SAN ANTONIO — A wild, entertaining season and one of the maddest Marches in college basketball history has reached its pinnacle.
Villanova and Michigan, prolific offense vs. stifling defense, a national title on the line, Monday night in San Antonio.
The Wildcats and their horde of long-range shooters are playing for their second title in three years, a chance to establish a mini dynasty. The Wolverines are after their first title since 1989, hoping to grasp the trophy that slipped through coach John Beilein’s fingers in 2013.
Before you kick back in the barcalounger, check out these story lines to keep an eye on:
ALL THOSE 3s: Villanova has made a strong case as the greatest 3-point shooting team in college history. No hyperbole.
The Wildcats (35-4) already have the NCAA record for 3-pointers in a season with 454, the NCAA Tournament record with 66 and blew past the Final Four record with 18 against Kansas.
Villanova’s motion offense and shoot-3s-at-every-position lineup has been a nightmare for teams in the NCAA Tournament; the Wildcats are fifth team to win its first five NCAA games by double digits. Three of those teams went on to win national titles: Michigan State (2000), Duke (2001) and North Carolina (2009).
Michigan must find a way to run the Wildcats off the 3-point line and get them to miss at least some of the 3s they do get to have a chance.
MICHIGAN’S D: If there is a team that can slow ‘Nova’s 3-roll, it could be the Wolverines.
Michigan (33-7) is the nation’s No. 3 team in defensive efficiency and has held its five NCAA Tournament opponents to an average of 58.6 points per game.
The Wolverines shut down Loyola-Chicago’s 3-point shooters in the national semifinals and have been adept at limiting opponents’ 3-point attempts by switching and jamming shooters along the arc.
The concern even if they do limit Villanova’s 3s: Back-door cuts.
The Ramblers had a hard time getting the ball to cutters against the bigger Wolverines, but the Wildcats are long and have strong finishers at nearly every position.
MO’ MOE: Villanova’s issue on defense will be finding a way to slow Michigan’s Moe Wagner.
The German big man is a match-up nightmare with his agility, pinpoint passing and ability to knock down 3-pointers. Loyola certainly had no answer for him; Wagner had 24 points and 15 rebounds to join Hakeem Olajuwon and Larry Bird to go for 20 and 15 in a national semifinal.
Villanova big man Omari Spellman is athletic and mobile, but still may need help against Wagner, who is averaging 14.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament.
PACING: Michigan likes to play methodically, ranking 324th of 351 Division I in Kenpom.com’s adjusted tempo ratings. Villanova is not the fastest team, coming in at 160 in tempo, but it’s still a huge difference.
The Wolverines will want this to be a grinding, low-scoring game and prevent Villanova from getting run-outs or 3-pointers in transition.
BIG-TIME BRUNSON: Villanova will have the best player on the floor Monday night in Jalen Brunson.
The junior guard has hauled in national player of the year awards this postseason and is a calming influence to the Wildcats.
Brunson is not flashy, he just gets it done. He’s averaging 19.2 points, 4.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and is shooting 41 percent from the 3-point arc. He’s also the player anyone would want with the game on the line.
THE SIDEKICKS: Wagner and Brunson are the headliners for their teams, but both have excellent sidekicks.
Mikal Bridges is that player for Villanova. The athletic junior forward is the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer at 17.6 points per game and has made 14 of his 29 attempts from the 3-point arc. He’s also a superb defender who can guard multiple positions.
Charles Matthews was Michigan’s second-leading scorer during the regular season, but has upped his game in the NCAA Tournament. The junior guard is averaging 16.6 points in the NCAA Tournament despite struggling on 3s — 4 for 17 — and is Michigan’s second-leading rebounder at 6.8 per NCAA game.