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SAN ANTONIO -- Six minutes and 53 seconds into Saturday's Final Four bout between Kansas and Villanova, Wildcats forward Eric Paschall's shot-fake inside the lane drew Kansas' Silvio De Sousa soaring into the air, as teammate Collin Gillespie's defender, Malik Newman, rushed into help position inside the paint. Rather than utilizing his inside leverage and size advantage, Paschall smartly spotted a wide-open Gillespie in the corner, who buried a 3-pointer.
Gillespie's triple was the 22nd point of a game-opening 22-4 run that broke the backs of Kansas before the game ever really found its legs. By then, Villanova had connected on more 3-pointers (6) than Kansas had points (4); and by halftime, Villanova had already tied a previous Final Four record set by UNLV in 1987 for most made 3s in a game with 13.
You won't be surprised to learn that UNLV's long-held record it set in 1987well before the final buzzer sounded at the Alamodome.
Paschall's awareness in that first half situation to find Gillespie for a 3-pointer wasn't an anomaly. Villanova's made its bones on being one of the best passing teams in the country all season -- and one that prides itself on efficiency from long range.
To say Villanova's strategy is relying on the long ball would be underselling it, as it attempted more 3-pointers than any other team in college basketball this season. So the Wildcats' historically great Saturday performance wasn't something they stumbled upon. It was merely the culmination of a team confidently wielding the sport's most terrorizing offense -- the product of a Villanova offensive renaissance that has the NBA's fingerprints all over it.
"The NBA influences all of us in college," Jay Wright said on Sunday. "We all watch the best players, the best coaches and see what we can learn. The Golden State Warriors have been using this style for a while now. Mike D'Antoni, even when he was with the Suns, we all watched it. As a matter of fact Jalen's favorite player is Steve Nash. We've talked about that. So they had a great influence on us, all of us, but specifically Villanova."
Indeed, the Warriors and the Rockets, like Villanova, are flush with unselfish, willing passers, and capable 3-point assassins are on the court at every position. As we saw Saturday with Villanova, the Wildcats -- much like those teams -- can capitalize and crush teams in ways no other team can. Their runs come more often and more furious than any team in the sport.
And thus presents the biggest challenge for Michigan in Monday night's championship game: How do you stop a seemingly unstoppable offense?
The Wolverines boast the third-best defense in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and they rank inside the top 60 in defending the 3-point line. But stopping Villanova goes deeper than running them off the 3-point line -- it's a proprietary formula that Michigan coach John Beilein, alongside former social studies teacher turned Wolverines assistant coach, plans to roll out in full force come Monday night.
"We have sort of a plan for that that I won't share," Beilein said Sunday referencing Michigan's success of defending the 3-point shot this season. "I'm not talking about Villanova. 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 that we can beat a team."
In Monday night's title game, two teams thriving on advanced analytics will clash for the crown -- Villanova's 3-point success derived from the Warriors and Rockets, and Michigan's defensive reliance on analytics that has carried it throughout the postseason.
"They can all shoot. They're really, really efficient at multiple positions," said Michigan's Moritz Wagner, who was the hero of Saturday's victory over Loyola-Chicago. "Usually when you play a good team, there's something you can give up and can make a defensive game plan. But that's not the case here. You know what, it's not supposed to be easy. It's the national championship. So, yeah, they present a tremendous challenge."