By Matt Citak
A wild 2018 NCAA Tournament has finally come to an end. We began with 68 schools from around the country vying for the same goal- to come out of the Big Dance on top. After dominating six straight games, the Villanova Wildcats have earned the title of National Champions.
Villanova takes home second national championship in three years
Villanova entered the tournament as a No. 1 seed, and unlike the other top teams that fell early, the Wildcats imposed their will on each of their opponents. Villanova won each of their six games by double figures, with an average margin of victory of 17.7 points.
On Saturday, the Wildcats faced off against No. 1 seed Kansas in what many thought would be a close battle. But the Jayhawks were unable to slow down Villanova’s offense, as Jay Wright’s squad poured in 47 points in the first half to build a 15-point lead at halftime. That deficit would be too big to overcome for Kansas, as the Wildcats finished the game shooting 55.4 percent from the field while hitting 45.0 percent of their three-pointers, including nailing a Final Four-record 18 three’s. Six players scored double-digit points as Villanova defeated Kansas, 95-79.
Villanova continued their strong play Monday night, taking a nine-point lead into halftime over Michigan. The Wolverines were unable to control the boards against the Wildcats as Villanova won the rebound battle, 38-27, including 12 on the offensive end of the court. Nova’s bench, led by Donte DiVincenzo’s 31 points, outscored Michigan’s bench 35-7.
The Wildcats would go on to beat the Wolverines, 79-62, becoming the first team since UCLA in 1968 to win both of its Final Four games by 16 or more points.
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DiVencenzo takes home most outstanding player at the Final Four
Donte DiVencenzo etched his name in Villanova history with his performance on Monday night. The sophomore guard poured in 31 points off the bench for the Wildcats (the highest scoring total off the bench in a national title game), shooting 10-of-15 from the field and 5-of-7 from long range. DiVencenzo added five rebounds, three assists, and two blocks in his 37 minutes.
Villanova struggled early on in the first half as the Wolverines jumped out to a seven-point lead. But DiVencenzo put the Wildcats on his back, scoring 18 first-half points to help Villanova build their halftime lead. The 6-foot-5 guard’s strong play continued in the second half as he scored 11 straight points halfway through the final frame, proving to be too much for Michigan to handle.
DiVencenzo finished the tournament averaging 15.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game, while shooting 54.7 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from the three-point line.
Michigan loses in national championship for second time in five seasons
The Wolverines entered the title game as the hottest team in the country. Michigan won its final nine games before the tournament, taking home the Big 10 tournament championship at Madison Square Garden while defeating tough opponents such as Michigan State and Purdue. They continued their strong play leading up to the Final Four, defeating Montana, Houston, Texas A&M, and Florida State on their road to San Antonio.
On Saturday, the Wolverines rode the stellar play of Moritz Wagner to a 12-point victory over the Cinderella of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, Loyola-Chicago. The junior forward finished with a game-high 24 points, 15 rebounds, and three steals, all while shooting 10-of-16 from the field and 3-of-7 from deep.
Going up against one of the best offenses in the country on Monday, Michigan needed a strong shooting effort to have a fighting chance against the Wildcats. But the Wolverines offense fell short, as the team shot 43.6 percent from the field and a mere 3-for-23 from the three-point line. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 23 points, followed by Wagner who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
This marked Michigan’s second loss in the title game in the last five years, as the Wolverines fell to Louisville in the 2013 championship game, 76-82.
Jay Wright joins elite company
The head coach of the Villanova Wildcats joined some elite company on Monday, as Jay Wright took home his second national championship in the last three seasons. Wright becomes just the third active coach with multiple NCAA championships (joining Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Roy Williams of UNC) and only the second coach in Division I history with four consecutive 30-win seasons (Bill Self of Kansas being the other).
Wright has now won 136 games in the last four years, the most in college basketball. His coaching prowess led to him being awarded this year’s John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award, given to a college coach who exemplifies Coach Wooden’s high standards of coaching success and personal achievement. With Villanova’s success this season, Wright improved his record at Villanova to 420-165, and increased his overall coaching record to 542-250.
This year’s Nova squad could end up being one of the most dominant teams in tournament history. The Wildcats became just the fourth team ever to win all six of its games by double digits, joining Michigan State (2000), Duke (2001), and North Carolina (2009).
Projected draft picks play well in Final Four
Of the teams that made it to San Antonio this past weekend, three of the four schools have projected picks in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft.
Kansas has three possible draft picks in this year’s draft, starting with senior guard Devonte’ Graham, who is projected to go late in the first round. Graham put together a strong season with the Jayhawks, averaging 17.3 points, 7.2 assists, and 4.0 rebounds. In his final NCAA appearance against Villanova on Saturday, the guard finished with 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field, including going 4-of-8 from long range. Graham added three assists, three rebounds, and two steals. Joining Graham as possible draft picks are sophomore guard Malik Newman and senior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, both of whom are potential late second-round picks. Newman, who will have to decide whether or not to enter the draft, scored 21 points and grabbed eight boards against Villanova, while Mykhailiuk finished with 10 points and three assists.
Moving on to Michigan, the Wolverines have just one projected draft pick- junior forward Moritz Wagner. Wagner shot well from the field in both games this past weekend, sgoing 10-of-16 against Loyola-Chicago and 6-of-11 against Villanova. The German-native averaged 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds this year, and is projected to be a late first-round, early-second round pick in the NBA Draft.
Finally we move on to the national champions, who will likely have two first-round picks in June. Junior guard Mikal Bridges has a very good chance of being a late-lottery pick, as he averaged 17.7 points and 5.3 rebounds this year. The 6-foot-6 guard put up 10 points against Kansas before scoring 19 in the title game, finishing his college career on a strong note. Likely joining Bridges in the draft is junior guard Jalen Brunson, who is coming off a very solid season himself. Brunson averaged 18.9 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.1 rebounds for the Wildcats, shooting an impressive 52.1 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from the three-point line. The junior point guard averaged 13.5 points, 4.0 assists, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals during Villanova’s two Final Four games. The wildcard of the Nova squad is sophomore guard Donte DiVencenzo, who’s performance in the Final Four could propel him to the beginning of the second round (if he decides to forgo his final two seasons at Villanova). DiVencenzo averaged 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists off the bench for the Wildcats this season.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.