After an exhilarating Final Four victory over Loyola-Chicago, Michigan assistant coach Luke Yaklich didn’t spend too much time in the locker room celebrating or answering questions with reporters. Instead, Yaklich grabbed his courtside seat for the 2nd game of the night, Villanova-Kansas, in which Yaklich would learn just how tough their eventual matchup on Monday night would be as he watched Nova make 6 of their first 9 threes and jump out to an early and convincing 22-4 lead.
Villanova’s chemistry against Kansas was showcased all night long, typically getting the best shot they could get, whenever they wanted. Nova’s seemingly endless rotation of guards truly wore out the Devontae Graham and Malik Newman dependent Jayhawks out as the game progressed. And to make matters worse for Kansas, the 3 ball was simply falling for their counterpart. “Wow”, Yaklich thought to himself. “They can really shoot the basketball.”
The bottom line is that Villanova poses a unique side. They feature 5 players in their starting lineup that can all shoot the three, as all 5 range from 35-43% from 3 for the season. This is why Nova was able to break the Final Four record with 18 threes in their 16-point victory over the Kansas Jayhawks, while also tying the previous record of 13 in the first half. Taking into account that Michigan had the 8th best defense in the country during the season, and held a team who has hit 30 total threes in the tournament to only 1 in Loyola-Chicago, something will have to give on Monday night when these two powerhouses collide.
And Yaklich is aware of the challenge.
“You have to be sound in your principle and sound in your execution of fundamental defensive principles” he said. “Because at any point, it only takes a second or two of an error and the ball is going in the basket.”
Maybe Bill Self and company should’ve taken a page out of Yaklich’s book for their pregame pep talk, because countless times you saw Kansas defenders either A. Have poor closeouts, B. Go under screens instead of over like you should against a shooter, C. Not match up properly in transition defense, or D. Double down in the post while leaving a shooter open. To make these mistakes against a team that takes “smart threes” and not ill-advised shots from distance, while also shooting 40% from beyond the arc as a team, spells danger for any opposition. Not to mention Nova is 23-2 when they make double-digit threes, and are 12-0 when the make at least threes.
Sure if Villanova gets hot from 3 like they did against Creighton or St. Joes during the regular season when they hit 19 threes, you can forget about your chances of winning. However, the Wildcats did suffer defeats to Butler and Creighton, games in which they made 12 total threes, which is a decent amount. This goes to show that even if Michigan doesn’t totally shut down Nova from 3, they’ll still have a shot to win. However, given the fact that Michigan is capable of such, they should definitely pride themselves on keeping the Wildcats under 8 made threes.
While on their 14-game winning streak, twice did an opponent attempt more than its average from 3-point range. Both those opponents shot 27% from three on the year. This is the result of how Michigan preaches the idea of forcing an opponent into taking low percentage shots, shots that aren’t 3-pointers or layups. “It’s like Baseball”, joked Michigan head coach Jim Beilein. “People don’t sacrifice bunt anymore. The analytics says don’t do it. Go for the 3-run homer or 2-run homer.” In short, Michigan wants tries to force opponents into that low percentage opportunity, opportunities that go against the analytics, the sacrifice bunt.
The tricky thing about Villanova is that they have 5 guys who each have the green light, and rightfully so, to force opposing defenders to deal with their entire arsenal. Jalen Brunson is one of the toughest guards in the country to keep from getting to the rim, but he also shoots 41% from 3. Guard Phil Booth’s 38% clip from 3, deceiving handle, composure and big shot capability makes it impossible for him to be ignored by a defense. Omari Spellman is a 6’9 245 pound animal in the post, but shoots 44% percent from 3, the best on the team. Mikail Bridges is arguably the team’s best overall shooter, catch and shoot, off the dribble, you name it, he’s got it. Then there’s forward 6’9 255 pound forward Eric Paschall, who missed 1 shot on route to 24 points and 4 threes made against Loy0la-Chicago.
Michigan center Mo Wagner knows that he can keep it real when it comes to how good the Wildcats are. “You know what, it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s the national championship”, Wagner stated. And for Michigan to be hosting the trophy in the end, keeping Nova at bay from 3 is crucial.