by Kyle Flynn
When March comes around, you know what time it is. The NCAA Basketball Tournament provokes a culmination of emotions from players, coaches and fans alike, student-athletes working hard to reach a common goal. This year in sports has been one of the most competitive ever, with margins slimmer than many years prior. After another unbelievable 64-team bracket, there stood only four teams left at the final weekend.
In the men’s tournament, “International icon” Sister Jean, as she called herself, and Loyola Chicago busted everybody’s bracket as an 11-seed before finally falling to red-hot three-seeded Michigan. Villanova and Kansas then faced off in a battle of one-seeds, but the Jayhawks were no match for the ‘Nova, who many considered to be the remaining favorite. The stage was set; the Michigan Wolverines and the Villanova Wildcats. After Jorda Poole’s second-round buzzer beater and Moritz Wagner continued dominance, Michigan had momentum and was primed to face consistent heavyweight Villanova.
When the lights came on, the Wolverines looked the part in the early going, and ‘Nova missed eight of their first nine threes, but basketball is a game of adjustments and swings and Wildcats coach Jay Wright made the proper adjustments and the game was never the same. Wright, who won his first national championship just two years ago with ‘Nova to claim their first since 1988, said “it is about those who came before us. That’s who we play for.”
Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo went off in the title game for the Wildcats, taking home Most Outstanding Player honors.
”The way DiVincenzo shot the ball, it was just incredible for us to try to win that game with the roll he went on,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
DiVincenzo finished the game with 31 points including six three-pointers. Projected top 10 NBA Draft pick Mikal Bridges added another 19 and Villanova cruised to their second national championship victory in three years.
Michigan tried to mount a second-half comeback, but they would share the fate of those that came before them, like Kansas. Every time a team would try to go on a nice run, Villanova would seemingly splash a three and rinse, repeat.
The Wolverines had three double-digit scorers, led by 23 from Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, but they were outrebounded by 11, outshot from three (Michigan only shot 13 percent), and they were outperformed from the free throw line (75 percent to 61 percent).
With the 2017-18 hoops season concluded, enjoy a look at what will potentially be the top five teams in the inaugural rankings for the 2019 season: Villanova, Duke, Virginia, Kansas and Kentucky. While four of the five teams, yes even Kentucky, will have some returning starters and experience coming back to campus, Duke will be loaded with talent, as they have three top 10 high school recruits joining the squad as Coach K looks to capture another NCAA title.