SAN ANTONIO — Villanova on Monday night became that occasional college basketball men’s national champion of such uncommon quality that it never did cause its fan base any of the customary bouts of March such as fear, dread or horror. The Villanova fans who streamed from the Alamodome into the bliss of a second national title in three seasons did so with projected life spans pretty much the same as they would have had if they ignored the NCAA tournament and missed their team’s six-game mow through it.
They, of course, had not. They had seen it through from their loud quadrant of the Final Four dome, among other places from here to that city of winners known as Philadelphia, and they had seen it right down to the mastery Villanova showed when it wriggled out of an early little thicket against Michigan and rode its superior skill to a 79-62 win. When the Wildcats sprang out of a 21-14 deficit that stood after nine minutes to lead 37-28 at halftime, they didn’t do so with the kind of dazzling blur they made in routing Kansas on Saturday night. They did it steadily and methodically if compellingly, because in their 36-win season, they reached a rare level of superbness.
“I really can’t get my mind around it,” said Coach Jay Wright, with national titles in his 15th and 17th Villanova seasons. “I never dreamt of this.”
His team had so much might spread through so many players that it included a sophomore backup who could cure Michigan’s early gumming-up of Villanova’s offense on his way to 31 points which, given Donte DiVincenzo’s outbursts this year of 30 points on Butler, 25 on St. John’s, 23 on Marquette, wasn’t even all that novel. That’s even if it did turn up as the most title-game points ever by a non-starter. He recorded even his seventh and eighth blocked shots of the season.
“Blocked shots, definitely,” he said when asked his preference.
In a tournament of UMBC and of Buffalo, of Florida State and of Nevada, of upsets and outright jolts, of Loyola Chicago and Loyola Chicago and Loyola Chicago, Villanova had whisked through Radford, Alabama, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas and Michigan by 26, 23, 12, 12, 16 and 17, without any of the last-minute dramatics that capped their previous title, their 77-74 win over North Carolina two years ago east down Interstate 10 in Houston.
“When I looked at their scores in the NCAA tournament, there were not even any close ones,” Michigan Coach John Beilein said. In coming to rest at the happiest kind of 36-4 here, they took two opponents who had fantastic seasons and fairly mauled them. They killed all suspense but replaced it with fetching excellence.
They did so even though their leader, national player of the year Jalen Brunson, unthinkably picked up a fourth foul with 10:51 left, but ended up exhilarated and said, “I really cannot put this into words at all. I just love my brothers, I love my team, I love the Villanova nation.”
They did so even if the first, furious moments of Monday night did wreak for them a pile of apparent inconvenience.
Instead of 18 three-point shots, they made 10.
At that 11-minute mark of the first half, Villanova’s lush box score from its semifinal against Kansas had dried up. From 13 three-point shots in the first half Saturday night, the Wildcats had made one. Michigan’s aggression off the dribble made Villanova seem briefly half-sluggish. Michigan’s length and merit on defense had thrown the intended clutter into Villanova’s passing lanes.
By the time that skill-rich 6-foot-11 Michigan man from Berlin, Moritz Wagner, made the kind of cut that could make a coach weep for joy, and freshman Jordan Poole zipped him a lovely pass from the right side to arrange a layup, Michigan led 21-14. Wagner had 11 points already, his 24 points and 15 rebounds against Loyola Chicago Saturday still fresh in all the minds.
What happened from there to halftime would have seemed predictable only to those who comprehended Villanova’s supremacy in full. The idea that Michigan would not score again until the 5:47 mark, which did occur, seemed unlikely. The idea that Wagner would not score again in the half, which did occur, seemed unlikely.
“They just adjusted, I think,” Wagner said of Villanova’s thickening defense.
The idea that DiVincenzo would blast a barrage that got him to 18 points by halftime, which did occur . . .
That wasn’t so unlikely.
