It has been 225 days since Michigan lost to Villanova in the National Championship game in San Antonio. A game that John Beilein and his Wolverines would care not to relive.
Beilein was asked at his media conference Tuesday about rewatching that game. “Sunday was the first day, and I just went through it, I couldn’t listen to it. Didn’t want to listen to it.” said the Wolverines coach of his team’s 79-62 loss to the Wildcats back in April. “I just went all offense, then I went all defense and just getting in my mind what we think we had to do (for Wednesday.) Same thing with Louisville five years ago.” He finished.
Michigan and Villanova square off in a rare national championship rematch Wednesday night in Villanova, PA as part of the Gavitt Games, a tournament that began in 2015 and annually pits Big Ten teams vs. Big East opponents. Michigan last featured in the event in 2015, when a Chris Mack-coached Xavier team topped the Wolverines 86-70 at Crisler Center.
Both Michigan and Villanova look distinctly different on the court than they did back in April. Michigan lost Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Jaaron Simmons to graduation. The Wildcats saw Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman, and the star of that game, Donte DiVincenzo, all head for the NBA through graduation and early departure.
One of the critical differences between the opponents is Villanova returns experience that Michigan does not. Seniors Phil Booth (guard) and Eric Paschall (forward) both started against the Wolverines in the tournament and will do so again Wednesday. “Booth, Paschall, they are playing like out of their minds. Booth hit 9 three’s in a scrimmage, they are really good and they should be good.” commented Beilein, who praised Villanova coach Jay Wright and his staff effusively during his time at the podium.
As for the players, unlike their veteran coach, they aren’t exactly willing to let the past stay in the past, as they see Wednesday’s game as a rematch, and a chance at some redemption after the disappointing fate they suffered seven months ago.
“I still haven’t rewatched it (the game)” said sophomore Isaiah Livers, who started for the Wolverines in the first matchup. He does believe he will eventually watch the entire game “I do, I think it would be good to watch just to learn what we did so I kinda know what we did, we let one player, two players get off so but you gotta live and learn.”
Junior Jon Teske was more willing to downplay the significance of the rematch, stressing that the Wolverines can find greater success by focusing on the here and now “It means more but at the same time it is another game and we gotta go in there and play our game.” said the Wolverines big. “We know that when we are playing at our best we can beat anyone so we just gotta go in there and compete.”
For the Wolverines to play their best basketball, they will need to improve on what have been two subpar outings offensively against Norfolk State, and the tricky 2-3 zone defense ran by Holy Cross. The Wolverines are shooting 36.3% from the floor and 20% from 3PT range so far, that will have to change if the 19th ranked Wolverines expect to leave Philadelphia late Wednesday night with an upset victory in hand.
Freshman Ignas Brazdeikis will get his first chance to shine on national television Wednesday night. The 6’8 freshman sparked the Wolverines with 19 points in the comeback win over Holy Cross. Both Beilein and his teammates want to see Brazdeikis shine, but want him to be realistic about not getting lost in the moment. “I always tell Iggy he can tend to overwork himself. I just tell him to take a deep breath, when you’re out there and that jump ball happens, just play basketball” was Livers advice for his teammate.
In what will be a sold out Finneran Pavillion Wednesday night, Michigan and Villanova will face off in a great matchup of Top 20 teams, and win or lose, like with most Beilein teams early in the year, Michigan will learn essential lessons regardless of the final score vs. the Wildcats.
“I think we understand it is a really good team but I don’t think it is ‘Hey, Remember the Alamo here.” said Beilein, who did not realize he made an Alamodome joke until after he said the phrase out loud. “It is something that we wanna go and play well against a good team. We have had a scrimmage, we have had two games, we would like to just continue to grow and now we will find out where we are.” concluded Beilein.