Villanova is America’s newest blue-blood after second title in three years
SAN ANTONIO -- Donte 3-Vincenzo.
He’s Villanova’s sixth-man, and he’s also the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, as the Michael Jordan of Delaware went for 31 points, breaking Luke Hancock’s record for the most points scored by a bench player in a title game as Villanova won their second national title in three seasons, dispatching Michigan, 79-62, on Monday night in San Antonio. It’s the most points that anyone has scored in a national title game since 1989, when Seton Hall’s John Morton did it in overtime in a losing effort.
“Honestly, I did not think that I was going to have this kind of night,” he said. “I just found myself in a rhythm.”
But that is not the most impressive part of Villanova’s win.
This is: The Wildcats essentially did it without Jalen Brunson, the National Player of the Year.
Brunson struggled on Monday night. He finished with just nine points, two assists and two boards while shooting 4-for-13 from the floor. He also picked up his fourth foul with 10:51 left in the second half. Villanova held a 53-40 lead then. By the time he returned to the floor, with 3:21 left on the clock, the lead was 20 points and the game was over.
How many teams in the college basketball history can legitimately say they are good enough to win a national title game without that kind of contribution from the best player in the sport?
“It just shows you how much depth we have as a team,” Brunson said, “and how we just don’t care who gets the credit. If someone is hot, feed him.”
It’s why this Villanova team is the best program in college basketball.
“They’re smart, and if they don’t say [Villanova is the best] they’re dumb,” said former Wildcat Josh Hart, who was a star on the 2016 national title team before getting selected in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. “Point blank. If you don’t give Villanova the respect that it deserves now? You shouldn’t be writing.”
“It’s a blue-blood program,” Hart added, and while they may not be a blueblood by name, but they are by trade. It’s impossible to argue with the success that they’ve had. They are now 166-21 in the last five seasons, a stretch that has included four Big East regular season titles, three Big East tournament titles and an 88-15 record against Big East competition.
And while the new Big East isn’t the old Big East in terms of brand power and name cache, it may actually be a better basketball league. The conference has ranked in the top three nationally for each of the last four seasons, according to KenPom, and they are one of just two power conference programs that actually plays a full round-robin schedule.
Oh, and should I mention that, after tonight, they have a pair of national titles to boot?
For a program that, just three seasons ago, was known for bowing out of the NCAA tournament earlier than their seed says that they should, Villanova certainly has changed the narrative.
“That’s a testament to the coaching staff, coach Wright and the guys that he recruits,” said Kris Jenkins, another former Wildcats and the owner of the most famous shot in college basketball history.
And it starts with the toughness of the players on this roster.
The Wolverines actually led this game 21-14 midway through the first half and looked like they had a chance to take control.
The turning point came midway through the first half, when Villanova made a tactical adjustment on the defensive end of the floor. Having spent the first half of the first half -- and, frankly, the majority of the season -- switching all exchanges on the defensive end, Jay Wright quickly realized that John Beilein, offensive mastermind that he is, had spent the 48 hours between beating Loyola-Chicago and tipping off against Villanova figuring out a way to beat that defense.
So he changed up.
Instead of switching, Villanova started playing straight man-to-man.
This change coincided with two moments that seemed to spark the Wildcats. With 9:54 left in the half, a loose ball led to a tie-up between Mo Wagner and Phil Booth, and that led to some afters. Wagner bumped Booth. Booth had something to say about it, and it was clear throughout the rest of the game that, whatever Wagner did, the Villanova players were not happy about it. Wagner and Eric Paschall had to be separated during a free throw box-out a few minutes later, and early in the second half both Wagner and Omari Spellman were whistled for double-technicals.
Two minutes after the initial dust-up, Brunson showed more emotion than he’s shown in his entire career, pounding the ball over and over again and gesticulating at the officials as he was complaining about the defense that was being played on him by the perennially-annoying Zavier Simpson.
Whatever the cause was, the result was not good, not for the Wolverines.
They led 21-14 with 10:59 left in the first half.
They trailed 51-33 with 13:54 left in the game.
He scored 11 of Michigan’s first 21 points. He scored five points in the final 31 minutes.
But the story of this game wasn’t Wagner and it wasn’t Michigan.
It was DiVincenzo.
As he has been wont to do during this tournament, DiVincenzo entered a game where Villanova’s offense was somewhere between stagnant and putrid and turned it around. He put up 16 points in the first half of a win over Alabama in the second round where Villanova played like they wanted to get bounced in the first weekend again. He went for 25 points in a seven-point win at St. John’s in January, and 23 a couple weeks later at Marquette. He had a career-high 30 points in a win over Butler, including 20 in the second half, as Villanova erased a halftime deficit at home.
“This is nothing surprising for us,” Brunson said. “I’m just so thankful that he was able to have one of these nights tonight.”
On Saturday, he scored 18 of Villanova’s first 31 points. He scored 13 of those points in a 23-7 surge at the end of the half that turned Michigan’s 21-14 lead into a 37-28 deficit. That wasn’t the only time that he carried Villanova. After Brunson went out with his fourth foul, DiVincenzo scored nine points on the next three possessions, pushing the lead back to 18 points and effectively cutting down the nets as he was torching them.
“Even if we had played our best,” Beilein added, “it would have been very difficult to win that game with what DiVincenzo did. It was an incredible performance. Sometimes those individual performances just beat you, and you just say, ‘OK, we played you the best we could, and tonight, you were better than us.’”
“Hey, man,” Jenkins, a man who knows about moments, told DiVincenzo after the game. “Have yourself a moment, bruh.”