NCAA title game: Villanova proves offense wins championships with coronation vs. Michigan
The Wildcats have one of the greatest offenses ever -- and one of the greatest five-year runs, too
SAN ANTONIO -- Villanova completed one of the greatest offensive seasons in college basketball history on Monday night in the most fitting of ways: By defeating its greatest challenge yet. The Wildcats showed their full array of options in a dominant 79-62 championship game victory against Michigan.
It was no secret going into the national title game that Michigan's chance at the upset would have to be by limiting Villanova's vaunted 3-point attack, which is the foundation that the nation's top offense is built upon. This was no easy task for John Beilein's team: Villanova was both one of the nation's best 3-point shooting teams percentage-wise, ranking 11th national in 3-point percentage, and launched more 3s than all but 11 of teams.
Yet 8 minutes into the game, Michigan seemed to have cracked Villanova's code.
A Villanova team that made six of its first 12 3-pointers against Kansas in the Final Four started 1-for-9 from 3-point range against Michigan. There were few open 3-pointers to be had; Michigan's 3-point defense, which was the biggest strength of a unit that was among the nation's best this season, blanketed Villanova's shooters. College basketball's most consistent team all season seemed out of rhythm and out of sorts for much of that first half. An upset seemed to be brewing.
Yet the team that Beilein referred to during this Final Four as the Golden State Warriors of college basketball figured a way to prevail. The spark didn't come from the team's emotional leader, junior point guard Jalen Brunson, who shot 4-for-13 and was frustrated enough with his shots not falling that at one point in the first half he pounded the ball in frustration. Foul trouble limited Brunson's minutes. It didn't come from this team's best NBA prospect, junior wing Mikal Bridges, who played well and finished with 19 points.
The big boost came from sophomore Donte DiVincenzo, whose role off the bench Monday night resembled the role of Grayson Allen for Duke in the 2015 title game: A less-heralded player who came in to save the day. In the first half alone, DiVincenzo, whose role has grown as the season has gone on, scored 18 points in 18 minutes of that first half, including three of Villanova's four made 3-pointers. DiVinzeno pumped up his team's energy: He threw down a dunk; he had an amazing two-handed block of Michigan's Charles Matthews at the rim. He shifted to point guard when Brunson went out, and he finished the game with 31 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
That vaunted Villanova 3-point attack didn't top, but a 10-for-27 effort certainly overpowered Michigan's 3-for-23 from behind the arc.
When Beilein called a timeout less than two minutes into the second half and with Villanova up 14 and on a 30-9 run, you got the feeling that we'd seen this movie before and that Villanova was running away with this thing. Villanova's runs have been a thing of legend in college hoops this year. The team's offense often takes a while to figure a defense out, picking at the defense, probing, but when Villanova does figure a defense out, things go downhill quickly for its opponent.
The second half soon turned into a romp -- a victory lap for a historic college basketball team that capped a historic five-year run in which Jay Wright's squad won two national titles and a record 165 games.
He has built this program into nothing short of the best program in the sport over the past half decade. He has evolved his version of positionless basketball into one of the best, and most enjoyable, collegiate offenses we've ever seen.
They say defense wins championships. But Villanova proved to us in two of the past three years that that isn't always the case.
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