Villanova is the 2018 NCAA Champion… as we should have expected

The city of Philadelphia continues its hot streak.

Two months after the Eagles defeated the New England Patriots to secure their first NFL title in the Superbowl era and a week after the 76ers clinched a playoff berth for the first time in six years, the Villanova Wildcats demolished the Michigan Wolverines to win their second title in three years.

Villanova entered the game as a 6.5 point favourite, but the early goings of the game seemed to point in another direction. Michigan junior Moritz Wagner was unstoppable early on, scoring almost at will and rebounding the ball effectively. Villanova was as cold from the three point line as they were hot in the semifinal against Kansas. After a Wagner layup at the 11:00 minute mark set the score at 21-14 for the Wolverines, Michigan coach John Beilein decided to give the German a well deserved rest. It proved to be the turning point.

With AP National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson having a quiet first half and top NBA prospect Mikal Bridges not finding his range, it was left to unsual suspects to start the comeback. Spurred by sophomore Donte DiVincenzo, the Wildcats started to claw at Michigan’s lead. In less than five minutes they were already in front, as a DiVincenzo three made the score 23-21, and they would never trail again.

With Wolverine defenders unable to match DiVincenzo’s athleticism, he started to penetrate the paint and open up the floor for his teamates. Villanova’s plethora of shooters has been its main strength all season long, and Jay Wright’s system relies on three point shooting to unlock its full potential. Meanwhile on Michigan’s side, Wagner was unable to regain his rythm as the defense started to focus more resources to stop him, and his teamates were unable to benefit from the extra attention devoted to him, as only Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was able to score consistently.

Point guard play was probably the deciding factor in the game as DiVincenzo started to bring the ball up the court even when he shared the floor with Brunson. Wright went with the guy with the hot hand and the sophomore responded. He ended with 31 points on 15 shots and even added a couple of blocks that brought the arena down for good mesure.

On the other side Michigan point guard Zavier Simpson looked at times lost and tentative in others, loosing 3 turnovers and when being dared to shoot by the defense not being able to capitalize. Ball movement stagnated for the Wolverines in the second half, and when the scored started to get out of reach they started rushing and settling into terrible shot selections. The second half ended up being nothing more than a formality, and served for NBA scouts to see Mikal Bridges hitting threes and displaying his defensive versatility guarding the three exterior positions.

In the end, after a tournament with many surprises and never before seen occurrences, it was a number 1 seed that had been demolishing teams all season long that ended with the trophy. The average margin of victory for Villanova in the its last 10 games was 18.3, including the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. Donte DiVincenzo raised the Most Outstanding Trophy for his game, becoming the first player since Miles Simon of Arizona in 1997 to score 30+ points in the championship game. Meanwhile Jay Wright has reached rarified air, cementing his spot among the sport’s coaching elite with names such as Krzyzewski, Izzo or Williams. The question now is whether he will remain at the school he has elevated to unprecedented levels or look for new challenges, maybe in a NBA starved for coaches capable of building sustainable programs.

Congratulations to the Villanova Wildcats for the 2018 NCAA Championship, and congratulations to Donte DiVincenzo for this:

And finally, a classic:

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