2018 National Title Game Preview: Villanova vs. Michigan

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SAN ANTONIO — Villanova is now just one win away from putting together what may be the greatest five-year stretch in modern college basketball history.

Think about this.

Since the Wildcats moved to the new Big East, they’ve won four Big East regular season titles and three Big East tournament titles. A win on Monday night would give them a 165-21 record over that stretch, which is the most wins in a five-year period for any program since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams. That’s an average of 33 wins and 4.2 losses per years. Incredible.

Perhaps even more incredible is that in that five-year stretch, the Wildcats are 88-15 against Big East competition, and while the new Big East is not what the old Big East was, it has been a top three league in the country, according to KenPom, for the last four seasons. It produced two No. 1 seeds this year. It’s one of just two power conferences to play a true round-robin league schedule.

The Big East is a bear.

And Villanova has run through it like the Kool Aid Man runs through walls.

Oh, yeah.

If there is a criticism of Villanova during that stretch, it’s that they have had their struggles in the month of March. They never lost in the second weekend of the tournament. They either made it to the national title game or they lost in the second round as a No. 1 or 2-seed. I think that has more to do with the fluky nature of the event and the fact that Villanova is a three-point shooting team that is prone to some off-nights, and the fact that they would have two titles under their belt does help my theory.

On the other side of the ball you have John Beilein and Michigan, and if he can find a way to win this game it would be the most fitting ending to this season for a man who is a national title away from putting together one of the sport’s most impressive coaching résumés.

Beilein has risen through the coaching ranks, from high school to JuCo to Division III to Division II to Canisius and Richmond and West Virginia before arriving at Michigan, on the back of his ability to be an offensive tactician. He’s brilliant, one of the guys that helped to found this small-ball movement in the college ranks back when having centers — like Kevin Pittsnoggle, remember him? — firing up threes was something that was not normal.

But this Michigan team is in the national title game because they are an elite defensive unit, and they are an elite defensive unit because Beilein understood his weaknesses as a coach and hired a man — Luke Yaklich — that could slide in and work as his defensive coordinator.

And if this Michigan defense finds a way to slow down this Villanova juggernaut and cut down the nets, it would be the feather in the cap of what is already a remarkable coaching career.

Here’s everything you need to know about the national title game:

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

THREE KEY MATCHUPS

1. ZAVIER SIMPSON vs. JALEN BRUNSON: We all know about Brunson at this point.

Or at least you should.

Every National Player of the Year award that has been given out this season have been given to Brunson, and deservedly so.

And Simpson?

Over the course of Michigan’s run through the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament, he’s been one of college basketball’s best defenders. He’s taken away a number of terrific point guards, and while I do not think this is ever going to be quite as simple as “take away Jalen Brunson”, Simpson is going to be tasked with slowing him down. That is no easy task.

But the other side of the ball is just as important. Simpson was not good on Saturday night against Loyola, and that’s putting it nicely. It’s a major reason why they struggled to score against Loyola’s switching defense, and if you know anything about the way Villanova defends, you know they love to switch.

2. MO WAGNER vs. OMARI SPELLMAN: Wagner and Spellman cancel each other out, in a way. Both of these guys are versatile, stretch-fives that create space and mismatches because of their ability to shoot the ball. One of the things that killed Kansas last night — and, frankly, one of the reasons that Michigan was able to make their comeback on Loyola in the second half — was that Spellman and Wagner, respectively, were able to force their opponents to play a way they didn’t want to play. Spellman nullified Udoka Azubuike’s interior dominance. Likewise for Wagner and Cameron Krutwig.

On Monday, they’ll be chasing each other around on the perimeter, seeing who is going to be able to slow the other down.

Frankly, I think it is more important for Spellman to find a way to slow down Wagner than vice versa simply because Wagner is more important, offensively, to Michigan than Spellman is to Villanova. Put another way, Villanova can win this game is Spellman struggles. I don’t think Michigan can win if Wagner does, not against this Villanova juggernaut.

3. WINGS ON WINGS ON WINGS: Villanova loves to switch defensively because they have so many pieces on the floor that can play more than one position. Eric Paschall is athletic enough to say in front of a point guard. Jalen Brunson is strong enough that it is not going to be easy for a post player to get good position on him.

But the key is their wing guys — DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth — and their switchability. Michigan struggled with that against Loyola, and as good as Loyola was, Villanova might be better at it.

It works on the other end of the floor as well, too, because Michigan actually has the defenders and the athletes to match up with Villanova’s perimeter weapons. What makes Villanova so good offensively is that they have a roster full of players that can all shoot from three and make plays on the perimeter. But Wagner can chase Spellman around just like Michigan’s myriad of athletic wings — Charles Matthews, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Isaiah Livers, Jordan Poole, Duncan Robinson — can chase around Villanova’s best shooters.

