Michigan brings Villanova back down to earth in title game rematch

Villanova Wildcats Michigan Wolverines College Basketball

Villanova head coach Jay Wright didn’t have to look at the grisly numbers to know what he had just witnessed.

“Whatever the final score was, it wasn’t that close,” said Wright after his young Wildcats were humbled from start to finish by Michigan, 73-46, on Wednesday, in a game that in no way resembled a rematch of the 2018 National Championship. 

That, of course, went to the Wildcats, 79-62, before Villanova’s top four leading scorers—including Donte DiVincenzo who erupted for 31 points that night in San Antonio—celebrated by heading straight to the NBA.

“They know that,” continued Wright, whose club actually committed more turnovers (21) than made field goals (14) in losing for only the second time in 52 tries at its on-campus Pavilion. 

“I can’t say I was shocked this happened. I watched how we played other games and we didn’t have the attention to detail you need against a team like this. I didn’t think it would be like this, but I thought we could be down.”

Will they get back up? After dispatching Morgan State and Quinnipiac by 23 and 33 points respectively, Villanova fans might’ve been lulled into believing things would go on as normal this season despite all those departures. 

They assumed Wright would simply reload behind seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, along with a group of sophomores that played only sparingly last year and a highly regarded incoming freshman crop and the wins would keep on coming.

Now, no one knows what to think after the Wolverines did pretty much whatever they wanted to at both ends of the court. While No. 18 ranked Michigan’s tenacious defense was expected—the Wolverines have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 46 in their three games—this kind of debacle was certainly not.

“We just didn’t have that cohesiveness that you have to have against good teams,” said Wright, who kept trying to plug players into the lineup and trying to change the momentum to no avail. 

“For us, part of it is my fault. We’re not as organized as we want to be,” he added. We’re trying to find a lineup in the early season. We were too disorganized out there to play a team like that.”

Instead, the Wildcats looked lost. On offense, the Wolverines muscled them away from their favorite spots and contested virtually every shot. On defense, it was a layup drill, Michigan outscored them 44-20 in the paint and 25-1 in converting turnovers into points.

The good news, presumably, is it can only get better from here, as the young ‘Cats gradually begin to mature.  “I hope so,” said Wright, whose team at one point trailed 49-17, the biggest deficit he’s faced since 2003, which was his second season on the Main Line.

“Hopefully, this is a great learning experience for us. You try as a coach and with leaders not to learn this way,” he explained. “There’s a possibility to learn without getting blown out. But these are some of the things we have to go through. Hopefully not too much and not this severely”

Michigan’s John Beilein, who knew his club could ‘D’ it up with the best of them, says Villanova fans should be patient. “We lost a lot,” said Beilein, who lost three regulars from last year’s squad, including current Laker Mo Wagner.  

“We’ve sort of figured it out. He’s [Jay Wright] got some other guys and some really good, talented freshman. You’ve got to let them go out and play a little bit. Sometimes that’s the growth they need to be better later in the year.”

Wright sure hopes so because the Wildcats have an unforgiving schedule that includes a trip to Kansas and their four Big Five games. That’s all before they head into Big East play, where all those teams they’ve been beating up for years might see this season as a chance for payback.

While Michigan certainly got that while taking the Wildcats apart Wednesday night, at least there was one thing Villanova could take comfort in.

They don’t have to give back that shiny championship trophy.

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