Bang. For the second time in three years, Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats are National Champions after defeating Michigan 79-62 in the title game on Monday night.
After falling behind early, Villanova dominated the majority of the game, led by Donte DiVincenzo and his 31 points. While Villanova entered the game hot from deep, setting the Final Four record for made threes in a game with 18 in their blowout win over Kansas, the Wildcats struggled to make shots early against a stout Michigan defense, trailing by seven points midway through the first half as Mo Wagner and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the Michigan offense.
Then, DiVincenzo took over. He hit a three with 6:08 left in the first half that gave Villanova a 23-21 lead, one they would not relinquish. He carried the offense in the first half, scoring 18 of the team’s 37 points, and when he was not scoring at will, he was blocking shots on the defensive end and threading the needle with passes.
The outcome was hardly in doubt in the second half as Villanova stretched its lead to double digits early in the second half, and Michigan would not get any closer.
Even as Villanova point guard and AP national player of the year Jalen Brunson scored a season-low nine points and dealt with foul trouble for a portion of the second half, DiVincenzo picked up the slack. When the Wolverines cut the lead to 12 and threatened to make the game interesting again, DiVincenzo hit back-to-back threes to seal the outcome.
For his efforts, he was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, despite not even starting for the Wildcats.
Players coming off the bench and providing an offensive boost has apparently become commonplace in the national title game. Two years ago, Villanova won the title in large part due to Phil Booth’s offensive outburst, who came off the bench to lead the team with 20 points.
The year before, Grayson Allen was a spark off the bench for Duke, scoring 16 points en route to a national title. In 2013, players came off the bench for both Michigan and Louisville and scored in bunches. Spike Albrecht averaged 1.8 points per game for Michigan that season, but he scored 17 points in the national championship, all in the first half.
Not to be outdone, Luke Hancock was another sixth man named Most Outstanding Player against Michigan after the sharpshooter scored 22 points and helped his team to the (now vacated) championship.
College basketball is forever unpredictable, particularly in March, and this year was as chaotic as ever. Or if each year is unpredictable, does that mean that the madness is actually predictable?
Arizona State was ranked number one and the last undefeated team in the nation. They lost in the play-in game to Syracuse, a team that barely made the tournament but proceeded to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
Oklahoma and Trae Young seemed like title contenders in December, yet they lost in the first round. Arizona had a tumultuous season, beginning as preseason favorites, struggling early, dealing with an extensive FBI investigation, but finishing the year well. That is, until they were upset by 13-seed Buffalo in the first round.
Virginia was one of the few top teams that was consistently good from start to finish in the regular season, yet they became the first team ever to lose to a 16-seed when UMBC rode hot shooting to a blowout win. Loyola-Chicago were the Cinderella of this year’s tournament, reaching the Final Four as an 11-seed before the clock finally struck midnight for the Ramblers against Michigan.
But in the end, it was Villanova who ended the season on top. They dominated for much of the year, and they were hardly challenged in the tournament as they won each game by double digits.
Much like their title run in 2016, Villanova rode a potent offense and a veteran team to the title, although the finish this year was much less dramatic than Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating three to win the championship.
Not long ago, Jay Wright and the Wildcats were labeled as chokers after repeated exits in the first weekend of the tournament, even when they were a top-two seed. It might have seemed that their versatile offense and reliance on outside shooting simply was not suited for March.
Today, the Wildcats have established themselves as an elite, if not the best, program in college basketball. Jay Wright joins the company of Coach K and Roy Williams as the only active coaches with two national titles, and he does it without any of the one-and-dones and few of the elite prospects that his blue-blood competitors load up with each year.
In a season of uncertainty, Villanova was a constant. They embody the ideal of college basketball, where their players actually stick around for multiple years and graduate. (Jalen Brunson won two national titles, was named player of the year, and can graduate in three years!)
The right team does not always emerge victorious in the NCAA tournament. Upsets should not happen, but in one game, anything can happen. Despite the madness of the season and the tournament, Villanova cutting down the nets in San Antonio felt like the right end to the season: Villanova are the rightful kings of college basketball.