Villanova junior guard Mikal Bridges drives to the basket against Creighton senior guard Marcus Foster in a Big East conference game.
(Nati Harnik/The Associated Press)
Benjamin Simon and William Derry
Michigan (33-7 overall, 13-5 conference)
Junior forward Moritz Wagner (14.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1 SPG, .528 FG%, .397 3P%)
Junior guard Charles Matthews (13.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.4 APG, .499 FG%)
Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, .425 FG%, .378 3P%)
Senior guard/forward Duncan Robinson (9.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, .445 FG%, .390 3P%, .891FT%)
Sophomore guard Zavier Simpson (7.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, .466 FG%)
Freshman guard Jordan Poole (6.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, .435 FG%, .377 3P%, .824 FT%)
Summary of Season:
The Michigan Wolverines went 7-3 to start the season, only losing to LSU at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, #13 North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and Ohio State on the road. The Wolverines then went on a seven-game winning streak, taking down UCLA in overtime and Texas in a single-digit victory. After a one-point loss versus #5 Purdue, Michigan rebounded to beat #4 Michigan State by 10 on the road. Michigan would win four of it’s next seven games, squeaking past Minnesota by three in a game that needed overtime. Following that stretch of games, the Wolverines closed out the regular season undefeated with a big win over #8 Ohio State. Michigan continued their winning streak in the Big Ten conference tournament, winning four straight games, which included a decisive championship final win against #8 Purdue, who had beaten them twice during the regular season. The Wolverines opened up NCAA tournament play with a double-digit victory against 14 seed Montana and then won on a buzzer-beater by freshman Jordan Poole against six seed Houston in the second round. Michigan easily took down seven seed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, but had to battle for a four-point win versus 9 seed Florida State to reach the Final Four. Up against the Cinderella team of the tournament, the 11 seed Loyola (Chi) Ramblers, the Wolverines ended the Ramblers historic run with a double-digit win to advance on to the NCAA tournament championship game.
Villanova (35-4 overall, 14-4 conference)
Junior guard Jalen Brunson (19.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.7 APG, .527 FG%, .413 3P%)
Redshirt junior guard Mikal Bridges (17.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1.5 SPG, .512 FG%, .435 3P%, .848 FT%)
Redshirt sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo (13 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, .473 FG%, .390 3P%)
Redshirt junior guard Phil Booth (10.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3 APG, .444 FG%, .387 3P%)
Redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman (10.9 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.5 BPG, .479 FG%, .439 3P%)
Redshirt junior Eric Paschall (10.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, .536 FG%, .357 3P%)
Summary of Season:
The Villanova Wildcats began the season on a 13-game win streak, putting together a perfect non-conference record. After defeating DePaul in their first conference game of the year, the Wildcats lost on the road against Butler, who beat them twice last season. ‘Nova rebounded thereafter winning nine straight games, including a win versus #10 Xavier. However, in their next six games, ‘Nova would go 3-3, losing three games by single digits against St. John’s, Providence, and Creighton. Ahead of the Big East tournament, the Wildcats won in overtime against Seton Hall by one point and also defeated Georgetown. After getting through the quarterfinals and semifinals of the conference tournament, ‘Nova battled against Providence and punched their NCAA tournament ticket with an overtime victory. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats easily beat 16 seed Radford to advance on to the second round. Following their opening round win, the Wildcats handedly took down nine seed Alabama to move on to the Sweet 16. In the Sweet 16, ‘Nova was tested by five seed West Virginia but escaped with a dominant late second half effort to advance onto the Elite Eight. The Elite Eight saw Villanova and three seed Texas Tech shoot poorly from the field but the Wildcats were able to score enough from the foul line to return to the Final Four for the second time in three years. ’Nova cruised past one seed Kansas hitting 18 threes, a Final Four record, to move on to the National Championship.
