at 70.5%, and Michigan is last (as they are in so many offensive categories) at 65.9%.
- Villanova is the only team without a senior averaging at least 30 minutes per game. In fact, Jay Wright doesn’t have a single senior who averages more than 1.5 MPG, or that has played more than three garbage-time minutes in the tournament. The last team to win without a senior averaging at least 24 MPG was UConn in 2011. But don’t go thinking this Wildcat team is relying on kittens. Four of their top-six scorers are juniors (Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth).