A both-teams-ranked rematch of the national title game was supposed to give college basketball something to talk about.
And it did.
Boy, did it ever.
We’re going to be peppered all season long with shocking results. Come the first weekend of next April, I doubt more than five final scores will stand beside Michigan 73, Villanova 46 — at Villanova — in terms of shock value.
No. 18 Michigan’s disassembling of the eighth-ranked reigning national champions Wednesday was the rare instance of a true stunner in November nonconference college hoops. Sure, Michigan was given a chance heading into this one. It could realistically pull out a W.
But to win like this?
“It was typical November basketball,” Wolverines coach John Beilein said on FS1. “It wasn’t pretty, but you’ve just got to find ways to win this month.”
Typical? This was far from a typical situation. Villanova kept the big door open; Michigan locked it away.
The game ended long before it officially ended, landing on a 73-46 conclusion in the Wolverines’ favor. It was 44-17 at the damn half. Michigan looked nearly as dominant at Villanova as Duke did on opening night against Kentucky in Indianapolis. Only seven turnovers, 61 percent from 2-point range and, most impressively, 11 steals against a guard-oriented Villanova outfit.
Yes, you can easily claim Michigan put on the second most impressive performance of the young season so far. Considering the venue and the opponent, maybe it’s the most impressive. At least Duke was ranked fourth and highly touted heading into the Champions Classic. It had the No. 1 recruiting class and arguably the greatest coach in basketball history. Michigan, for all its fortes, was not considered anything close to top-10 status prior to Wednesday’s ruination of No. 8 Villanova.
That shouldn’t be the case anymore. This upset will reverberate. Until convincing evidence otherwise surfaces, Michigan’s going to be elevated a tier or two in the national landscape this season. It deserves that.
This was an avenging win for Beilein and his Wolverines, who were soundly defeated by Villanova in the national title game as it historically 3-balled its way to a second championship in three seasons. In April, it seemed all too easy for the Wildcats. Michigan was just one final, necessary hurdle that stood too low to the ground to represent an actual challenge.
“I haven’t watched that game since we lost,” Michigan senior Charles Matthews said on FS1 afterward.
What a boomerang. The Wolverines got a game-high 19 from Matthews and, well, say hello to the next foreign import in maize and blue: freshman power forward Ignas Brazdeikis. He had 18 and was fantastic at both ends.
“We have five or six guys out there who can go out and guard their man individually,” Beilein said.
Beilein knew that Villanova would be looking to kill by way of the long ball again — and his team shut the Wildcats down almost immediately. Villanova was a gruesome 3-of-15 from beyond the arc.
“Coach Beilein had a great game plan and our staff worked hard to prepare our players,” Michigan assistant Luke Yaklich, who commands the defensive scouting report, said. “We worked really hard as a staff to prepare the players for guarding on the ball individually and then collectively as a group versus their ball screen actions, 3-point ability, and their offensive rebound attack.”
For Nova, it’s the program’s first loss by double digits in a wowing 108 games, dating back to a mere 11-point defeat at Virginia in December 2015. In terms of the final margin, Villanova hasn’t taken on a loss so embarrassing at home since Creighton thumped VU 96-68 on Jan. 20, 2014.
That’s what makes the upset, and its lopsided complexion, all the more spectacular. It was intramural by the first timeout of the second half. We’ve long since forgot about Villanova as being this vulnerable. But after losing four of its top six players to the NBA Draft, this is an aggressive whiplash.
Offensively, it was the worst Villanova performance since Jan. 16, 2013, when a Jamie Dixon-coached Pitt squad beat Nova down 58-43. Now, this one game is not an outright appraisal of Villanova in 2018-19, nor an omen of what’s to come against most legitimate opponents. Keep in mind that when Villanova got beat at Virginia by double digits in 2015, it also was previously taken to task by Oklahoma.
And then it won a national title some 14 weeks later.
A loss like this will sting hard and cut deep. It will alter perceptions — but should do so more for Michigan than Villanova. The Wolverines, with their losses from last season, were expected to play runner-up at best in the Big Ten to Michigan State. But at this point UM has every right to the throne in that league as anyone.
Beilein has moved himself into the elite of the elite in the coaching ranks. Wins like this only reinforce his reputation. For Villanova, it’s a wakeup call. For Michigan, it’s a blaring reminder to the rest of the country that this team should almost never be overlooked so long as Beilein is on the sideline and pros are on the roster. In the weeks to come, we may well discover that the better of the two national finalists of 2018 plays in Ann Arbor — not Philadelphia.
It was shockingly evident on Wednesday night.