1st Half: Brunson Buries a Big 3
Jalen Brunson buries his first 3-pointer, with Michigan’s defenders conspicuously absent. Michigan misses, and it’s 37-28 Villanova, with the Wildcats also getting the last shot with 12 seconds to play.
Slam dunk by the revelatory Donte DiVincenzo. His season high was 30 against Butler, so he has the ability to run up a big number. Then Spellman adds a dunk. Meanwhile, Michigan is doing a lot of missing, including their last seven from 3-point range. It’s 34-28 Villanova, and with a minute and a half to go, Michigan calls timeout.
Drape: There is recruiting and there is being in the right place at the right time. Ask Donte DiVincenzo. He was on recruiters’ radars: he was ranked as the No. 124 player in the country and the 37th-best shooting guard as a high school senior. He was also the top-rated player in Delaware, not all that far from Villanova’s campus in Philadelphia. His decision was between Syracuse and Villanova until his high school team visited Villanova to watch a practice. He’s got 18 points in the national championship right now.
1st Half: Villanova Takes the Lead
Villanova takes the lead with its third 3-pointer of the game, all by Donte DiVincenzo. Michigan has been called for 8 fouls, to Villanova’s 4. With a 30-26 lead and the momentum, Villanova starting to look like the favorite for the first time. DiVincenzo now has 14 points, while his more heralded teammates Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson have 4 apiece.
Drape: Villanova is showing they are the real thing, and can give as good as they get. DiVincenzo bangs a 3-pointer, then drives and gets fouled. He misses the free throw, but Villanova is up 30-26 with 3:59 left. So far, we are getting what we were hoping for: a well played, high octane game between the two best teams in the country.
1st Half: A Game of Threes
This is a matchup between the best 3-point shooting team in the nation in Villanova (and all of college basketball according to the record book) and the best defending 3-point team in Michigan. So far, the Wolverines are defending better than the Wildcats are shooting. They lead, 21-16.
1st Half: Michigan Leads Early Behind Strong Defense
Charles Matthews has a block and a steal already as Michigan continues its outstanding team defense. Villanova turns to its bench to try to turn things around: Donte Divincento finally hits the team’s first 3-pointer, then completes a 3-point play. But Michigan’s own bench player Jordan Poole answers to give Michigan an 18-14 lead with 12 minutes left in the half.
Drape: It’s the shoes. The pink ones. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman first wore them on February 14 to honor breast cancer victims. He’s worn them ever since and the Wolverines are on a 14 game winning streak. I took my son and nephew to the Big Ten tournament and they fell in love with “Pink Shoes,” as they called Abdur Rahkman. It seems that is the nickname his teammates have given him. Every prognosticator in the media world predicted Villanova would blow Michigan out. Wolverines are not letting that happen.
1st Half: Two Easy Baskets
After all the talk of 3-pointers, the game started on the inside, with each team making a couple of easy buckets. Jalen Brunson and Moritz Wagner were the first to score, but Wagner of Michigan hit the first 3 of the game, giving Michigan a 9-4 lead. In contrast to Kansas in the semifinal, Michigan is swarming Villanova much more aggressively. With 14 minutes left there is a TV timeout and Michigan leads, 11-8. Still no 3’s from Villanova.
Drape: Unlike in the national semifinals, both teams have come out loose and effective. Michigan’s Wagner has taken it to the hole confidently. The Wolverines have set a tone that they were not going to be intimidated. They want to control the tempo and they have. Wagner has been the spark plug. He hit a big 3-pointer. Then banked it inside on a twisting drive. He has the predominately-Michigan crowd into the game. They are not going to let Villanova shoot them out of the game like the Wildcats did to Kansas early.
Key Matchup: Omari Spellman, Villanova vs. Moritz Wagner, Michigan.
Loyola-Chicago could not deal with Wagner in the semifinal: He matched his season high with 24 points and set a season high with 15 rebounds. A 6-10 big man from Germany, he hit three 3’s and collided with the television announcers’ table while chasing a loose ball, breaking Bill Raftery’s glasses.
But he will face tougher opposition in the final from the strong 6-9 first-year player Spellman. And Spellman’s ability to shoot 3-pointers – at 45 percent! — will test Wagner’s defense.
Key to Beating Villanova? Make Them Miss 3’s
How do you beat Villanova? Four teams during the regular season found a way. Three of those losses came on the road to Big East teams that made the tournament, Creighton, Providence and Butler.
That leaves one other loss, and it was a shocker, a home defeat to St. John’s, which wound up 16-17 and just 4-14 in Big East play.
Are there lessons for Michigan in that upset on Feb. 7?
In some ways, the win was so unusual that it’s hard to draw any conclusions. St. John’s was a 16½-point underdog. It was the team’s first conference win of the season and first win over a No. 1 team in 33 years.
St. John’s benefited from good shooting (49 percent) and a star performance (Shamorie Ponds, 26 points). But you can’t just instruct a team to “shoot well” or a star to “have a big night.”
The Villanova side of the ledger may have something for Michigan, though. Whether through St. John’s defense or just a bad night, Villanova struggled from 3-point range, shooting 8-33 (24 percent). Its starters were 4-for-27.
In its other three losses, Villanova shot 34, 31 and 15 percent from 3-point range. On the season it averaged 40 percent.
As Kansas found out on Saturday, a hot-shooting Villanova is hard to beat. Michigan needs to find a way to cool them off.
It’s not impossible: Loyola averaged seven 3-pointers a game. Michigan held them to 1.