Michigan coach talks about rewatching last season's national title game and what he expects in Wednesday's matchup at Villanova. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — While the Michigan football team may be on a “Revenge Tour” this season, don’t expect the basketball team to start making its own merchandise anytime soon.
The No. 18-ranked Wolverines will walk into the newly renovated Finneran Pavilion to take on No. 8 Villanova in the Gavitt Tipoff Games on Wednesday in one of the most anticipated nonconference games of the season — seven months after the two teams squared off in the national championship game.
But avenging that April loss isn’t Michigan’s primary focus. Rather, it’s a new season, a new challenge and a new opportunity.
“I think we understand it's a really good team,” Michigan coach John Beilein said Tuesday. “But I don't think it's, ‘Hey, remember the Alamo’ here. It is something that we want to go and really play well against a good team. We've had a scrimmage, we've had two games. We'd like to continue to grow and now we're going to find out where we are.”
Of course, most of the stars from Villanova’s 79-62 title game triumph in San Antonio are gone.
Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Jaaron Simmons have all moved on and started their professional careers in the NBA, G-League and overseas, leaving the Wolverines with seven players with Final Four experience and just three upperclassmen in Charles Matthews, Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske.
Villanova will be without Final Four MVP Donte DiVincenzo, Naismith Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, and forwards Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman, who are all in the NBA. But the cupboard is far from bare for the reigning national champs, who bring back starters and fifth-year seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth.
“They've lost a lot like we've lost a lot,” Beilein said. “They do have three five-year guys. That is the biggest difference I see between the two teams right now is having three-five guys, where we really have three three-year guys as our maximum experience.”
What doesn’t appear to have changed much, though, is Villanova’s potent offense. The Wildcats ranked in the top four nationally in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, which measures points scored per 100 possessions, each of the past four seasons.
Despite the small sample size, Villanova already ranks third in the nation in the metric after putting up 100 points on Morgan State and 86 points on Quinnipiac last week. The Wildcats shot at least 47 percent from the field and made 12 3-pointers in each game.
“They're great at ball screens and they're playing small ball. They're Golden State (Warriors) a little bit,” Beilein said. “They're playing small ball and are really effective at it. They've had great guards and they got them again. They've had very versatile big men and they've got them again. And they've had great shooters and they got them again.”
The Wildcats have four players who have knocked down at least four 3-pointers in the early going, including sophomore guard Collin Gillespie and grad transfer Joe Cremo, who averaged 17.8 points for Albany in the America East Conference last season.
But Booth, a 6-foot-3 guard, and Paschall, a 6-8 forward, have been at the forefront of Villanova’s strong start, with Booth averaging a team-high 20 points and Paschall averaging 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds.
“Goodness gracious, I mean, they're playing out of their minds,” Beilein said of Booth and Paschall. “In a scrimmage I heard against another high-level team I think Booth hit nine 3s in that scrimmage. They're really both good and they should be good. They've been there five years with really good coaches.
“(Cremo) was a heck of a pickup for them to find and they needed to because they lost some guys probably unexpectedly. They had enough there and now the freshmen are really good and they're really playing off those guys.”
While some Michigan players haven’t been able to bring themselves to look at the film from the national title game, Beilein said, as painful as it was, he sat down and rewatched it with no sound on this past weekend.
It was the same approach he took with the title game loss to Louisville five years ago. He went through all the tape on offense then on defense to see what the Wolverines did right, what they did wrong, and what they can possibly learn from it.
“Coach B said looking back at it they really outplayed us for a good 10, 15 minutes and besides that we played them evenly,” Teske said. “So, don’t get in those spurts, stay with them, compete with them and do our best.
“They're really good at shooting 3s, dribble driving into the paint and kicking out for 3s. We got to keep them in front of us. They go to the glass hard so the offensive rebounds we got to make sure we box out as well and we just got to be ready to compete.”
But rematch or not, it’s a shot for Michigan to prove itself and make an early statement in a high-profile game.
“We're in for a tussle there,” Beilein said. “We're all excited about this one to see where we are when we're playing against the best.”
Michigan at Villanova
Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Finneran Pavilion, Villanova, Pa.
Records: No. 18 Michigan 2-0, No. 8 Villanova 2-0
Outlook: The defending national champs have four players scoring in double figures, led by Phil Booth (20 points) and Eric Paschall (18.5 points)...Villanova is returning to campus to play at the newly renovated Finneran Pavilion after playing its home games off campus at Wells Fargo Center…Michigan is 1-3 all-time against Villanova, with all four matchups being played at neutral sites.