Were you expecting to read this?
After the Michigan Wolverines lost 72-52 in January to Nebraska, or 61-52 against Nebraska in February, or even when they were trailing Houston 63-61 with 3.6 seconds remaining in the second round of the tournament, were you expecting to read a National Championship preview?
Regardless, here it is.
The Wolverines will compete for a National Championship Monday night against the Villanova Wildcats in San Antonio.
Michigan silenced America’s sweethearts on Saturday with a 69-57 comeback win over the Loyola Ramblers. U-M trailed by seven points at the half, but rallied and adjusted in the final twenty minutes to advance to its second championship appearance in six years.
The Wolverines are officially the hottest team in the country, but their opponent Monday is the nation’s best squad.
In order to capture their first title since the 1988-89 season, here are three keys to a Wolverines win.
Limit the three-ball
If you thought Michigan’s barrage of three-pointers against Texas A&M in the Sweet Sixteen was impressive, did you catch last night’s Villanova game?
The Wildcats were 18-for-40 beyond the arc against the Kansas Jayhawks Saturday in a 95-79 beating. Their starters each made at least two as they jumped out to a 22-4 lead and never looked back.
Jay Wright’s Villanova squad is reliant on the three-ball, shooting 40.1 percent in 39 games this season. It seems everyone on this roster is capable of knocking down a few long-range shots, which makes this matchup against John Beilein and the Wolverines so intriguing.
It’s college basketball’s best offense versus college basketball’s best defense left in the tournament.
The Wolverines need to limit Villanova’s willingness to take threes. When they take those shots and have open looks, chances are they’ll fall.
It’s encouraging to see Michigan limited Loyola to shooting just 10 percent (1-for-10 on 3P) on Saturday, who shot nearly 40 percent this season.
Beilein will need another defensive showing like that on Monday against a team that features the Naismith Player of the Year in Jalen Brunson.
Whatever you can do, I can do better
Let’s not forget how good of a three-point shooting team the Michigan Wolverines can be.
On March 22, the Wolverines ran the Aggies out of the stadium in a 99-72 win. They shot 58.3 percent from beyond the arc that night (14-for-24), setting an NCAA Tournament record with eight different players hitting a three in one game.
In order to keep up with a Villanova squad that we know will look to hit three-pointers, it’ll be imperative to get guys like Duncan Robinson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Moritz Wagner, and Jordan Poole going.
These are Michigan’s main culprits from beyond-the-arc, and guys who could make a big difference in matching the Wildcats’ style of play.
MAAR and Poole combined for an 0-for-8 day for three, while Wagner and Robinson were 5-13. Poole, however, played an integral role in leading the Michigan comeback with 7 points as Wagner led the way with 24.
The Wolverines will be able to play with the big boys Monday night if we see the same three-point shooting team we saw against the Aggies in the Sweet Sixteen.
This was a bit of a rarity on Saturday against Loyola, as both Zavier Simpson and Abdur-Rahkman had off-nights. Abdur-Rahkman was 2-for-11 with 7 points, three of which came from the free-throw line.
Simspon was horrendous as he was held scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting with four turnovers. Against a really offense-oriented team like Villanova, Michigan simply can’t afford a second consecutive game where its two starting guards don’t contribute.
The two have teamed up for a pretty formidable backcourt this season for Beilein.
Simpson averaged 7.3 points per game, with MAAR at 12.6. Both are offensive stalwarts for the Wolverines, playing in all 40 games this season.
It’s all-important that the two of them rebound and find their groove at the center of the Michigan offense on Monday.
This is obviously the best team Michigan has faced this season. You’re not going to see a better team in college basketball that’s able to do what Villanova does night in and night out.
Wright’s Wildcats can do it all. They have a roster rich of scorers and enjoy just as much success on the other side of the ball. According to Ken Pom, Villanova is No. 14 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Michigan will certainly have their hands full, coming into play as the obvious underdog. A lot will need to go their way — Simpson and MAAR rebounding, Wagner picking up where he left off, and lockdown defense — if they want to win their first title in 29 seasons.
But, anything is possible. Especially as March turns to April, and just 40 minutes decide who will ride off into the college basketball sunset.
Teams: No. 3 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 1 Villanova Wildcats
Date: April 2, 2018
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Tipoff: 9:20 p.m. ET