The Sweet (16) Life: Villanova Prepares for Michigan


Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Jermaine Samuels (above) scored 17 points in Villanova’s Round of 32 victory over Ohio State.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

And then there were 16.

No.2 Villanova advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament over the weekend, cruising past No.15 Delaware, 80-60, before weathering a late storm from No.7 Ohio State to win, 71-61. By winning both games at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, the Wildcats clinched their place in the final 16 teams remaining in the hunt for a national championship, advancing to play in San Antonio. Villanova will play against No.11 Michigan on Thursday night, with tipoff scheduled for 7:29 PM Eastern Time.

The matchup against Michigan is a rematch of the 2018 National Championship game, and is even in the same city. In 2018, the Wildcats defeated the Wolverines, 79-62, in the Alamodome, while Thursday’s matchup will be held in the AT&T Center.

“We’re just happy to be moving on,” graduate guard Collin Gillespie said after Villanova’s win against Ohio State. “We’re taking it one day at a time. … There’s a lot of things we can do to get better this week and prepare for Michigan. We know how great of a team they are and the difficulties they present.”

Villanova was led to its two tournament wins by its captains, as Gillespie scored 14 points against Delaware and 20 against the Buckeyes, while fellow graduate, forward Jermaine Samuels, scored 15 against the Blue Hens and 17 against Ohio State. However, it was a team effort in both games, as five Wildcats scored in double figures against Delaware and four did so against Ohio State.

Michigan advanced to the second weekend despite being the lower-seeded team in both of its two matchups. The Wolverines (19-14, 11-9 Big Ten), who many expected to miss the tournament entirely, defeated No.6 Colorado State in the first round, 75-63, before upsetting No.3 Tennessee, 76-68.

Michigan needed a furious comeback to defeat the Rams, as the Wolverines trailed by as many as 15 in the game. Center Hunter Dickinson, a 7’1” sophomore, scored 21 in the game, before upping his performance to lead the Wolverines past the Volunteers in the second game with 27 points and 11 rebounds.

“Making it to the Sweet 16 is, as literal as it is, sweet because nobody believed in us,” Dickinson said after the Tennessee win. “Everybody thought we shouldn’t be in the tournament and now people that were hating on us are going home and about to watch us next week.”

Dickinson is Michigan’s biggest threat, as the center averaged 18.7 points per game throughout the season. Dickinson, an Alexandria, Virginia native, attended DeMatha Catholic High School, the same school as Villanova junior guard Justin Moore. In 2019, Moore’s senior season and Dickinson’s junior year, the pair were named to the All-Washington Catholic Athletic Conference First Team, leading DeMatha to its first league title since 2011. 

The Wolverines were ranked in the Top 5 to open the season, but struggled in early season play. Michigan lost in November to Seton Hall, 67-65, before losing 80-61 to Arizona a week later. Michigan ended Big Ten play and the regular season on a 4-5 stretch, failing to win two in a row in that span, before now winning two straight to open the tournament.

Dickinson is the clear top option in the Wolverine offense, as graduate guard Eli Brooks, the team’s second leading scorer, averages 12.8 points per game. Senior guard DeVante’ Jones and freshman forward Caleb Houstan also average double figures. Dickinson leads the team in rebounds, averaging 8.4 per game, while Jones leads in assists with 4.6 per game.

Michigan and Villanova have similarities, as both teams entered the season with Final Four aspirations. Gillespie and Brooks briefly guarded each other in the National Championship in 2018, and both chose to return and use their fifth years of eligibility to try to reach the national title game again. Also, per KenPom, both teams have short rotations, as the Wolverines rank 316th in the country in bench minutes, while the Wildcats rank 318th.

However, there are major differences in the teams. Starting with Dickinson, Michigan is significantly bigger than the Wildcats, as Villanova’s 6’8” redshirt sophomore forward Eric Dixon will likely match up with Michigan’s 7’1” Dickinson or 6’11” freshman forward Moussa Diabate, who averages 9.1 points in 25 minutes per game.

However, the Wildcats do have one major advantage: their experience. Gillespie and Samuels have played on college basketball’s biggest stage, forward Brandon Slater and guard Caleb Daniels are both seniors, Moore is a junior, and other than Dixon and potentially freshman guard Jordan Longino (if healthy), every contributing Wildcat is an upperclassman. In contrast, three of the five players who played 28 or more minutes in Michigan’s win over Tennessee were freshmen.

The winner of Thursday’s game will advance to take on the winner of the game immediately following Michigan and Villanova’s matchup, featuring No.1 Arizona and No.5 Houston. Arizona earned the South’s region’s top seed with a 30-3 record in regular season play, winning the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Houston boasts a 29-5 record, winning both the American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament.