SAN ANTONIO -- On Monday night, Michigan and Villanova will battle for the national title at the Alamodome.
The conclusion of the 2017-18 season will feature one of the nation's best offensive teams against one of its top defensive squads.
This is a team game. And John Beilein and Jay Wright will design the proper strategies to position their respective squads to either secure Beilein's first national title or Wright's second championship in three years.
With two of the most talented teams in the country on the floor, however, the individual matchups in this game will also be pivotal.
Here's how each key player in this game could make an impact:
Cause chaos for Michigan's defense: Late in his team's win over West Virginia in the Sweet 16, Brunson dribbled at the top of the key and waited for a high screen from Mikal Bridges. He was guarded by Jevon Carter, the greatest pound-for-pound defender in college basketball and the anchor of a West Virginia squad that forced more turnovers per possession than 349 teams. Brunson drove right off the screen and both Carter and Esa Ahmad chased him. They seemed stunned and concerned. You can't leave Bridges alone, either, so Carter backpedaled and left Ahmad on Brunson. The Wooden Award contender waited again, dribbling, pausing in the paint. West Virginia's Lamont West doubled him for a moment before returning to his assignment of chasing Eric Paschall. And that's when Brunson drove by a helpless Ahmad, a 6-foot-8 forward, and scored on a layup. Throw a zone at him on Monday night? He has made 41 percent of his 3-pointers this season. Play him straight up? He's too strong (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) for most opposing guards to contain. Switch off screens and exchanges? He'll speed past bigger players in iso situations, as he proved against West Virginia in the Sweet 16. Double him? He has five teammates who've made at least 39 percent of their 3-point attempts this season and will wait for the kickouts. Brunson is the biggest problem for the Wolverines.
Play the way an NBA prospect should: Bridges is a lottery pick. Simply put, a likely top-10 pick in this summer's NBA draft will do whatever he wants in Monday's game. But Michigan's challenge with Bridges will include the adjustments it must make when Bridges decides to play in the post. With his length, the 6-7 wing can instantly become a power forward and post up or he can float along the perimeter and torch opponents with his 44 percent success rate from beyond the arc. Plus, he has five steals and five blocks in the NCAA tournament. He'll make noise on defense with his ability to guard multiple positions. He's just a tremendous, game-changing player who will be the best athlete on the floor Monday night.
Stretch the floor: He's 12-for-28 from beyond the arc in the NCAA tournament. At 6-9, that's a major problem alone for any opponent. He'll collect missed shots and score on putbacks and dunks, too. He could be the catalyst, however, for a significant defensive shift by Michigan -- maybe from zone to man or vice versa -- if he gets hot early. Few big men possess his versatility. He's also another big body to put on Moritz Wagner.
Impact the game with great passes: He has nine assists in the NCAA tournament. The result? Villanova has made 43 percent of its 3-pointers with Paschall on the floor. His passing ability is one of the reasons it's so difficult to defend the Wildcats. He's 9-for-19 from the 3-point line in the tournament, but the 6-7, 250-pounder can also keep the offense rolling with his passing ability against the Wolverines.
A little bit of everything: Against Kansas on Saturday, DiVincenzo finished with 15 points (3-for-5 from beyond the arc), eight rebounds and three assists. That's the threat he'll present to Michigan. He's a 6-5 wing who can take opponents off the dribble, snatch rebounds and hit shots from beyond the arc. He's a tough matchup for a Michigan team that must deal with Bridges and Brunson, too.
Fortify Villanova's backcourt: In the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats have collected an impressive 1.30 points per possession with Booth on the floor (per hooplens.com). He has 19 assists and seven turnovers in the tournament, too. When Wright goes to his bench Monday, he'll send one of the most efficient guards of the postseason into the game.
More 3s if they need them: The reserve has made 39 percent of his 3-pointers this season. He'll be a threat if he gets on the court Monday night.
Size: He probably won't play much, but the 6-8 forward is another big body to throw at Wagner.
Draw help with every touch: When his teammates couldn't score in the first half of an ugly affair against Loyola-Chicago on Saturday, Wagner dominated and preserved Michigan's national title hopes by recording a double-double in the first 16 minutes of the Wolverines' 69-57 victory. The 6-11 forward's size and power changed Saturday's game. Villanova could also have problems with him. Paschall and Spellman are both big bodies who will challenge Wagner around the rim. He's enough of a force, however, to demand extra defenders, which could open the floor for his teammates. In Big East play, Villanova allowed opposing teams to snatch 29.2 percent of their missed shots, which ranked ninth in the league. Wagner can exploit that weakness, one of the few areas where the Wildcats have not excelled this season. That's not the only challenge. His pick-and-pop game frustrated a Loyola-Chicago squad ranked within the top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com. He finished 3-for-7 from the 3-point line against the Ramblers.
Create problems with his size and explosiveness: The Kentucky transfer has been a star for the Wolverines in the postseason. During the regular season, a great Michigan defense was slightly better with Matthews off the floor. That all changed since the regular season. In the NCAA tournament, Michigan has held opponents to 0.86 points per possession with Matthews on the floor and 0.95 PPP with him on the bench, per hooplens.com. For comparison, Virginia -- perhaps the best defensive team in recent history -- held opponents to 0.89 PPP this season. Beilein can ask Matthews to defend Brunson or Bridges. But he's also big enough to shadow Spellman and Paschall. It's not just defense, though. Michigan has made 57.8 percent of its shots inside the arc with Matthews available. He's a 6-6 force who could shift Monday's outcome.
Help Michigan maintain its poise: The senior did not commit a turnover Saturday against Loyola-Chicago, a top-20 defensive team. He led the Big Ten with a 6.3 percent turnover rate. Having a senior on the roster who does not make many mistakes in a matchup against the most explosive offense in college basketball will increase Michigan's chances of an upset. The Wolverines have averaged just nine turnovers per game in their past four. They have to keep their turnovers low to succeed against Villanova. That's why Abdur-Rahkman's leadership and poise could play such a significant role.
Give the Wolverines an offensive spark: The former Division III star is a 6-foot-8 "forward" who has made 39 percent of his 3-pointers. Michigan is a great defensive team, a squad ranked fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com. Villanova has topped 80 points, however, in four of its five NCAA tournament games. The Wolverines will need Texas A&M-like offensive production to pull off the upset. That's why Robinson (9.5 PPG) must step up and put together perhaps his best offensive effort of the season to help his squad win a game few believe it can.
Make or break Michigan's offense: The Wolverines stalled on offense in the first half against Loyola-Chicago in part because Simpson (0-for-6, four turnovers) struggled. In the NCAA tournament, Michigan has connected on only 31 percent of its 3-pointers with the sophomore on the floor. When the Wolverines beat Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, Simpson finished with 11 points (5-for-8), five assists and six steals. That's the version of Simpson the Wolverines will need to knock off the favored Wildcats on Monday night.
Good production in limited minutes: He has played more than 12 minutes only twice over the past six games, but the Wolverines have sustained their defensive efficiency this season with the 6-7 Livers on the floor. That's a good sign for a Michigan team that will need production from its bench to stop one of the best offensive teams in recent history.
Reliability in a tight game: The freshman who hit the winning shot against Houston is also an 82 percent free throw shooter. If the Wolverines end up in a tight game and foul trouble forces Beilein to use his reserves in the final minutes, Poole's accuracy from the charity stripe could help Michigan down the stretch.