The 6-5 DiVincenzo spent the season in Villanova’s array of talents making 10 starts, averaging 29 minutes, 13 points and so on. Yet as the stage got the biggest, he clearly considered himself viable. He made feverish drives and outlandish three-point shots with a look in his manner that suggested the shots just weren’t all that outlandish. When he heaved — sorry, directed — one from the deep left at the 6:08 mark, Villanova had caught Michigan to lead 23-21.
By halftime, DiVincenzo was a testament to versatility, Eric Paschall, the strong 6-9 junior who loosed 24 points on Kansas, hadn’t even scored. When Paschall began doing so, on an open three-point shot and a robust drive for a reverse layup against Wagner, Villanova led 44-30 just two minutes after intermission. Beilein had to call timeout. Even with his renowned strategic skill, his fine planning, his smart, impressive players and the 14-game winning streak they brought to the game, they all finally had run across someone who could turn them, and this tournament, into a fine cast of supporting actors.
That marvel could turn the second half of the first Monday night of April into filler: Mikal Bridges collecting 19 pretty points, Omari Spellman getting 11 rebounds, often swooping from parts of the sky. The Villanova fans would spend the closing minutes doing things like amassing rousing cheers when the scoreboard showed former Villanova stars such as Josh Hart and Kyle Lowry. Why, in an event of madness, they hardly knew even a palpitation.
Time running out for Michigan
The clock is under 4 minutes. The lead is 74-54. Mo Wagner has four fouls.
Donte DiVencenzo with more threes and a monster block
DiVencenzo, who has 27 points for the night, has hit back-to-back threes to open up an 18-point lead for the Wildcats.
He doesn’t need to score any more points, though, if he keeps doing things like this on the defensive end.
Villanova leads 62-44 with 7:48 to go.
11:58 second half: Villanova 53, Michigan 38
The Wolverines continue to shoot poorly, but Villanova is doing nothing to pull away at this point. The Wildcats also don’t need to do anything to further pull away.
15:24 second half: Villanova 48, Michigan 33
After an 18-point first half, Donte DiVencenzo has been quiet. That’s been just fine for the Wildcats, who are scoring in all kinds of ways.
18:03 second half: Villanova 44, Michigan 30
The Wildcats have outscored the Wolverines by 21 points over the last 12 minutes going back to the first half. Mo Wagner appears to be the only option for Michigan on the offensive end. Fourteen points is the largest deficit the Wolverines have faced in the tournament.
Can Michigan come back?
The last two national champions, Villanova in 2016 and North Carolina in 2017, trailed at halftime in its respective title games before rallying to win. Michigan will try to become the third team in three years to do so, but it has a nine-point deficit against Villanova and a steep uphill climb in San Antonio.
The Wolverines, who entered the night with the country’s third best adjusted defensive efficiency, have largely been effective in disrupting the flow of Villanova’s starting five on the offensive end. That unit has gone just 7 for 21 for 17 total points; the Wildcats have just three total assists. The issue has been stopping the one-on-one play of sixth man Donte DiVencenzo, who is 7 for 10 from the field with 18 points. Over the last 12-and-half minutes in the first half, DiVencenzo outscored Michigan 18 to 14.
While Michigan must find a way to neutralize DiVencenzo in the second half, it also must find a way to score more consistently. It scored on just 0.86 points per trip and went just 2-for-13 from deep, which even as Villanova went 4-for-1 from three-point range, left the Wolverines in a deep hole by the late stages half.
Stop yelling, we know the game is on TBS
In case you’re not watching from the comfort of your home, you might not be aware that tonight’s game is being played on TBS, a cable channel, and not CBS, a broadcast channel. This shouldn’t be all that surprising at this point, however. Selection Sunday was on TBS, plenty of tournament games were on TBS, and the Final Four was on TBS. But that didn’t stop people from wondering why.
Meet Villanova’s sixth starter
Villanova sixth man Donte DiVencenzo has often been referred to as the Wildcats’ sixth starter, and he came off the bench and looked the part in the first half against Michigan. He scored 18 of Villanova’s 37 points to open the first half, hitting 7 of 10 from the field; the Wildcats’ starters were 7-for-21 shooting for 15 points from the field.
