VILLANOVA, Pa. — A title game rematch never duplicates the original.
Too many players are gone, the timing is hardly equal from an early April title game to a non-conference Gavitt Game in November, and the results are hardly the same.
Villanova roasted Michigan by 17 last year in San Antonio.
Michigan toasted Villanova by 27 Wednesday.
“Before the game, he’s relaxed and I’m in there going crazy!” 😂@TheAndyKatz caught up with @umichbball’s Charles Matthews and Ignas Brazdeikis after the big W at Villanova. 〽️ pic.twitter.com/9nNeQZIRWE— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) November 15, 2018
But here’s what we know after the game: Both teams are still legitimately contenders to win their respective conferences.
And here’s why:
Michigan has the goods to be one of the top defensive teams in the Big Ten, holding Villanova to 3-of-15 3-point shooting overall and just 17 first-half points before giving up only 46.
The Wolverines are, as Michigan coach John Beilein said, “pretty tough. We played tough the whole game. We didn’t back down.’’
The Big Ten is clearly much deeper than the Big East this season. Michigan State is still the team to beat until the Spartans show they can’t handle the expectation.
But Wednesday night, Indiana dominated Marquette, and Romeo Langford proved he is every bit as advertised to be the star the Hoosiers recruited. Nebraska, who has every core piece back, dusted off Seton Hall rather, easily. Wisconsin won at Xavier Tuesday. Minnesota beat down Utah Monday. Purdue, Ohio State and Penn State have all shown so far that they are more than capable of competing in the top five. Iowa gets its chance on the national stage Thursday against Oregon in New York.
The Big Ten is DEEP. And Michigan has every bit of the ability to win the league.
“We learned we can fight,’’ said Zavier Simpson, who was aggressively pushing his team to put the Wildcats down when the Wolverines got up big. “We can fight. We can get defensive stops. You can’t say we’re not ready for the big stage.’’
“He’s a winner,’’ Beilein said of Simpson. “He’s all in every minute of every game and every practice. It’s huge to have a guy like that.’’
Charles Matthews is the steady chill wing who never gets rattled.
And the Wolverines have a rising star in freshman Ignas Brazdeikis, who added 18 to Matthews’ 19. Iggy, as he is affectionately called, is non-stop energy and action.
“I was confident the entire game,’’ said Brazdekis. “Every time I’m on the court, I feel I’m the best player. That’s my mentality.’’
The Wolverines shot poorly in the first two games against Norfolk State and Holy Cross. This isn’t about making excuses, but both teams did junk up the defense and Beilein said they never got good looks. Villanova played Michigan straight and paid for it as the Wolverines shot 50 percent. This team will be able to score easily. Now it defends, too. That equals Big Ten title contender.
Villanova got run, but let’s put that in perspective to the Big East.
Marquette got drilled at Indiana.
Providence has already lost to a rebuilding Wichita State.
Seton Hall lost at Creighton.
Georgetown did win at Illinois, and Butler is still awaiting a tough challenge. St. John’s hasn't played its first major game.
Villanova can still beat them all atop the standings.
The Wildcats have two anchors in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall.
The issue will be if and when Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey and Brandon Slater start to make a major impact. This is Booth’s team, but Collin Gillespie has the vocal ability to motivate from the lead guard spot. Both of those players, along with Paschall, played roles on the title team last April.
Nova will defend better than it did Wednesday and that also goes for transfer Joe Cremo, who will figure out what is expected of him like the other newcomers. If returning forwards Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels can add more than a combined eight boards and eight points like they did against the Wolverines then good things will happen.
Booth’s four turnovers and Gillespie’s five to contribute to Nova’s 21 overall simply cannot happen for the Wildcats if they want to win the Big East.
This team has too much talent for that to be a trend, though. Villanova coach Jay Wright said he needed his freshmen to be good, not great, but still contributors. Quinerly is figuring out where he fits in. Once he does, then the Wildcats will benefit.
The rout Wednesday will help transform Michigan into a Big Ten title contender. But the loss won’t change one thing for Villanova’s chances in the Big East, relative to this season's competition. There is no other No. 1 seed like Xavier was last season. What the Michigan game did for Villanova was make the Wildcats even more focused on how to obtain the goal of conference champs.