San Antonio — The Final Four experience is all new for Michigan’s roster.
That’s far from the case down the hall.
For Villanova, preparing to play in a national-championship game isn’t exactly old hat, as seven players on the current roster were part of the Wildcats’ title-winning team in 2016 — with three of them playing key roles in the overtime victory over North Carolina.
Guard Jalen Brunson started and played 22 minutes that night in Houston, scoring four points, while Mikal Bridges had two points in 15 minutes. The big game came from then-redshirt freshman Phil Booth, who scored 20 in 25 minutes.
But that experience, so far, is coming in second place to this season’s run to the championship game which culminates at 9:20 tonight at the Alamodome.
“I think it’s even more exciting (the second time around),” Booth said on Sunday. “You had that feeling of winning it and you know how that feels. This is a different group and we’re just as hungry as the last team was. Just the chance to play together and say this is our final game as a team and put that mark on like we have 40 minutes left and give it all you got.”
All three are expected to have a big say in whether the Wildcats can win it all for the second time in three seasons, as are guard Donte DiVincenzo, who was redshirting in 2016, and forward Eric Paschall, who sat out after transferring from Fordham.
For Paschall, who was 10-for-11 and scored 24 against Kansas on Saturday, it’s the chance to take part in what he only got to watch two seasons ago.
“I would just say I’m blessed,” Paschall said. “It’s just always good to be here. We have a great group of guys that want to play together, keep playing together. We know tomorrow is our last game, but we wish could play more and get better. We’re just a close-knit group.”
And while the roster has changed to some extent, the lessons learned from the last championship have stuck with the group going for another title.
“I just feel like this group that was here three years ago, it’s just great to see how things come full circle,” Brunson said. “As younger guys we were taught by our leaders and they made sure we were locked in. Nothing changes, no matter what game we’re in. To see how us now, as leaders, are saying the same thing to our younger guys, that nothing changes. I mean, even though there’s a lot at stake, this is just another game for us to go out there and play for each other for 40 minutes.”
While Michigan will have its hands full trying to stop Brunson, Villanova feels like it will have an equally hard time finding the right matchup for Wolverines big man Moritz Wagner, who had 24 points and 15 rebounds in the victory over Loyola-Chicago on Saturday.
“I’ll be honest with you we’re still watching film and I’m not sure I’ve got the answer yet,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We have a little bit of a plan in mind, but just so impressed with — I’ll just give you one play. In the Loyola game, he shot-faked with his right hand and threw a left-handed bounce pass backdoor for a layup. Who does that? You don’t see point guards do that. He has the ability to beat you in any way. I think he’s one of those players that you’re not going to shut him down. You just gotta hope you can minimize his influence on the game.”
Villanova blew apart any myth that it’s hard to shoot in a big stadium like the Alamodome when it went 18-for-40 from 3-point range against Kansas.
The Wildcats, who had 13 triples at halftime, set the record for most 3-pointers made in a Final Four game and have now made the most threes in an NCAA Tournament with 66. They also have made 454 3-pointers this season, the most ever by a Division I team.
“We have been very unselfish,” Booth said. “We always look for the best shot and not taking too many contested threes. We always do a good job and that starts with Jalen being very unselfish and spreading the ball.”
The line opened with Villanova as a 6½-point favorite.
... Michigan and Villanova have met three times before, with Villanova winning twice — including over top-seed Michigan in the 1985 NCAA Tournament, en route to the Wildcats’ first national championship.
Michigan vs. Villanova
Tip-off: 9:20 p.m. Monday, Alamodome, San Antonio
Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 33-7; No. 1 seed Villanova 35-4