SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A wild, entertaining season and one of the maddest Marches in college basketball history has reached its pinnacle.
Villanova and Michigan, prolific offense vs. stifling defense, a national title on the line, Monday night in San Antonio.
The Wildcats and their horde of long-range shooters are playing for their second title in three years, a chance to establish a mini dynasty. The Wolverines are after their first title since 1989, hoping to grasp the trophy that slipped through coach John Beilein’s fingers in 2013.
Before you kick back in the barcalounger, check out these story lines to keep an eye on:
ALL THOSE 3s: Villanova has made a strong case as the greatest 3-point shooting team in college history. No hyperbole.
The Wildcats (35-4) already have the NCAA record for 3-pointers in a season with 454, the NCAA Tournament record with 66 and blew past the Final Four record with 18 against Kansas.
Villanova’s motion offense and shoot-3s-at-every-position lineup has been a nightmare for teams in the NCAA Tournament; the Wildcats are fifth team to win its first five NCAA games by double digits. Three of those teams went on to win national titles: Michigan State (2000), Duke (2001) and North Carolina (2009).
Michigan must find a way to run the Wildcats off the 3-point line and get them to miss at least some of the 3s they do get to have a chance.
MICHIGAN’S D: If there is a team that can slow ’Nova’s 3-roll, it could be the Wolverines.
Michigan (33-7) is the nation’s No. 3 team in defensive efficiency and has held its five NCAA Tournament opponents to an average of 58.6 points per game.
The Wolverines shut down Loyola-Chicago’s 3-point shooters in the national semifinals and have been adept at limiting opponents’ 3-point attempts by switching and jamming shooters along the arc.
The concern even if they do limit Villanova’s 3s: Back-door cuts.
The Ramblers had a hard time getting the ball to cutters against the bigger Wolverines, but the Wildcats are long and have strong finishers at nearly every position.
MO’ MOE: Villanova’s issue on defense will be finding a way to slow Michigan’s Moe Wagner.
The German big man is a match-up nightmare with his agility, pinpoint passing and ability to knock down 3-pointers. Loyola certainly had no answer for him; Wagner had 24 points and 15 rebounds to join Hakeem Olajuwon and Larry Bird to go for 20 and 15 in a national semifinal.
Villanova big man Omari Spellman is athletic and mobile, but still may need help against Wagner, who is averaging 14.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament.
PACING: Michigan likes to play methodically, ranking 324th of 351 Division I in Kenpom.com’s adjusted tempo ratings. Villanova is not the fastest team, coming in at 160 in tempo, but it’s still a huge difference.
The Wolverines will want this to be a grinding, low-scoring game and prevent Villanova from getting run-outs or 3-pointers in transition.
BIG-TIME BRUNSON: Villanova will have the best player on the floor Monday night in Jalen Brunson.
The junior guard has hauled in national player of the year awards this postseason and is a calming influence to the Wildcats.
Brunson is not flashy, he just gets it done. He’s averaging 19.2 points, 4.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and is shooting 41 percent from the 3-point arc. He’s also the player anyone would want with the game on the line.
THE SIDEKICKS: Wagner and Brunson are the headliners for their teams, but both have excellent sidekicks.
Mikal Bridges is that player for Villanova. The athletic junior forward is the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer at 17.6 points per game and has made 14 of his 29 attempts from the 3-point arc. He’s also a superb defender who can guard multiple positions.
Charles Matthews was Michigan’s second-leading scorer during the regular season, but has upped his game in the NCAA Tournament. The junior guard is averaging 16.6 points in the NCAA Tournament despite struggling on 3s — 4 for 17 — and is Michigan’s second-leading rebounder at 6.8 per NCAA game.
After 66 games of the NCAA tournament, there are two teams left standing.
No. 1 Villanova and No. 3 Michigan will clash for the men’s college basketball national championship on Monday at the Alamodome (TBS, 9:19 p.m. ET).
Which team has the edge at each position?
Jalen Brunson, the junior guard who already helped Villanova to one national title, is not just the best point guard still playing — he’s the best overall player. A savvy, scrappy throwback point guard who uses his IQ to win games, Brunson will be the difference-maker for Villanova, especially if the game comes down to the last minute.
He is far from the only weapon on the perimeter, though: Pity those who overlook redshirt junior guard Phil Booth, who was instrumental in the national title game two years ago, scoring 20 points in 25 minutes off the bench as Nova topped North Carolina.
Michigan guards Charles Matthews, a junior, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will have to play well offensively and defensively. But experience counts, and this is Villanova’s second national championship appearance in three years. That will be most evident in the back court.
Do you believe in Mo(e)? That refers to momentum, which Michigan has in spades right now, and Moritz Wagner, Michigan’s 6-11, 245-pound forward from Germany who is a handful for everyone. Wagner, a junior, is hitting his stride at the perfect time, just like the Wolverines. He can score inside and out, as evidenced by his 24-point, 15-rebound performance on Saturday where he hit three threes, and scored on putbacks. His motor knows no end, and his teammates feed off his energy.
On the flip side, Villanova’s Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall can provide matchup problems for Michigan because they, too, can stretch the floor, but no one matches Wagner’s motor. His teammates feed off his energy and emotion, and he can get them going at any time. He will also be the best passing big man on the floor.
This is probably the toughest to call, and both coaches know it. Michigan’s John Beilein is a coaches’ coach, respected across the country at every level, willing and able to adapt to his roster each season. His guys are tough defensively, using length and grittiness to claw back into games. He doesn’t panic, either. Michigan was down as much as 10 to Loyola-Chicago in the semifinal, but Beilein and his staff just kept coaching and teaching — he’s a stickler for fundamentals — encouraging to Wolverines to trust that shots would start to fall, and they’d be OK.
On the other bench, you have a bonafide, established coaching star in Wright, who already has one national title. Like many coaches, Wright and his offense have been influenced by the NBA style of playing without a true center, and on the cusp of his second title in three years, it’s obviously working. He’s been here before — and recently — so he knows what it takes, and how hard it is to get there. He also doesn’t seem to panic (not that there was any reason for that Saturday when Villanova was raining threes).
The edge goes to Wright, but just barely.
Don’t underestimate the value of experience.
Multiple Villanova players on the current roster were crucial to the Wildcats’ title run two years ago, and now they’re older, wiser and stronger.
That’s how they got past West Virginia’s suffocating pressure in the Sweet 16, and there’s no one tougher than the Mountaineers.
The Wildcats already have dispatched one No, 3 seed (Texas Tech) in gritty fashion, and then easily handled a 1 seed (Kansas). Yes, the Wolverines’ length and athleticism on the perimeter will make it tough to score … for a bit, anyway.
Michigan limited Loyola to 1-for-10 shooting from three, but this is the best offensive team Wright has ever had at Villanova.
And in the NCAA tournament, teams that can score win titles.
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