With 14 minutes remaining, Michigan’s chances to play for a national championship began to look bleak. The Wolverines were down 10 points and struggled to hit shots. And then the Wolverines went into the defensive mode. Something they have continuously done every game during their 13-game winning streak. That same defensive hault that was put on Loyola’s defense increased it to 14 games.
with a 12-point win over the “Fighting Sister Jeans”, the Michigan Wolverines will be playing fora national title for the second time in the last six years.
Let’s see what we can takeaway from Michigan’s 12-point win over the Ramblers.
What We Learned:
1. Moe Wagner was a beast
It is no understatement that Wagner had been somewhat of a disappointment from an offensive standpoint in the NCAA Tournament heading into the Final Four. And with some of his fellow senior teammates (Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman) struggling to make shots, he stepped. Not only in the scoring column but on the boards as well.
Wagner finished his night with 24 points, a team-high, and 15 rebounds, a team-high. An improbable double-double that can only be matched by the rare company of Akeem “The Dream” Olajuwon (1983) and Larry Bird in 1979. And he was really the reason the Wolverines will be playing on Sunday.
With 14 minutes remaining, Michigan trailed by 10 points, their largest deficit of the game. Then the defense stepped and Wagner. Eleven of his 24 points came after that run. The Ramblers wanted no part of him.
Wagner definitely improved his draft stock in the process. He played as a man amongst boys.
And he will be needing the extra money to purchase Bill Raftery a new pair of glasses.
2. The key for Michigan to cut down the nets is Zavier Simpson
The Wolverines as a whole will have their hands full Monday night when they battle with Villanova for a championship. The Wildcats provide mis-matches at all five positions on the court know matter who they play. None are more important than the mismatch that junior point guard and AP player of the year Jalen Brunson presents. But Michigan can beat Villanova by cutting off the head of the Villanova snake in Brunson. And that job is given to Zavier Simpson.
Simpson has been tasked and has succeeded in shutting down some of the best point guards in not just the Big Ten but in the country. His “bulldog” defense is a frustration that opposing guards have to endure for 40 straight minutes. But Brunson is a different challenge. He is a different kind of animal. One that Simpson has never seen before.
The elements of Brunson’s game go unmatched by anyone in college. His ability to shoot from long-rage and also to pass with efficiency is what fuels the monster that is Villanova. But the post-up ability that Brunson has is something that not many 6-foot-2-inch guards can do. And something that Simpson may not be able to stop.
Simpson has not faced anyone that can do that. Not Cassius Winston, not Carsen Edwards, and definitely not Clayton Custer. The best chance for Michigan to be the first Big Ten team to win a championship since Michigan State in 2000 may be held within Simpson ability to control and attack Brunson on the defensive end like the “bulldog” he is.
Anybody that doubts Michigan’s abilities at this point is foolish. They have won every game in this NCAA Tournament in a different way and in a different style. If the offense has failed, the defense becomes lock-down. This has been the case for most of the tournament. Monday night, the offense can’t fail. Not against a team like Villanova that just set the record for made three-pointers in a Final Four game against Kansas.
However, if Michigan is cutting down nets Monday night, that defense will be the reason because of it.