Its reminiscent of Villanova’s second round win over Alabama, when DiVencenzo scored 18 of his team’s 32 points before the Wildcats ran away with a 81-58 win in the second half.
He’s also pretty good on the defensive end.
Villanova leads Michigan at the half, 37-28.
1:24 first half: Villanova 34, Michigan 28
The Wildcats have found some rhythm on offense and are looking better on the defensive end, too. It hasn’t hurt them that no one on Michigan has been able to hit a shot — even open looks.
3:59 first half: Villanova 30, Michigan 26
Donte DiVincenzo has 16 points off the bench to lead the Wildcats. The TBS broadcast called him Villanova’s “sixth starter.” Seems apt.
Looking for NBA games? Not tonight.
With the NCAA championship being held Monday night, the NBA sat silent and held no games. As some on Twitter pointed out, that scheduling quirk has become something of a tradition.
The NBA did hold one game on the same night that North Carolina defeated Gonzaga for the national championship last year — Minnesota eked out a 110-109 win over Portland in front of just 14,677 fans — but no games were held on the first Monday in April two years ago, when Villanova beat North Carolina on a last second three-pointer by Kris Jenkins.
7:32 first half: Michigan 21, Villanova 18
The Wildcats are shooting a dismal 8 for 21 from the field, including 1 for 9 from three-point distance. They are however a perfect 1 for 1 from the free throw line. Michigan’s defense has been tenacious and has helped Villanova to that low shooting percentage. Against Kansas, the Wildcats shot 55.4 percent and hit 18 of 40 three-pointers.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines are shooting 50 percent on field goals. Mo Wagner is a big part of that, having hit 4 of 5.
11:51 first half: Michigan 18, Villanova 14
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is making his presence felt for the Wolverines early. After scoring a tournament-low seven points against Loyola Chicago, the 6-4 senior has seven points already. Abdur-Rahkman is the one in pink shoes on the court.
For Villanova, Donte DiVincenzo, who has been a key bench player for the Wildcats throughout March, has a team-high six points.
Jalen Brunson will score plenty down low
Despite standing at just 6-foot-3 and responsible for facilitating Villanova’s offense as a natural point guard, Brunson is also the Wildcats’ best post-up player. Using a variety of shot-fakes and fade-away jumpers, Brunson averaged 19.7 points on 52 percent shooting this season — including 60.5 percent on two-pointers — and scored the first four points of Monday night’s national championship from his familiar perch in the post.
13:56 first half: Michigan 11, Villanova 8
Mo Wagner has nine of the Wolverines’ 11 total points so far. Villanova, which has shot at a torrid pace across the tournament, has struggled some early; Jalen Brunson has four points to lead the Wildcats.
Vegas strongly favors Villanova, and so do the experts
Villanova enters Monday night’s national championship game against Michigan as only the fifth team to win its first five games of the NCAA tournament by double digits.
That has the oddsmakers tabbing the Wildcats as a seven-point favorite against the Wolverines, and a large contingent of the country’s college basketball analysts believe Villanova will roll to its second title in three years. Of the 36 national college basketball analysts at ESPN, Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports to pick the national champion, only one – ESPN’s Paul Biancardi – picked Michigan to win. Biancardi has the Wolverines edging the Wildcats by a score of 76-72. Eighteen of the 25 ESPN analysts picked Villanova to cover the spread. CBS Sports had four of its seven analysts pick Villanova to cover.
The seven-point spread is the largest in a national championship since 2010’s title game between Duke and Butler. Duke was also a seven-point favorite that night, and while it didn’t cover, it survived a half-court heave by Butler’s Gordon Hayward at the buzzer to win, 61-59.
Television: TBS will broadcast the game, just the second time in the tournament’s 80-year history that the finale will appear on cable. The game will be called by Jim Nantz, Grant Hill and Bill Raftery, with reporting from Tracy Wolfson. Pregame coverage will begin at 7 p.m., anchored by Ernie Johnson and with analysis from Charles Barkley, Clark Kellogg, Kenny Smith and others.
