SAN ANTONIO — There ain’t an inch of shame, on one hand, even if the Monday scoreline was about as sunny as an ingrown toenail. Michigan roared from a No. 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament at the start of the month to become the national runner-up at the end of it. If someone had told you in January that San Antonio was the final stop of this little narrative, you’d have taken those odds and run halfway to Borneo.
On the other hand, 1-6.
As in the Wolverines’ record, all time, in the NCAA tourney title game.
“You’ve got to be at the plate to swing,” Michigan forward Isaiah Livers said.
True enough. And yet after a 79-62 drubbing at the hands of Villanova in the 2018 NCAA Tournament championship, the Wolverines are now tied with Duke and Kansas for the most losses by a program in the men’s basketball title game.
‘If anybody can lead a team, it would be him. And it hurts me right now, because I wasn’t able to — we weren’t able to — get it done for him. But I know he’ll get back here and get one.’
— Michigan senior Duncan Robinson on coach John Beilein
Again, no shame. For one thing, Villanova looked every bit the wrecking crew that left the Big 12’s three best teams — Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia — in absolute tatters en route to Championship Monday.
For another, it’s still good company: The Jayhawks are 3-6 in nine trips to the NCAA tourney final with a ring in 2008; Duke is 5-6 with its last ring in 2015.
The Wolverines last won it all in 1989. Michigan’s been back on the big stage four times since — all of them losses. Half of those defeats have come in the last six years under coach John Beilein, America’s most likable bridesmaid.
“That’s just talking heads talking,” Duncan Robinson, Michigan’s senior swing man, said of his venerated coach.
“There’s no truth to that [bridesmaid chatter]. If anybody can lead a team, it would be him. And it hurts me right now, because I wasn’t able to — we weren’t able to — get it done for him. But I know he’ll get back here and get one.”
It was their month, but it just wasn’t their night. The Wolverines raced to a lead of 9-4, then 21-14. The Alamodome beams starting falling from the sky after that. Right along with Donte DiVincenzo jumpers.
Nova flipped a switch over the final 10 minutes of the first half, and it stayed flipped. Jalen Brunson’s 3-pointer capped a 23-7 run that put the No. 1 seed up 37-28 at the break. The Big Ten tourney champs scored 21 points in the first nine minutes of the period — and just 7 points over the final 11.
“The crowd gets down, the team gets down,” Livers sighed. “Just got to have an answer the next time.”
With 15 minutes, 24 seconds left in the second half, Wolverines big man Moe Wagner used a forearm and a spin to create space from Brunson and crash the lane. Brunson didn’t appreciate the gesture, and neither did Villanova forward Omari Spellman, who exchanged words with the German forward as the action stopped for a television timeout.
Wagner and Spellman were issued double technicals — the first technical whistled in an NCAA title game since Chris Webber’s timeout gaffe against North Carolina in the 1993 title game, the second of four Michigan heartbreaks.
Deja, meet vu.
“For sure, man,” senior guard Jaaron Simmons said. “You just want the title for the Michigan community. And to be one of those groups that could’ve gotten coach his first title would’ve been special. But I know he’ll get one.”