SAN ANTONIO — The day before the biggest game of his life started the same as it always does and featured a moment that has come to define John Beilein’s Michigan basketball program.
Shortly after Beilein and his staff met to begin final preparations for a national title game against Villanova, U-M broke for an Easter Sunday morning mass at the team hotel. Nothing was required, but all were welcome.
Beilein is a devout family man. His program is built in his image. All were welcome; family members, players, fans, anyone standing nearby. It was a time for reflection and celebration.
Then, shortly afterward, it was back to film. Back to work. Back to prep.
Michigan has got a ring to chase with Medina native Jon Teske as the backup center.
“I don’t feel like we ran 99 yards to not get the touchdown,” U-M forward Charles Matthews said. “We want to win it all.”
Michigan (33-7) will play for a shot at its second national title in program history on tonight against Villanova (35-4) at the Alamodome.
The Wildcats, the No. 1 seed out of the East Region, enter tonight on the heels of a record-setting blowout against fellow No. 1 seed Kansas on Saturday night. Villanova hit a Final Four record 18 3-pointers in the win and became the most prolific 3-point shooting team (442 makes) in college basketball history in the process.
Villanova is the favorite. It’s been that way all week. So much so that NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt fielded a question this week about whether they’ll consider re-seeding the Final Four after No. 3 Michigan played No. 11 Loyola-Chicago in what was considered an undercard to Villanova-Kansas on Saturday night.
U-M is an underdog, which is exactly how this season started.
“Everything’s back to normal,” senior co-captain Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. “We’ve been underdogs throughout the whole season. We’ve tried to prove people wrong every game.
“So it’s back to normal.”
Ironically enough, Michigan’s first and only national championship also came against long odds. Albeit under different circumstances. Michigan went 24-7 and finished third in the Big Ten during the 1988-89 season, losing head coach Bill Frieder to resignation just two days before start of the NCAA Tournament.
Three weeks later, Glen Rice stood atop a ladder inside the Kingdome in Seattle with a net around his neck and a maize-colored sign in his hand.
The message on the card has since entered U-M basketball lore.
“Shock the world boys.”
Rice and company shocked the basketball world for that first championship 29 years ago. Beilein’s boys will have to do it again Monday.
Michigan wouldn’t want it any other way.
“This is like approaching some 12, I haven’t done the math, like 1,200 games as a head coach (for me),” Beilein said Sunday afternoon. “And it’s just like you hang in there and you just do your absolute best every single day.
“And some day you’re going to say, ‘I gave it everything I had, and if I’m falling into my grave, that’s OK too.’ “
Beilein called Jay Wright’s club “the Golden State Warriors” on Sunday, meaning they’re consistently able to field five-man lineups that have zero offensive holes and countless options to score.
Villanova has three players who shoot better than 40 percent from 3-point range, including 6-foot-9, 245-pound big man Omari Spellman. The North Royalton native is also tough to handle near the basket, while 6-9, 255-pound forward Eric Paschall can shoot, pass and rebound well.
That’s not even touching on star guards Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges.
Brunson has been the best player in college basketball this season. A point guard who can score in every area of the floor, including the post.
“It’s something we’re going to be stewing over (at the) hotel ballroom, scratching our heads and figuring out how to stop Jalen Brunson in the post, on the wing, at the top,” Michigan assistant Luke Yaklich said. “I watched him in high school, he was dynamic. I took my son to the high school finals (in Illinois) to watch him play. He’s really, really good.”
For Michigan, this is another tough spot in a season filled with them.
The Wolverines entered 2017-18 with another hole in a roster hit by early NBA attrition when D.J. Wilson declared for the draft. They lost star point guard Derrick Walton to graduation. Zak Irvin was a three-year starter.
Depth was a concern. U-M had no clear answer at point guard. No one knew what the rotation looked like. Some wondered if this team had what it took to get back to the tournament.
And then, suddenly and without anyone ever really realizing it, Michigan turned itself into one of the most sound, mentally tough basketball teams in America.
It’s one game away from cutting another net and raising another banner.
Shocking the world once again.
“Everyone gave up personal agendas and accepted a role (this year),” junior forward Moritz Wagner said. “That’s been our biggest strength. It’s been incredible to play with guys like this.
“It’s pretty special.”
- What to watch between Michigan, Villanova in NCAA title game
- NCAA Tournament: Donte DiVincenzo dominates off bench as Villanova vanquishes Michigan for 2nd title in 3 years
- Men's Final Four: Michigan finishes upstart Loyola-Chicago's magical run
- NCAA Men's Final Four: Tournament has become a real 3-for-all, as teams can't get by without the 3-pointer
- Men's Final Four: Villanova sinks a record 18 3-pointers in cruising past Kansas and into finals
- Final Four appearance is dream come true for Medina alum Jon Teske
- Men's NCAA Tournament: Michigan relies on defense to down Florida State, head to Final Four
- Teske, Michigan advance with buzzer-beater over Houston
- College basketball: Teske is OK after team plane slides off runway
- All-Ohio: Medina's Teske named to first team
- Gazette MVP: Medina's Teske cherished opportunity to be one of the guys
- Will the Sweet 16 produce more upsets?