It’s crazy to think that this game was close at one point.
Michigan was up 21-14 and Villanova’s defense looked discombobulated. The shots weren’t falling. Not a single starter hit a three pointer until Donte DiVincenzo came off the bench to open 6 for 8 and pull the Wildcats out of an early shooting funk. The seven-point deficit became a nine-point lead as Nova went on a 23-7 run to end the first half.
That was pretty much all they needed.
It was another elite performance from an elite team. They didn’t get rattled, weathered the early storm, made the adjustments, and just put their foot down from there. This squad won every single tournament game by double-digits, and went 6-0 against the spread during the championship run, matching the achievements of the 2016 Wildcat team.
I was taking notes, expecting a closer game, but stopped writing things down when Nova went up by ten. What was the point? There really wasn’t anything to analyze in the second half.
The most significant wrinkle was actually was on the defensive end, where Nova looked out of sorts early when it came to their switching game. I know people hate Doug Gottlieb and are annoyed with his dumb tweets this morning, but just bear with me here:
Nova seems confused on switching 1-4 or 1-5… watch Brunson on two different possession.. 1st one isn’t his fault, 2nd he is lost/late pic.twitter.com/u9Ay26oc9O
— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) April 3, 2018
On that second play above (Gottlieb shows each one twice), Brunson actually takes a back screen and fights through it while Omari Spellman switches instead. Brunson then tries to readjust late and is out of position, which you see better from this angle:
Good example of a slipped screen that gets ball handler down hill pic.twitter.com/lVipEXji5Q
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 3, 2018
With Brunson stuck in no man’s land, Michigan slips the screen and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has an easy path to the lane.
Two more examples of the high screen action where Michigan tried to slip guys through the Villanova switches– one successful, one unsuccessful:
Michigan's "Houston" action – I think they could look to go back to the 2 player actions vs Villanova switching. (Pin/Hand Offs before ballscreens) pic.twitter.com/Y0IUIKbCgd
— Half Court Hoops (@HalfCourtHoops) April 3, 2018
And on the other end, Michigan played their extended defense with switching of their own to deny some of the easy looks that Nova often gets from the three-point line. The Wildcats started finding the second cut and making the extra pass and started to work the ball in and out a little bit instead of settling for lazy stuff on the perimeter. They also had a nice night on the glass, out-rebounding Michigan 38 to 27 and grabbing 12 on the offensive end. I think that was an underrated storyline last night– some of the second chance opportunities that Villanova created.
But whatever adjustment they made defensively, it worked. One of the moments that really jumped out to me was this play with 8:54 in the first half, when it was 21-18, a tough defensive sequence with 1-5 switching that forced a shot clock violation:
Eric Paschall switches onto Zavier Simpson and Michigan gets a mismatch with 7’1″ Jon Teske on the 6’5″ DiVincenzo. But Donte does a hell of a job fronting him, Paschall keeps the smaller Simpson in front, and Collin Gillespie then switches on Charles Matthews and pesters him all the way out to the opposite perimeter for a horrendous late-clock heave.
For me, that was the play of the game. Seriously. Say whatever you will about DiVincenzo on the offensive end, but after that moment right there, I puttered over to the fridge and said to myself, “okay, they figured out the defense, they’ve got this one in the bag.”
Not for nothing, but there was an interesting sequence that I replayed five times in a row, wondering if Nova got away with a goaltending call at the end of the half.
It was the play where DiVincenzo blocked the ball and it became wedged between the rim and the backboard:
DiVincenzo with the exclamation point block!
Wildcats take a 9-point lead to the half.pic.twitter.com/KqyAUWwmw0
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) April 3, 2018
Normally you’re flagged for goaltending when you touch a ball after it hits the backboard, because it’s considered to be part of a shot’s “downward” flight. But there’s a second parameter here that’s explained in the 2017/2018 rule book:
The rule says that if you get the ball after it hits the backboard while still below the rim, you’re good. It rarely happens, however, because the rim is located so low on the backboard in the first place.
In this case, it looks like DiVincenzo gets it when the top third of the ball is above the rim:
Anyway, it was a big play. Nova was up 6 at that point, got the block without the goaltending call, and then came down to hit a three-pointer at the other end, taking a big lead into halftime. Instead of Meeeechigan cutting the deficit to four, Villanova extended it to nine.
If we’re being honest, though, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Wolverine fans might have a legit gripe, but once Nova shook off the slow start, the game was pretty much in the bag.
Some ridiculous notes on his performance last night:
- he outscored the Michigan bench 31 to 7
- he scored 31 points on just 15 shots
- those 31 points are the most scored off the bench in a national title game
- he was only averaging 13.4 on the season
- he only scored 19 points in the entirety of the Big East tournament (8, 5, and 6)
There was a point in the first half where DiVincenzo was 6-8 from the field and 3-4 from three with 16 points and 2 rebounds. His teammates were 5-17 and 0-7 from downtown with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Truly, they weren’t getting much to fall until he came into the game.
And it’s not like he was hitting wide open stuff, a lot of his early makes were heavily contested. One or two steps, hand in the face, pull up and fire:
DiVincenzo put on a show tonight 🔥 pic.twitter.com/nwNKIFNwM2
— Ball Is Life™ 🏀 (@BallOnIy) April 3, 2018
There’s some pretty good perimeter defense in those clips.
As for Nova, they now join UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Indiana, Connecticut, and Kansas as programs to win three national championships. They are also the fourth team ever, and the first since 1968 UCLA, to win both Final Four games by at least 16 points.
And consider the fact that Brunson was held to a season-low nine points last night. That’s the best part about this team. They really didn’t even play that well and still won by 17 points.
I know Philly doesn’t seem super excited about a Nova win, but no matter where your loyalties lie, I think everyone will look back at this team as one of the best – or maybe the best – to play college ball in our region.