Michigan basketball wanted some revenge too.
A national championship game rematch against Villanova was the highlight of the Gavitt Games series between the Big Ten and the Big East, and Michigan dominated from start to finish on the road against the defending champs and Big East favorites. On the Wildcats’ first two possessions, Colin Gillespie and Eric Paschall went at Zavier Simpson and Ignas Brazdeikis, respectively, and came up empty; those plays set the tone, and Michigan’s decisive victories in those head-to-head battles were essential components of the blowout win.
The Wolverines’ performance in the first half was basically perfect: they opened the game with a 10-2 run and gradually extended the lead to a 44-17 margin by halftime, outscoring Villanova by almost a full point per possession. Michigan made 70% of its two-point attempts and only turned it over once. Charles Matthews led the charge offensively with an efficient 16 points in that opening half, throwing down a few dunks (including a put-back off a missed layup by Isaiah Livers), drilling a couple mid-range fadeaways, and stealing a careless backcourt pass for a layup. He finished with a team-high 19 points, as well as three blocks.
It was a strong collective effort defensively for Michigan, but nobody made a bigger impact on that end than Brazdeikis. The freshman was tasked with guarding fifth-year senior Eric Paschall, and while the much bulkier big man repeatedly tested him in isolation situations in the post and from the mid-range, Brazdeikis held up almost every time, forcing Paschall into contested misses near the basket. Paschall finished 3-14 from the field with three turnovers. Brazdeikis put up 18 points on just 13 shot equivalents (mostly from tough drives and ambidextrous finishes around the basket), but his work on the other end was even more impressive.
He wasn’t the only Wolverine who was locked in defensively. It was a fantastic team effort, as Villanova’s 0.72 points per possession was their worst offensive performance since January 2013. Simpson took Gillespie off the dribble for a few layups of his own, but absolutely bullied him on defense, notching five steals and forcing a couple more turnovers. Villanova’s starting guards turned the ball over 9 times; the entire team gave it away on almost a third of their possessions. Michigan quickly decided that it would be better to have Livers at the five instead of Austin Davis when Jon Teske was off the floor, and the sophomore turned in a great two-way performance as a small-ball five.
Usually early-season routs like this take place in sleepy buy games against overmatched mid-majors at home, but Michigan just recorded what was arguably the most impressive result yet this season in all of college basketball by destroying the program that had won two of the last three national titles on their home floor. It’s now customary with Luke Yaklich on the Michigan bench: the Wolverines won this game with their defense. The game was effectively over at some point partway through the first half, and even though the Wolverine offense lagged in the second, Villanova had just no chance of overcoming such a huge deficit.
In the end, Michigan shot poorly from behind the arc (5-17, with the starters combining for just one made three) and the free throw line (12-19), but it just didn’t matter. Matthews and Brazdeikis were an effective one-two scoring punch, the latter locked down the veteran who’s probably Villanova’s best player, and the entire team harassed the Wildcat offense into a miserable night - turnovers galore and virtually no easy looks, especially inside. Villanova loves to spread the floor and exploit mismatches, but they couldn’t break down individual defenders, especially Brazdeikis.
Expectations will necessarily be ratcheted up after such a huge win. Michigan sleepwalked through their first two games and then demolished a top ten team on the road. In a few weeks, they'll get another chance at revenge in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against North Carolina. After how well they played tonight, you’d have to like their chances.
[Box score after the JUMP]