The biggest college basketball game of the day comes to us from the campus of Villanova University as the Wildcats host the Wolverines of Michigan in a non-conference matchup, in a repeat of last year national championship game. The NCAA Men’s College Basketball season started out with a bang as on opening night we saw Duke play Kentucky and Kansas play Michigan State. But since opening night there hasn’t really been a marquee game between two highly ranked teams, until tonight. The Wildcats are -7.5-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 137 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 3:30 PM PST from The Pavilion in Villanova.
When you look at this Villanova Wildcats team that has won two out of the last three national titles, it is staggering to see that talent they have lost. They lost Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, Donte DiVincenzo. Brunson was the national player of the year last year, DiVincenzo was the hero of the NCAA tournament, and Bridges might end up being the best pro of the group. To lose all that in one season is going to be a big pill to swallow for head coach Jay Wright.
But when you look at what talent Villanova does have left, you can see why they are ranked in the top ten in the country despite losing more than any team in the nation. Eric Paschall and Phil Booth are both returning for their senior seasons and are expected to lead this deep into another deep run in March. And Wright was also able to snatch up one of the better transfers available on the market in the form of Joe Cremo.
Cremo was a standout at Albany and will be the guy they look at to fill Brunson enormous shoes this year at point guard. Cremo scored eighteen points, and added four rebounds, and four assists last season at Albany while shooting north of 80% from the line and 45% from deep. His game very much fits the mold of Brunson’s, but we have yet to see him break out this season as he made his first start in a wildcats uniform in their last game.
Cremo is showing flashes of being the guy the Wildcats need him to be though as through two games he is shooting 54% from the field and 50% from behind the arc. His ability to be a senior leader for this team will be the key piece if Jay Wright is able to make another run to the Final Four.
That brings us to the road team in this one, Michigan. The Wolverines are once again ranked in the top twenty-five, something they have become used to under head coach John Beilein. But this looks like it could be somewhat of a rebuilding year for big blue as they are going to have to replace a lot of last year’s production. Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson are all gone, but there is reason to believe this team won’t be rebuilding, just reloading, this season, as most have them picked to finish in the top two of the Big 10 this year along with Michigan State.
The Wolverines have looked elite of the defensive side of the ball so far through two games, not exactly where Beilein earned his reputation. Michigan has held its first two opponents to a forty points per game average while blowing out both games. Now, those games came against Norfolk State and Holy Cross, so playing Villanova is going to be a major step up in competition, but it has been an impressive start for Michigan.
Michigan would love nothing more than to upset Villanova in their house and pay them a bit of revenge for denying them the national title last season. And I think that they have a shot to pull it off tonight. Both of these teams lost a lot from last year’s rosters, but both programs are so established that it just seems to be next man up no matter who they lose each year.
The team that Villanova had last year may well go down as one of the best team ever as they coasted through the NCAA tournament and the Cats have quickly turned into a national powerhouse that has to be expected to get deep into March every year. Tonight will be a major test for both programs as they look to reload.
I think this game is competitive throughout. It would be somewhat shocking to see Michigan win the game outright as Villanova just doesn’t lose at home anymore. And I have to give Michigan big props for even scheduling a game like this. The Wolverines have a game scheduled in two weeks against North Carolina as well. This team isn’t affair to play elite schools.
I expect a back and forth game that is likely to be a little lower scoring than most expect that comes down to the final few possessions. I feel like Villanova will find a way to walk off the court a winner, but I also expect the Wolverines to show that they can play with any team in the country and keep it close enough to cover the spread. Give me the Michigan Wolverines getting +7.5-points tonight in what could be another classic contest!