National Championship Preview: Michigan Wolverines



A breakdown of Michigan’s season statistics. 

Greg Welsh

Opponent: Michigan Wolverines (33-7)

Game Time: 9:20 p.m. Monday, April 2

Channel: TBS

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot

Michigan comes into Monday’s National Championship having won 14 games in a row, their last loss coming back on Feb. 6. The team captured the Big Ten Tournament title by beating the conference’s top two teams, Michigan St. and Purdue, before starting their NCAA Tournament run. Over the course of their winning streak, Michigan has played lock down defense, giving up just 62 points per game to opponents. This success has brought them to third in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, behind only Virginia and Cincinnati.

“They [Michigan] are very balanced,” Villanova junior, Eric Paschall, said. “They have some great offensive players and they’re great defensively.”

Villanova enters the contest on a pretty nice winning streak of their own, having won 10 straight games, including their last nine by double digits. During their winning streak, the Wildcats potent offense has scored over 90 points on four occasions, two of which came during the NCAA Tournament.

In a battle for the National Championship, one would expect to see two teams who are playing their best basketball of the season, and that is just what we will get in San Antonio in this year’s final.

Didn’t Think We’d See You Here

While many have anticipated a possible National Championship birth for the Villanova all season long, Michigan’s appearance comes as a bit of a surprise. Having flown under the radar for much of the season, the Wolverines did not make an appearance in the AP Top 25 until the week of Jan. 22. Even then, it took the team until the final week of the regular season to crack the top 10, a stark contrast to Villanova, who has spent the entirety of the season there.

With all four No. 1 and No. 2 seeds on Michigan’s side of the bracket losing before the Sweet 16, a clear path to the title game opened up for the Wolverines, and they took full advantage.

The German Sensation

One of the names fans have really come to know during this year’s tournament is Michigan’s Moe Wagner. The 6’11” junior was born in Berlin, Germany and has enjoyed an excellent Tournament thus far. Wagner was particularly impressive in the team’s Final Four victory of Loyola-Chicago, where he scored 24 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

“He has the ability to beat you in any way,” Villanova head coach, Jay Wright, said. “I think he’s one of those players that you’re not going to shut him down. You just got to hope you can minimize his influence on the game.”

Villanova freshman Omari Spellman, who will be one of the Wildcats tasked with trying to slow Wagner down, recognizes the challenge ahead.

“He [Wagner] does more than score for that team,” Spellman said. “He’s very unique. He’s got a diverse skillset similar to that of a guard.”

Take Care of the Rock

John Beilein’s Wolverines do an outstanding job of handling the basketball. On the season, the team ranks second in Division I in turnovers per game, committing just 9.3 on average. This is largely a credit to guards Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. In fact, coming into Monday’s game, Abdur-Rahkman possesses the second best assist to turnover ratio in the country at 4.4:1.

“That whole team has a philosophy that they’re always playing together,” Wildcat guard, Jalen Brunson, said. “It’s not just one guy on an island. They’re helping each other out. They’re stepping up for each other.”

Villanova does a fairly good job of limiting turnovers themselves, averaging just 10.6 giveaways per contest, a number which places them 14th best in Division I.

With both teams turning the ball over with such rarity, it will be interesting to see which squad can win the turnover battle on Monday night.