As we anxiously await the 2018 National Championship between Villanova and Michigan, we reached out to Thomas Beindit of Big Ten Powerhouse to learn more about the Wolverines.
Big East Coast Bias: MIchigan hasn’t lost a game since early February. What has been the biggest key to their run?
Thomas Beindit: The biggest development for Michigan over the last two months has been the improvement on the defensive side of the floor. The Wolverines have generally been an underwhelming defensive team under John Beilein, but with the hiring of Luke Yaklich, that has changed. Michigan is led by its defense and point guard Xavier Simpson. As a result, Michigan is now one of the best defensive teams in the country and it will be put to the test on Monday night against Villanova.
BECB: A lot of people have been discrediting the Wolverines because they haven’t played any team better than a 5-seed in this Tournament. Is that a relevant criticism? After all, it’s not their fault that other teams lost. They played the teams in front of them.
TB: I actually wrote about this extensively before Michigan’s game against Loyola (Chicago) last weekend. There’s no denying that Villanova has played a more difficult slate to get to San Antonio than Michigan. However, it’s not like the Wolverines have been playing against baby seals. Montana was the best 14 seed in the field, Houston was playing at a top five level heading into the Tournament, and the last three opponents have all been really good as well. Nobody has an easy path to the Final Four.
BECB: Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are two of the best players in college basketball. How can the Wolverines look to slow them down?
TB: The matchup between Brunson and Simpson is going to be fascinating. One of the nation’s best offensive players against one of the nation’s best defensive players. Expect a hard fought battle on both sides of the court. I don’t think Simpson can shut down Brunson, but I do think he could disrupt him in transition and when initiating the offense. If he can even slow down his efficiency, that’s a win for Michigan. With regard to Bridges, I expect Michigan to use multiple players on him. Expect Charles Matthews to be on him the most, but the Wolverines will also use Isaiah Livers and Duncan Robinson as well. The two best areas for Michigan defensively are in transition and in clogging passing lanes. My guess is they continue to rely on those two spots on Monday night.
BECB: The Wildcats beat Kansas with a barrage of threes. Michigan hasn’t given up a lot of threes this year. Do you think the Wolverines can continue their strong perimeter play?
TB: I do think Michigan will allow fewer quality opportunities from long range than Villanova fans are used to seeing. The Wolverines really pressure on the outside and have two or three guys that can lock down opposing players. If you want to see an example, look at how Michigan played Purdue earlier this season. The Boilermakers are one of the best outside shooting teams in the country and the Wolverines’ improved defense really showed up in New York City.
BECB: Finally, who wins and why?
TB: I have Villanova in a close one. The Wildcats are a loaded group that can play at any pace. Michigan’s only route to victory is to hope Villanova makes some mistakes.
BECB: BONUS: What’s your go-to order at Zingerman’s?
TB: I usually go with the BLT or the Turkey Tom. Best deli out there.