Villanova handed Michigan its first loss of the season late Tuesday night, 60-55. The Wolverines recovered after a painful first half for a thrilling finish that came down to the final seconds. Here are Five Key Plays from the Legends Classic final.
1) Michigan breaks out of slump with 7-0 run early in second half
The Wolverines finished the first half having been held without a point in the last 7:17 — featuring an 0-for-10 slump — and didn’t score in the second half for nearly three minutes. Zak Irvin finally broke the scoreless streak with a jumper from the elbow, and then Michigan heated up. Caris LeVert intercepted an entry pass on the ensuing defensive possession and got separation from Darrun Hilliard for a short jumper. The Wolverines finished the quick 7-0 run with a three-pointer as LeVert found Derrick Walton open when JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu left the sophomore alone to guard Zak Irvin. The three cut Michigan’s deficit to six, and the game only improved from there.
The importance of this run is magnified by just how dreadful the Wolverines had looked for the previous ten minutes. Michigan looked like a broken team and could have easily let Villanova run away with the game down the stretch.
2) Wolverines exploit Villanova’s ‘D’ for big inside buckets
Midway through the second half, Michigan got three huge uncontested baskets to go up by six. After struggling against Villanova’s trapping defense early in the game, the Wolverines finally seemed to figure it out.
On the first, Ricky Doyle slipped an off ball screen to get behind JayVaughn Pinkston, who seemed to think Josh Hart would pick up the freshman. But Hart stepped up to cover Kameron Chatman, and Spike Albrecht delivered to Doyle for a dunk. On the next possession, Villanova tried to trap Irvin near the sideline, and the double-team left Chatman unmarked on the weak side. Irvin fired a jump pass to the freshman for another slam. And then, in transition, three different players picked up LeVert, and Walton used a no-look pass to feed Doyle open for a third easy basket.
3) LeVert delivers down the stretch
Down by one with two minutes left, Michigan turned to its leader, and he delivered. LeVert scored key buckets on consecutive possessions to put the Wolverines in line for a win. On the first, Michigan cleared out to create a one-on-one against Hart, and LeVert drove to the low post, stopped, spun and sank a fadeaway jumper. LeVert got to the same spot and drained a double-clutch jumper over Hart the next time the Wolverines had the ball, putting them up 55-54 with less than a minute to go.
There was nothing special about these sets as Michigan simply ran the same action to get LeVert in an isolation situation and let him go to work. The 6-foot-7 junior had one of his best mid-range shooting days of the season and carried the Wolverines down the stretch.
4) Villanova takes advantage of Michigan’s small lineup for go-ahead score
Following a timeout with Michigan ahead 55-54 and 24 seconds left, the Wolverines sent out a five-guard lineup with Chatman at the five and the intention to switch on every screen. The Wildcats, which had a size advantage all game, took advantage.
Villanova runs a high ball screen with Pinkston as the screener, leaving Spike Albrecht on Pinkston. Caris LeVert realizes that’s a problem and is able to switch with Albrecht, but LeVert doesn’t have the strength to deal with Pinkston and the Wildcats did a great job of realizing that. Villanova reversed the ball and threw it into the post where Pinkston lowered his shoulder into LeVert and finished over him.
It’s a tough situation to call a charge, but similar calls had gone against Villanova earlier in the half.
5) Pinkston blocks Zak Irvin to seal the win
The Wolverines ran an inbounds play that nearly worked to perfection.
John Beilein said after the game that the final play actually had two primary options. One was Caris LeVert curling to the corner and the other was Irvin at the basket.Despite the final result, this is a great baseline out of bounds set. LeVert screens Dylan Ennis to free Zak Irvin under the basket and then Ricky Doyle sets a screen for LeVert who was ready to catch the ball in the corner.
Could Michigan have done anything differently? Probably not. Pinkston, who was actually guarding the inbound pass, is able to recover from his position on the baseline to meet Zak Irvin at the rim. About the only thing that Michigan could have done more effectively is have Zak Irvin catch and elevate a split second sooner. But Pinkston made the play of the game, a clean above-the-rim block to seal the game with five seconds remaining.