Villanova took home it’s second championship in three years, beating a very good Michigan Wolverines team 79-62 in San Antonio. Here’s what most stood out from Monday’s game, one that featured a Villanova performance that was both familiar and new.
Donte DiVincenzo Does His Best James Harden Impression
Donte DiVincenzo’s output on Monday night wasn’t just spectacular because of the ludicrous numbers he put up. By now we all know the scoreline - 31 points, on 10-15 shooting, plus five rebounds, three assists, and two massive blocks - a scoreline which earned the Villanova sophomore Most Outstanding Player honors. However, it was the manner in which DiVincenzo achieved his output that was so impressive.
To begin to contextualize the performance, let’s start with the defensive look Michigan threw Villanova’s way. The Wolverines did the two things to keep the Wildcats from running them out of the building from three: They never left Villanova shooters and they stayed in front of the dribble drive. In essence, John Beilein was playing Villanova like an NBA team. It also sort of worked, that is, until Donte took over.
Take the clip above: In what was still a tight affair, Villanova’s sixth man drives to the rim and earns an and-1 to extend the Wildcats’ lead. What’s most fascinating is how Michigan plays the sequence. DiVincenzo makes his move from well beyond the three point line and chooses not to accept Spellman’s forthcoming screen. As he gets beyond Abdul-Rahkman, he has an uncontested layup - Why? Because the Wolverines were staying home on every Villanova shooter.
Just look at Zavier Simpson on the strong side glued to Jalen Brunson. There’s no doubt he’s been told to not leave his man. On the weak side, Isaiah Livers contemplates helping but arrives far too late to make an impact. With Omari Spellman pulling Moritz Wagner out to the three point line, this looks like a play you’d see in most NBA games.
The other thing you see a lot of in the NBA, specifically from James Harden, is the off-the-dribble three. This has become the most valuable skill in the league, and mastery of it enables the NBA’s elite to pull defenders closer to them, thereby opening up the dribble drive.
Besides his first three pointer of the game, a very deep three that came from a Bridges hand-off, every three pointer Donte DiVincenzo hit was of the off-the-dribble variety. Not only was it truly breathtaking to take in these shots, but it helps to explain how Villanova’s sixth man went off.
I grabbed the shot chart from James Harden’s 12-18, 38 point performance Tuesday and matched it up side by side with DiVincenzo. What exactly did Harden-doppelganger DiVincenzo do against Michigan’s NBA-style defense? He played like an elite NBA player. DiVincenzo was nearly impossible to guard specifically because his off-the-dribble three point game was on, allowing him to drag his defenders out well beyond three point line (look at all of those takes from NBA range!) before he took them to the hole.
In recent history, ‘Nova fans have been treated to many incredible individual performances, but rarely have we seen one so refined. What Donte DiVincenzo did was a work of art and far beyond his years.
‘Nova’s Got Another Great One in Gillespie
Sometimes I feel bad that Collin Gillespie is best known for looking like a Ryan Arcidiacono clone, but then again, you could have worse company as a Villanova point guard. Like Arcidiacono, Gillespie has been given a chance to prove himself as a freshman and it’s safe to say he’s arrived following his 16 minutes in the Championship game.
The stats were fairly uneventful - four points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal - but his impact was far beyond the box score. It seemed like every time the freshman checked in, Villanova would extend it’s lead. Upon closer inspection, that remains the case.
Collin Gillespie Minutes
Aside from his final substitution, one that came as the game was already decided, every time Collin Gillespie checked in, Villanova outscored Michigan. In his 16 minutes on the floor, Gillespie registered an astonishing +19 differential.
Offensively, Gillespie handled the ball well, didn’t commit a turnover, and made his free throws. Defensively, Gillespie was hounding Michigan players, most notably forcing a shot clock violation against Charles Matthews. Gillespie played with an intelligence and composure we come to expect on the Main Line from point guards, but his defensive tenacity is what most stood out Monday. Villanova fans have plenty to look forward to over the next three years with Gillespie running the show.
Scrappy ‘Cats Have Right Attitude
Through the first nine minutes of the game Monday, Villanova scored just 14 points and there was a familiar, ‘I’ve seen this before,’ feeling to the offense. But that feeling, the one that comes when Villanova might not be on it’s game, doesn’t also come with an inevitability of defeat. The players and coaches have the utmost confidence that Villanova’s brand, it’s attitude, will be enough to keep it in any game.
That was true Monday night for the first nine minutes, right up until it was obvious it was going to be the Donte DiVincenzo show. Villanova, one seed, most winning program over a four year stretch, and certifiable Blue Blood, plays harder and scrappier than it’s opponent and wears this honor like a badge more so than any record breaking shooting performance.
I’ve thought about this Eric Paschall play a lot over the last 36 hours. It occurred at a time when we were in the upside-down of Monday’s title game: Mo Wagner was an unstoppable force, Donte DiVincenzo hadn’t scored yet, and Villanova looked like it might barely get to 60.
The shot itself is a contested three, off-the-dribble and taken by necessity as the shot clock ran under five seconds. The rebound is secured by Wagner, but Paschall senses the opportunity to make a play and punches the ball out of Wagner’s hand. It falls fortuitously to Bridges who gets the Wildcats a much needed two points.
There’s no way to know what jump-started the Villanova defense and the Donte Experience, but I like to imagine it’s a play like this. There were numerous hustle plays from Villanova all night as the ‘Cats scrapped to 12 offensive rebounds and a +9 advantage on the glass. But this Paschall play, equal parts grit and smarts, is the kind of stuff that makes this Villanova team special and maybe, just maybe, what got the whole thing going Villanova’s way Monday.
Or maybe Donte wasn’t going to be stopped no matter what. We’ll never truly know, and I’m okay with that.