by Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
Not feelin’ it. One way or the other, just not feelin’ it.
Usually when it comes crunch time, or sometimes even well before, the vibe starts kicking in with regard to a big game, a title series, a championship matchup, reaching a crescendo that ultimately smacks my being right on the noggin with an answer.
Who’s going to win?
Right or wrong, it usually hits.
This time, just hours before Villanova goes for its second NCAA men’s basketball crown in three years, nope. Nothing.
No feeling at all.
It could be that the Wildcats reaching this point surprised me. Not because of being unworthy. If anything, you could make the case that they were the best team in the country over the course of the entire season heading into tonight's 9:20 tip-off in San Antonio, and deserve to be where they are more so than any other squad in the country.
Just didn’t feel that happening, either.
Didn’t think they would get past West Virginia and its suffocating pressure defense. Looked on point with that, too, when the two squared off in the East regional semifinal, but then the ’Cats exploded down the stretch, sparked by their own defense and ability to score off it.
As a “backup plan” to that ouster, kinda figured Purdue would have handled ’em. That thought, of course, came before Boilermakers center/man mountain Isaac Haas smashed his elbow against the hardwood.
The real rub, though, for me … probably is Villanova's opponent in this one – Michigan. Not a fan of the Wolverines’ program and believe head coach John Beilein was a weasel in how he bolted West Virginia for Ann Arbor – think the hoops version of Rich Rodriguez when he made the same move in football in very similar shady fashion.
But the Wolverines are good. Real good. Not just winners of a nation-best 14 straight. More like … best team in the country the last six weeks. Even better than 'Nova.
See, it's not the amount of wins in a row that is impressive. It is how they were acquired. Mostly in dominating, almost embarrassingly easy, fashion, with one pray-it-goes-in buzzer-beater thrown in. Against quality opponents. After cruising by No. 8 Ohio State on Feb. 17, the Wolverines manhandled the likes of eventual NIT champ Penn State, No. 2 Michigan State and No. 8 Purdue en route to a Big Ten tournament championship.
Michigan then delivered the ultimate gut-punch of this year's NCAA extravaganza to No. 21 Houston before giving the most jaw-dropping effort of the event its next time out against Texas A&M, actually trumping what A&M had done to North Carolina in its previous game. For good measure, Michigan even knocked out the feel-good story of the tourney in Saturday's Final Four opener, ripping that glass slipper off Loyola of Chicago, tossing it to the ground and then grinding it up into little pieces.
German import Moritz Wagner, a Dirk Nowitzki game-alike, often has spearheaded the charge statistically and emotionally for Beilein's boys, but the team's halfcourt “D” has meant the difference between being a typical “kinda disappointing” Wolverines outfit to one reaching its full potential, if not beyond.
Michigan is dangerous. Far, far more dangerous than what Hall of Fame coach Bill Self trotted out there against 'Nova Saturday night with his latest edition of Kansas Jayhawks – a group, regardless of how talented, that seemed lost and disjointed all season, and never more so than when the Wildcats started raining “threes” right out of the chute.
Thing is, the fact no feeling here favors the Wolverines is a tribute to Villanova.
Truly, for me, this one is too close to call. Or feel.
KEYS TO THE GAME
UP-TEMPO OR SLOW
Though both teams can play just about any way you like, they're baselines are pretty set this season: Villanova goes fast, and Michigan does not.
The Wildcats, unlike their highly successful teams of recent ilk, including the 2016 NCAA champion edition, do NOT win with defense. They have the No. 1 offense in the country (86.8 points per game) and they basically bludgeon the opposition, often with a barrage of bombs from beyond the arc. Just don't expect a repeat of Saturday's Final Four-record 18 treys in this one.
Why? Because Michigan checks in with the nation's No. 8 defense (62.9 ppg) and the only team they allowed to hit 70 points in the last month (Texas A&M), they beat by 27.
Edge: Slight, to Villanova. Mainly because it has shown an ability to adapt to any style, even when it is down.
Villanova has two national player of the year candidates in Jalen Brunson, who already has been awarded one such honor, and Mikal Bridges, and three or four potential future NBA players in Donte DiVencenzo, Omari Spellman, Phil Booth and Eric Paschal.
Michigan may have just one in Moritz Wagner. But, that being said, he's going to be named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament if he comes up big tonight because he went off for 24 points and 15 boards Saturday against Loyola of Chicago. Duncan Robinson (6-8), Charles Matthews (6-6) and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (6-4) give the Wolverines the size in the backcourt to fluster Brunson and Co.
Edge: Slight, to Villanova. Michigan matches up better than most seem to realize.
Though Michigan ripped off a nation-best 14 wins in a row, 'Nova hardly has been a slouch in that department, going for 10. The reality, though, is that the Wolverines have faced a much tougher slate during their run, beating as many as seven teams better than any the Wildcats did.
Most would point to Kansas as being 'Nova's best in their stretch. It wasn't. West Virginia was by far, and, frankly, it was not as good as Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State and is debatable with regard to Houston, Texas A&M, Florida State and Loyola at the time Michigan faced them.
Edge: Big, to Michigan. Major underdog status only helps Wolverines to remain aggressive.
Villanova's Jay Wright, arguably, is the best in the biz anymore. He already has one national championship under his belt with No. 2 staring him in the face tonight. He has led 'Nova to three Final Fours in the last nine years, and is on a current four-year run in which his average season amounts to a 34-4 record.
May not be a fan of Michigan's John Beilein, his bailing on West Virginia and his Bettlejuice look, but the guy can coach. Actually comical that when most peak back at his history, they recall his days with WVU and leading the Mountaineers to an Elite Eight appearance. Yo, the guy is in his second Final Four, not to mention title game, with the Wolverines, and has an Elite Eight and Sweet 16 on his Michigan ledger, too.
Edge: Slight, to Villanova. Both guys are Hall of Fame-caliber coaches