What Villanova must do to win:
Villanova has done well throughout the NCAA tournament using the pick and roll on offense. With ‘Nova’s talented backcourt setting up the offensive play, the Wildcats have been able to efficiently convert on offense, as its .590 two-point field goal percentage ranks third in the country. The pick and roll has also allowed freshman big Omari Spellman to flourish in ‘Nova’s system. Spellman ranked 5th in the Big East in offense rating at 123 and 7th in the Big East in overall box plus/minus at 8.7. ‘Nova will need to play through Spellman on offense against Michigan as the big can knock down a faceup jumper, catch-and-shoot threes, and can finish around the basket. Spellman has consistently scored (12.2 ppg in NCAA tournament) and will need to do so again against Michigan. ‘Nova must watch out for Michigan forward Moritz Wagner. Wagner has been a dominant force for the Wolverines this season, especially during the NCAA tournament, where he has scored in double-figures in four out of five games. The Wildcats must limit the Germany native by keeping a defender on him at all times, as the big likes to hang around the paint for putbacks and alley-oops.
What Michigan must do to win:
The Michigan Wolverines will have to do what Villanova’s previous tournament opponents have been unable to do: slow down the Wildcats’ offense. ‘Nova is ranked first in the country in points per game, made field goals, and three-pointers. Michigan should be up for the challenge as it has held opponents to an average of 62.9 points per game, which is 8th in the country. Additionally, Michigan in the NCAA tournament alone has held opponents to less than 63 points in four out of five contests. If there was a team that could possibly slow down ‘Nova, it would be Michigan. The Wolverines must also convert from behind the arc if they want to defeat the Wildcats. Although Michigan only shot well from three in one tournament game (14-24 3PM-A) against Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, Michigan is shooting 36% from three on the year. Taking and making threes in the National Championship will be important for Michigan in keeping up with ‘Nova and staying in the game down the stretch. Moreover, forward Moritz Wagner will need to be at his best in the National Championship for Michigan to have a chance versus ‘Nova. Though Wagner will not be able to beat ‘Nova on his own, it will take a total team effort from the Wolverines to take down ‘Nova. Wagner’s length, size, and multifaceted offensive and defensive game makes him a scary matchup for the Wildcats.
Mikal Bridges vs. Charles Matthews
Mikal Bridges enters the NCAA tournament final as the most talented two-way player on either team. His versatility and ability to cover multiple different positions makes him a scary option against Michigan. His size and length matches perfectly with Charles Matthews, which bodes well for the Wildcats. Matthews has been on a tear throughout the NCAA tournament, averaging 16.6 points per game and making 5 or more field goals in each game. Bridges needs to slow down Matthews if the Wildcats’ want any chance at winning the game. Bridges has also seen his role decrease slightly amidst the Wildcats’ success throughout the NCAA tournament. After 13 straight games to end the regular season with 10 or more shot attempts, he has only taken 10 or more shot attempts in 3 out of the 5 tournament games. While the Wildcats have been winning, if Matthews can neutralize Bridges and have him struggle from three, the Wildcats will be missing a big part of their offensive gameplan.
Phil Booth and Zavier Simpson
Phil Booth and Zavier Simpson enter the x-factors list as a likely matchup. Booth, the junior guard, is a huge part of the Villanova gameplan on the offensive end, despite not always showing up in the statsheet. He provides Brunson with ball-handling help in the backcourt and can shoot the three at a 38% clip. Booth can also play in pick-and-roll situations, exploiting the defense and creating mismatches. Even though Michigan is a versatile defensive team, Booth has the potential to be a dynamic offensive playmaker while also containing the other x-factor on defense, Michigan’s Simpson. Simpson had his best scoring stretch of the season during the Big Ten tournament when he had four straight games with double-digit points. Simpson’s problem revolves around shooting. He only made 29% of his three-point attempts and 51% of his free throws during the season. With that said, he is head coach John Beilein’s favorite of the point guard options as he takes care of the ball, averaging only 1.45 turnovers per game, while creating opportunities for his teammates with 3.7 assists per game. Taking him out of the equation and making him uncomfortable would give the Wildcats a big advantage and would put pressure on the younger less experienced point guards of the Wolverine roster.
In a low scoring affair, both teams lock up on defense to slow each other down. The Wolverines have enough to keep up with a big man talented enough to check Spellman and length and experience across the roster. Their versatility gives them the opportunity to switch in ball screen situations with relative ease. The Wildcats will have trouble scoring, but in the end, they’re the more talented team. They’ll outlast Michigan in a physical battle between two of the most well-rounded teams in the country.
-(1) Villanova defeats (3) Michigan in the National Championship