Coach John Beilein sees similarities between Villanova and Loyola, and shares his philosophy on the athletic training and development of recruits. "You're not amassing talent, you're building a team."
San Antonio — Michigan coach John Beilein was so busy with media responsibilities Saturday night that he was unable to watch any of the first half of Villanova’s national semifinal rout of Kansas.
Turns out, all Beilein missed was Villanova tying a Final Four record with 13 made 3-pointers — and that was in the first 20 minutes alone.
“I'm sure glad I didn’t get to see it,” Beilein said on the eve of Monday’s national title game at the Alamodome. “It was an offensive clinic against a very good defensive team.”
And all that stands in the way of Michigan’s first title since 1989 is a Villanova team that set a Final Four record with 18 made 3-pointers and has used its high-powered offense to pummel every team throughout the NCAA Tournament.
“All you can think is hopefully they don’t do that against us,” senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. “That’s partially on us. We have to take that into our own hands and go out there and defend them.”
Without a doubt, this will be Michigan’s toughest defensive test yet. The Wolverines were able to clamp down and scrap out wins against the likes of Montana, Houston, Florida State and Loyola-Chicago.
But none of those teams ranked in the top 35 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency.
Villanova, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. The Wildcats lead the nation in scoring with 86.8 points per game and boast the most efficient offense, and by a considerable margin (127.6 points per 100 possessions; five points better than No. 2 Purdue).
They feature junior guard Jalen Brunson, who is the national player of the year, and redshirt junior wing Mikal Bridges, who is a projected top-10 pick in June’s NBA draft.
That doesn’t even include redshirt junior forward Eric Paschall, redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman and redshirt sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo, who along with Brunson and Bridges are all averaging at least 11.8 points while shooting at least 44 percent from the field and above 40 percent from 3-point range in the tournament.
“This is the Golden State Warriors here,” Beilein said. “This is a Draymond Green type of thing where your guys can shoot it, they can pass it, they can do everything. It's like we like to play as well, and it's a great concept. It's one I'm very familiar with. It doesn't mean we can stop it.”
And no team that has crossed Villanova’s path has even come close. The Wildcats’ average margin of victory in the tournament has been 17.8 points and their slimmest margin was a 12-point victory over Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.
Michigan's Moritz Wagner, Zavier Simpson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson discuss their NCAA Tournament run and Monday's title game against Villanova. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the Wildcats are the just fifth team to reach the national-championship game having won each of their first five Tournament games by double digits. The last team to accomplish the feat was North Carolina in 2016 — a team Villanova ended up beating for the national championship.
“They can all shoot. They're really efficient at multiple positions,” junior center Moritz Wagner said. “Usually when you play a good team, there's usually something you can give up and can make a defensive game plan. But that's not the case here.”
It’s a fitting finale that will pit strength against strength — Michigan’s stout defense, which ranks among the best in efficiency, against the nation’s most potent offense and prolific 3-point shooting attack.
The Wolverines have held opponents to 24 percent (18-for-75) from beyond the arc. Villanova has set a new mark for 3-pointers in a single NCAA Tournament (66) and deep balls by a Division I team in a single season (454).
“It’s definitely a perfect chance for us to show how good we are really on defense,” freshman forward Isaiah Livers said. “We haven’t played a team that has even hit more than (12) 3-pointers this season. It’s definitely a big test for us to show the world Coach Yak’s (assistant Luke Yaklich) defensive principles and the coaching staff’s mindset.”
Still, this is an offense unlike any Michigan has faced before. Brunson can back down and post up his defender, which is something the Wolverines haven’t seen from a guard this season.
Villanova’s big men — Paschall and Spellman — can face up and shoot 3-pointers at an absurd clip. Inside or outside, the Wildcats can wear down any and every opposing defense.
“You try to put all the options on the table for each thing that Villanova tries to do,” Yaklich said. “You want to have multiple ways to do it.
“You have to be able to be good at more than one thing.
“They're just so talented and they make so many good decisions off the dribble and off the catch — it's the classic, ‘You better be able to be locked in for 40 minutes,’ cliche.”
If not, it could turn into another game Beilein will have to shield his eyes from.
“They aren’t No. 1 in the country for no reason,” sophomore guard Zavier Simpson said. “We have to come ready to play or we’ll get embarrassed.”
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
UM’s latest try
Michigan in the NCAA Tournament championship game:
1965: Lost to UCLA, 91-80
1976: Lost to Indiana, 86-68
1989: Defeated Seton Hall, 80-79
1992: Lost to Duke, 71-51
1993: Lost to UNC, 77-71
2013: Lost to Louisville, 82-76