Series history: The schools have played four times before, most recently in November of 2014, a 60-55 Villanova win. All four previous meetings have come at neutral sites, with Villanova leading the series 3-1. The schools haven’t played in the NCAA tournament since 1985.
SAN ANTONIO — In the eccentric American art of shooting a basketball in a dome or other football edifice used for the purposes of runaway capitalism, Villanova is the maestro of the 2010s period. That fact lends a geeky fascination to the Wildcats’ title match against Michigan on Monday night and Michigan’s excellent unfriendliness toward shooters. A viewer might even keep a digital box score handy on the couch to follow along.
Thirty-six teams have reached men’s Final Fours in the 2010s, in stadiums where play the NFL’s Colts, Texans, Saints, Falcons, Cowboys and Cardinals, plus this Alamodome here. Amid the occasionally debated, alleged bugaboo of shooting in a monstrous cavern, nine of those teams have shot 50 percent or better in a game. The top four: Villanova in 2016, Villanova in 2016 again, Kentucky in 2012 and Villanova in 2018.
“It’s all in the work,” national player of the year Jalen Brunson said Saturday night, in a country where so many basketball players do so much work.
Then he repeated, “It’s all in the work.”
In its three Final Four games this decade, Villanova has played Oklahoma in 2016 in Houston where the shooting had been somber in 2011, then North Carolina in 2016 in Houston, then Kansas in 2018 here Saturday. Its shooting percentages: 71.4, 58.3, 55.4.
Seven teams this decade have shot 50 percent or better from three-point range in a Final Four game. Two of those were Villanova, and a third Villanova production needs an asterisk.
It shot 61.1 percent against Oklahoma, 57.1 percent against North Carolina and 45 percent against Kansas. Of course, against Kansas, Villanova made a Final Four-record 18 three-point shots, as if possessing some secret.
“No, not really,” Coach Jay Wright said. “Just I think in ‘09 we played in Ford Field (in Detroit’s Final Four) and we didn’t get a practice. It was the first year they put the court in the middle of the field, and we didn’t get a practice on Thursday. And then when we came to Houston (in 2016), they gave us a closed practice on Thursday and then the open practice on Friday. And we had Thursday, Friday and Saturday shooting here and I think it makes a difference. I think it makes a big difference. By Saturday, you feel comfortable.”
Point of information: Villanova shot 32.9 percent in the 2009 national semifinal in Detroit against North Carolina, and 6-for-27 (18.5) from three-point range. Other point of information: As college basketball players clearly learned to shoot at a Houston Final Four between 2011 and 2016, North Carolina shot 53.8 percent in its semifinal with Syracuse, and 42.9 percent in the final with Villanova, but 11-for-17 (64.7 percent) from deep.
In the vast expanse of University of Phoenix Stadium last year, basketballs rolled across rims like tumbleweeds, and only one team (Gonzaga in a semifinal) shot better than 37.9 percent.
Back in Texas now, Villanova has sizzled, yet one of two strong forces will figure to yield in the final. Michigan’s five NCAA tournament opponents have known the combined gloom of making 18 of 75 three-point shots, and Loyola Chicago got one, of 10.
The “10” was almost as important as the “1,” given that Loyola Chicago averaged 18.6 tries per game. Florida State averaged almost 22 but got 17 against Michigan (and made four), Texas A&M averaged almost 20 but got 15 (and made three) and so on.
“If you just look at the analytics of it,” Michigan Coach John Beilein said, “the three-point, it’s like baseball; people don’t sacrifice bunt anymore, which still bothers me when we don’t sacrifice bunt. But the analytics say do it, go for the three-run homer or the two-run homer. And this is sort of the idea that some teams, that’s what they do.
“And you’ve got to — every coach, every sport, you’re trying to take away what other people do. And we have sort of a plan for that that I won’t share. But I’m not talking about Villanova (as that kind of team). Over the year, we have some different analytical columns we try to fill to make sure we are on the best way the numbers say we can beat a team.”
It looks like a good night to study the box.
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