Wildcats are National Champions Once More

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Villanova 79, Michigan 62 – Box Score

The Wildcats have both the National Player of the Year and another guy projected to be a lottery pick in this summer’s NBA draft. So, in true Villanova fashion, it was somebody else entirely who stepped up in Monday night’s National Championship game to carry the Wildcats across the finish line.

Early on, Jay Wright’s club found itself down 14-8, struggling against a highly-touted Michigan defense that wasn’t allowing the open threes they had received two nights earlier against Kansas. Fortunately, Donte DiVincenzo doesn’t need to be open, he just needs the ball and his never-ending pool of confidence to go to work. The Michael Jordan of Delaware started firing away, making long, contested threes, and driving to the hoop to finish with a smattering of off-angle scoop shots and ferocious dunks. DiVincenzo scored 18 of Villanova’s final 29 points to end the half and the Wildcats found themselves up 9 heading into the locker room.

The Big Ragu continued to simmer in the second half, at one point scoring 11 straight for the Wildcats. He would finish with a game-high 31 points on 10-15 shooting, knocking down 5-7 from three, and even adding 2 incredible blocks, one where he used perfect verticality to stonewall Michigan’s Charles Matthews on a dunk attempt. In the end, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award could go to no one else.

With Jalen Brunson on the bench for much of the second half with 4 fouls, it was Mikal Bridges who caught fire to provide some auxiliary support for DiVincenzo. The soon-to-be first round pick scored 15 of his 19 points after halftime, including knocking down 3 silky smooth threes that were like visual catnip to talent evaluators everywhere.

Michigan never looked to have the firepower to keep up with the Wildcats once they were able to solve John Beilein’s defense. The Wolverines shot just 3-23 from three and Villanova did an excellent job cleaning up the glass, outrebounding Michigan 38-27. Villanova maintained a healthy double-digit advantage throughout the second half, allowing its fans to marinate on what an incredible accomplishment two National Championships in three seasons truly is.

It really is remarkable what Jay Wright has done with this program. Villanova has the best record in college basketball over the past five years. They’re now only one of four programs to win two titles over a three-year period since 1975. Plus, Villanova won all its tournament games by double digits, the first champion to do that since North Carolina in 2009. The Wildcats have a sustained level of success and a unique place in history, while reaching an incredibly high ceiling of dominance.

Best of all, the run should keep going. Brunson and Bridges will move onto the NBA, but I can’t wait to see this roster next year when DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman are “the guys” (DiVincenzo might test the NBA waters, but I expect him to return and have one year as the unquestioned star to boost his draft stock). The beauty of Jay Wright’s program is that because guys buy in to the idea that they’ll be there for a few years, there are always battle-tested underclassmen ready to step to the front line.

For now though, let’s luxuriate in this title, as Philadelphia became the first city to have won the Super Bowl and the NCAA tournament in the same year. It’s a golden age for both Philadelphia sports and the Villanova basketball program. Put those V’s up, Villanova fans, and like Donte DiVincenzo after canning a triple, feel free to let them hang in the air.

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