Here are the factors that will determine the outcome on both sides of the floor.
When Villanova is on offense…
Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are the main two holdovers from Villanova’s title squad, and it looks like they are the focal points of the offense.
Booth is averaging 20 points per game, while Paschall is at 18.5. Both have been efficient thus far, and Villanova is bombing 3s as usual. A little over half of the Wildcats’ shot attempts have come from 3-point land. Expect that to continue against Michigan.
Saddiq Bey has been outstanding for Villanova in two games, averaging 12 points while making 4-of-6 3s. The Wildcats needed a 3-and-D wing to replace Mikal Bridges, and while Bey isn’t as dynamic as Bridges, he has the goods to be an extremely valuable player. Collin Gillespie is also a reliable shot-maker. Villanova doesn’t have the high-end star power it did last year, but it will have five competent offensive players on the floor at all times. With Jay Wright at the helm, this could be a really good offense.
Michigan’s defense is nasty, too, so this should be a fun matchup. The Wolverines’ first two opponents have failed to crack 45 points. A fun individual battle we’ll see for stretches: Paschall vs. Isaiah Livers. Paschall is the more skilled player, but Livers is a great defender; he’s Paschall’s counterpart in terms of strength and length. Zavier Simpson is also a quality defensive point guard. It will be interesting to see if John Beilein slots him on Booth or Gillespie; Booth is the more dangerous scorer, but Michigan might not want to cross match. It’s cleaner if Simpson guards the opposing point guard, as Gillespie usually is.
It will be interesting to see if Michigan center Jon Teske can hang in this matchup when Villanova goes small. He’s been good thus far, but of course, few can spread the court like Villanova, and Teske’s mobility is a concern. But he’s averaging 4.5 blocks per game, and his offensive rebounding could prove to be valuable on the other end. This will be a game within a game between Beilein and Wright.
Great offense usually beats great defense, and with Villanova at home, it probably will this time around. But this also isn’t the 2017-18 Wildcats’ attack. The style is still pretty and effective, but this team doesn’t have a Donte DiVincenzo to come to the rescue in times of despair.
When Michigan is on offense…
Michigan has gotten off to a rough offensive start, to say the least. The Wolverines are averaging less than 60 points per game, and Simpson and Jordan Poole are shooting less than 15 percent from the field.
Tiny sample size, of course, and they’ll regress to the mean. But they’ll need to be drastically better in order to have a shot at Villanova, and the Wildcats’ defense is firing right now. Paschall is an ace defender, Bey looks the part on that end, and Joe Cremo is a jack-of-all-trades type capable of being a menace in the passing lanes.
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The most pressing question for Villanova: who draws the Charles Matthews assignment? It will probably be Bey, for the most part, but Wright likes to employ a committee. Cremo will see time on him, and Jermaine Samuels is a plus defender.
Ignas Brazdeikis has been a revelation for Michigan thus far, and he forms a nice wing duo with Matthews. He’s averaging 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. Look for Paschall to start on him; it will be Brazdeikis’ toughest test as a Wolverine by far (and may be the best defender he sees all season). This game will tell us a lot about Brazdeikis’ prospects going forward.
The nice thing about Poole is that he has a short memory. His bad start shouldn’t affect him going into the Villanova game, and he has a knack for coming through when the lights are brightest. Michigan needs either Poole or Simpson (perhaps both) to ball in order to have a shot. And as previously mentioned, Teske needs to mash on the glass; otherwise, Villanova can pull Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, play small and feel good about it. Villanova is incredibly tough to stop when it goes small.
Michigan has the makings of a good offense, but we haven’t seen it in action yet. And Villanova looks hungry and energized on defense.
Prediction: Villanova 73, Michigan 66