Michigan-Villanova Bucket List: Will the great John Beilein finally get his due?
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SAN ANTONIO — Here are 10 rapid-fire observations on Monday’s NCAA Tournament title game between No. 3 seed Michigan and No. 1 seed Villanova — plus one prediction. It’s one final Bucket List before we call it a season:
1. It could be a bigger night for Michigan coach John Beilein than it is for anyone else. Not only is he going for national title No. 1, but he’s also going for career victory No. 800. He’s so much more about the journey than he is about the destination, you can bet the second milestone means more to him.
2. Villanova’s Jay Wright is trying to become the 15th coach to win multiple titles. Unlike the NCAA, I’m including Rick Pitino on the list. The last one to join this club was Pitino in 2013, when Louisville edged Beilein and Michigan. Before that it was Florida’s Billy Donovan, who won (with Joakim Noah) back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.
3. Considering the NCAA vacated Louisville’s 2013 title, does Beilein kind of feel like he already has one to his credit?
“No, we didn’t win that one,” he said. “It was fair and square. They didn’t have six guys on the court. They didn’t have Rick’s brother-in-law reffing or something like that.”
Yeah, he’s right. It was a silly question.
4. Two national writers with over 60 years between them covering college basketball told me this weekend that Beilein is the best coach in the country. Then again, what do we writers know?
5. I’m still wrapping my brain around the fact that the Big Ten has won only one national title — Michigan State’s, in 2000 — since Michigan cut down the nets in 1989.
“The Big Ten is as strong as any league out there,” Beilein said.
Clearly, it isn’t.
6. A final Beilein quote: “Villanova is just another form of Loyola — probably a little taller, a few shot-blockers inside and just probably better in some respects, and maybe not in some others.”
That sound you hear is Lou Holtz slapping his forehead. What happened to the next opponent always being the greatest team ever?
7. By the way, the talent of Michigan in 1989 vs. the talent of Michigan in 2018: just a massive mismatch. Glen Rice, Rumeal Robinson, Terry Mills, Loy Vaught and Sean Higgins would’ve made a tank-worthy NBA squad. Rice in his prime might’ve been able to outscore these Wolverines by himself.
8. Loyola wasn’t our only local angle in the Final Four. Villanova’s Jalen Brunson (Stevenson) is the consensus national player of the year, and Michigan’s Charles Matthews (St. Rita) is leading his team in scoring in the tournament. That’s pretty exciting.
9. The Wolverines are masters at defending against the three-point shot, but the Wildcats have so many guys — Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman — who can light it up from deep. Did I mention this team has made more threes than any other team in any season? Yeah, there’s that.
10. Michigan needed a buzzer-beater from Jordan Poole to beat Houston in the second round. It squeaked by Florida State in the Elite Eight and needed Moritz Wagner’s best game to come back on Loyola.
Villanova? Five consecutive double-digit wins to get to this point. Easy street.
The pick: ’Nova 81, Michigan 68.