Villanova –Michigan championship rematch won’t be quite the same

Villanova Eric Paschall Michigan Charles Robinson College Basketball

Since it’s appearing less and less likely that the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots will get a chance to battle it out again in Super Bowl LIII, this might be as close of a rematch that we’ll get.

On Wednesday night at Villanova’s swank, refurbished $65 million Pavilion on its Main Line campus, Jay Wright’s Wildcats and Michigan will go at it in a rematch of the 2018 national championship game, where Nova won, 79-62. 

This early season contest is sort of a rematch because when the No. 18 ranked Wolverines step on the court, they’ll see a No. 8 Villanova team familiar in uniform only. No fewer than four ‘Cats who played a significant role that night in San Antonio—including Donte DiVincenzo, who punched his ticket to being an NBA first-round draft choice by pouring in 31 points—won’t be there tonight.  

Consensus NCAA Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Omari Spellman are the others.

As for Michigan, they’ll be without 6-foot-11 German big man Mo Wagner, currently buried deep on the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench, along with Muhammad Ali-Abdur Rahkman, who both combined for 39 points in the title game. Abdur-Rahkman led the Wolverines with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field.

The Wolverines, like ‘Nova, are off to a 2-0 start, though Michigan’s wins over Norfolk State and Holy Cross were defensive struggles. Michigan held both teams to a combined 81 points while scoring 119. In contrast, Villanova has scored 186 points in consecutive 33-point romps over Morgan State and Quinnipiac.

Therefore, expect something in between tonight, as Wright continues to fiddle with his rotation trying to determine who works best with seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. He’s seen different players step up each game, with sophomores Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, along with transfer student Joe Cremo and freshman Saddiq Bey looking like the best fits so far.

However, that all could change on Wednesday night, depending on how the matchups play out. Meanwhile, John Beilein’s club has been led by 6-foot-7 freshman Ignas Brazdelkis in the early going, along with returnees Isaiah Livers, Zavier Simpson, and Charles Matthews.

They’ll likely try to control the tempo and force Villanova into playing more of a half-court game. The Wildcats, on the other hand, will want to run whenever possible.

The key for the Wolverines, then, is to rely on their defense to frustrate the home team. That could happen, considering Villanova’s relative inexperience other than Paschall and Booth. But if history is any guide, there’s one thing in ‘Nova’s factor. 

Not since 2012 have the Wildcats lost a game in November. In fact, over the last five years, they’ve started off the season 11-0, 13-0, 7-0, 14-0 and 13-0.  

One of those November wins came in the 2014 Progressive Legends Classic when they beat Michigan, 60-55. 

It’s one of only five times they’ve gone head-to-head with Villanova winning four times. Among them was the second round of the 1985 NCAA Tournament when Rollie Massimino’s gang upset the Mideast’s No. 1 seed on their way to the national championship.

However, none of this will mean a thing when they go at it tonight in a building where Villanova has only lost once in its 50 games stretching back to 2013. Five years and two NCAA championships later, the ‘Cats and Wolverines figure to put on quite a show with the rest of the nation watching.

Try to tune in, because as far championship rematches go, this appears to be all we’re going to get.

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