Last night, the Villanova Wildcats took care of business against the VCU Rams, shaking loose from their 14th-ranked opponent to win 77-53. That victory earned them a meeting with number-19 ranked Michigan Wolverines in the Legends Classic title game. The Wolverines played a much closer game late on Monday night, beating unranked Oregon 70-63 to advance.
This will only be the fourth meeting between Villanova and Michigan. The 'Cats lead the all-time series 2-1, with the last Wolverines win coming in 1970. These are very different teams from the ones that last met in 1985. Former WVU coach John Beilein is now at the helm in Michigan, in his eighth season in Ann Arbor, and has the program in position to compete near the top of the Big Ten -- they rose five spots in yesterday's AP Basketball poll, jumping over their blue-blood rivals, Michigan State.
Both teams enter the game with unblemished 4-0 records. Here are three more things to consider about this match-up as we prepare for tomorrow's 10pm tip-off.
Zak Irvin is a stud
The Wolverine's sophomore guard Zak Irvin averaged just under seven points per game last season, but he scored 19 on Monday night, and is averaging 20.7 points through four games this year. He added 15 pounds to his 6-6 frame in the offseason and has dramatically improved his ability to bang around inside. A self-proclaimed "weird looking" jump shothas started to seem a little smoother and more reliable this season, which has allowed him to shoot 53.7% from the floor and 52.4% from deep.
Beilein is sticking with his starting line-up
Michigan has used the same starting five in all four games so far, with freshmen forwards Mark Donnal and Kameron Chatman starting along side guards Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Jr. and Irvin. Despite the starting designation, the two freshmen aren't necessarily playing starters minutes -- veterans Spike Albrect and Max Bielfeldt have been playing more off the bench.
Chatman in particular has struggled shooting, a team-worst (among players who have been allowed to take a shot) 18.8%. Donnal has fared better, making 60% of his attempts, but has only averaged 17.3 minutes. The coach has been keeping him in the line-up to give him an opportunity to get comfortable in his role with the team -- but when things get tight, he's forced to use his veterans more.
Walton Jr. is playing the most, at 36.3 minutes per game, and he has been their second-leading scorer with 17.7ppg and has collected 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal per game as well.
They were beat badly on the boards
The Wolverines struggled on the glass against an Oregon team that didn't have much of a size advantage. The Ducks grabbed 41 caroms to Michigan's 29. The margin was 18-7 on just the offensive glass as well. The Ducks failed to make the most of that advantage last night, shooting just 39% from the floor, however, and 26.3% from deep and didn't get to the free throw line enough to make up for those factors.
Villanova out-rebounded VCU 39-31 in the early game and will look to outwork their opponent on the glass again in the title game.