THE BEST STORYLINE

You mean beyond Villanova trying to become the most successful program over the course of any five-year stretch? Or Michigan and John Beilein trying to win him his first national title and officially become a basketball school?

Those are the big storylines.

But my favorite storyline here is that these are the two men that are more or less responsible for bringing small-ball to the masses in college hoops. Villanova started the trend back in 2005, when Curtis Sumpter tore his ACL and the Wildcats were forced to play with four guards. Beilein was one of the first to run ball-screen heavy offensive attacks and space the floor with shooters on top of shooters on top of shooters.

I think the biggest storyline here will be how this affects the rest of the sport. Everyone on the planet saw the Villanova buzzsaw last night. They tied the record for the most threes in a Final Four game by halftime, and Michigan might be the only team that can matchup with their versatility.

Is this the national title game that changes it all?

Is this college basketball’s Golden State Warriors moment?

AND THE WINNER WILL BE …

Villanova. They’ve now won eight tournament games — both Big East and NCAA — by an average of 18 points. Every game they’ve played has been a double-digit result. They are a machine that has it all rolling at this point, and not even that vaunted Michigan defense will be able to slow them down.

Miles Kelly leads Ga. Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.

No. 17 Illinois rallies late, beats No. 2 Texas 85-78 in OT

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NEW YORK – Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining, and No. 17 Illinois rallied to hand second-ranked Texas its first loss of the season, 85-78 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jayden Epps added 11 points, including the final five points of regulation – a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with 8 seconds remaining. Epps then blocked Marcus Carr’s jumper in the lane just before the buzzer to force overtime in an entertaining showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Matthew Mayer, who faced Texas several times at Baylor, tied a career high with 21 points as he made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10.

Shannon, who missed eight of nine shots in regulation, took over in the extra period to help Illinois (7-2) beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. He opened overtime with a jumper after Marcus Carr was called for traveling and then hit an open 3 from the right wing over Brock Cunningham for a 73-70 lead.

Shannon then converted a reverse layup and finished off a three-point play to make it 77-70 with 2:16 left. Carr hit two free throws to get Texas within one with 1:28 remaining. Jayden Epps hit a layup, RJ Melendez sank two free throws to put Illinois ahead by five, and Shannon made two free throws with 27.7 seconds left.

Timmy Allen scored a season-high 21 points for Texas (6-1), which failed to open 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15. Tyrese Hunter added 10 points but Carr was held to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting as Texas had 12 shots blocked and shot 42%.

Texas took its only double-digit lead when Dillon Mitchell hit a layup with 8:28 left. Illinois cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3 by Melendez nearly four minutes later. After Cunningham hit an open 3 with 4:15 remaining, Si’Jabari Rice made a 3 for a 64-58 lead.

Allen found Cunningham for an open jumper that counted when officials called goaltending on Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins. That gave Texas a 65-61 lead with with 1:51 remaining.

Carr’s rainbow jumper in the lane made it 68-63 with a minute left and Illinois had a 3-pointer by Melendez waved off because it called timeout with 45.3 seconds left. After the timeout, Epps made an open corner 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Epps’ tying free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini continued to struggle with turnovers, committing 17. But only two of them came in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation or overtime. Illinois’ 15th turnover was an offensive foul by Mayer, which sent him to the bench with four fouls with 10:42 remaining.

Texas: The Longhorns had little offense beyond Allen and Hunter. While the duo was a combined 13 of 29, the rest of the team missed 24 of 40 shots.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Penn State in its second Big Ten game on Saturday. The Illini lost their conference opener to No. 13 Maryland.

Texas hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Jimmy Blacklock Classic on Saturday.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

No. 25 Villanova women beat American University 83-42

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – Maddy Siegrist had 24 points and seven rebounds, Lucy Olsen added 14 points and No. 25 Villanova beat American University 83-42 on Tuesday night.

Siegrist scored 15 points in the opening 13 minutes as Villanova led 34-15. The Wildcats extended it to 46-23 by halftime before starting the second half on a 9-0 run for a 32-point lead.

Villanova added an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter for its largest lead of the game at 79-36. The Wildcats held American to 15-of-50 shooting (30%) and scored 21 points off 19 turnovers.

Christina Dalce scored 13 points for Villanova (8-2), which plays Saint Joseph’s on Saturday before taking a week off for final exams. Siegrist, who was coming off a 29-point performance on Sunday, made 10 of 17 shots as Villanova shot 56%.

Emily Johns scored 12 points for American (0-8), which hosts Marist (3-5) on Saturday.

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.