By Colton Molesky
The NCAA Championship game between the Villanova Wildcats and the Michigan Wolverines was in perfect form with the standard set by the March Madness Tournament from the first round.
No, the No. 3 seeded Michigan did not knock off the No. 1 seed Wildcats. There was no great comeback, in fact, the game was not even close, with Nova routing the Wolverines 79-62.
The victory brings to a close a wild bracket race that has been marked by uncertainty. For the first time ever, a 16-seed claimed victory thanks to UMBC’s heroics against Virginia. For the third time ever, an 11-seed made the Final Four, as Loyola rolled through the madness at an unexpected clip.
North Carolina slipped to Texas A&M, Florida State overwhelmed Xavier, Buffalo shocked Arizona, Kansas State tripped up Kentucky, to merely name a few. March was indeed maddening, as consistency became a second thought to all but the bare minimum of teams. As the field thinned, only the champions of old stood to battle a Nova tide that has swept over college basketball, claiming a title two years before. The hotshot, 3’s splashing, double-digit beating offense of the Wildcats pitted against the Big Ten defense of Michigan was the championship bout.
Michigan controlled the game at the start, using their ace power forward Moritz Wagner to jump out in front by 7 points. On the other side, the Wildcats did what many feared would happen to the three needy team, they missed. Nova shot 3-for-12 in the first half from downtown, getting cold as the Wolverines crept ahead. It was then that Villanova stayed with the pattern of March, relying on an unlikely star to save the team loaded with NBA talent.
It was a 3-star recruit (according to the recruiting rank from Rivals.com) out of Delaware who came off the bench in the first half and rescue Philly’s program. Donte DiVincenzo pulled the Wildcats back from the dead, hitting three triples in the first half (the only shots the Wildcats found behind the arc) and jolting a typically electric offense back to life.
In a rapid turnaround that started with DeVincenzo, the Wildcats went from down seven to up nine, entering the half leading 37-28.
The lottery pick Mikal Bridges did not stave off the Wolverines. Nor did Player of the Year Jalen Brunson. One 6th man from Wilmington proved the difference in college hoops’ biggest stage. DiVincenzo went on to gather a career-high 31 points while shooting 61 percent. The Delaware boy ripped into the Michigan defense and ruthlessly knocked down five of his seven 3s. The man of the night, who did not even play in the two years ago against North Carolina, had been exactly who his team needed all season off the bench and yet again he was that man.
His shooting and playmaking galvanized the Wildcats into a 22-point lead in the second half. But he was more than a one sided contributor. He also led the team with two monster blocks and snagged five rebounds (three of them offensive boards). He was key in making Philadelphia the first city to win both a Super Bowl and an NCAA Tournament Title.
All March long, the lottery picks and star-studded rosters continually came up short of expectations. Why would anyone but the 3-star recruit off the bench, who entered averaging 13 points per outing, save the day for the Wildcats?
Photo: Villanova’s Phil Booth, left, and Jalen Brunson celebrate their win over Texas Tech in an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional final, Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Boston. Villanova won 71-59 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)