Gillespie, Samuels to lead Villanova to face Michigan in NCAA Sweet 16
March 24, 2022
Four years after winning the national championship, the Villanova Wildcats are back in the Alamo City for their Sweet 16 matchup against Michigan. The second-seeded Wildcats face off against the 11th-seeded Wolverines on Thursday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, part of the 2018 championship team, are now graduate students with an extra eligible season due to COVID-19.
During the 2018 championship, the team was composed of role players experienced in big games. So, Gillespie and Samuels learned how to handle the pressure and prepare for it.
"We were just role guys on a team with six guys who had been in big games before. So we learned a lot from those guys and the preparation that it takes to get to that point," the 6-foot-3 point guard said. "Now that we're back in San Antonio, it doesn't really...like the two don't really correlate."
Since the championship game, Gillespie has started over 120 games. He's the team's leading scorer with 16 points per game.
Michigan is 5-0 in Sweet 16
The team is in the Sweet 16 for the fifth consecutive year. Only one other team has a longer active streak: No. 1 seed Gonzaga.
The Wolverines went through a stretch of unstable performance in their last 10 games before the NCAA Tournament. They then had to overcome double-digit deficits in the first two rounds.
Michigan coach Juwan Howard noted that being in the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight year has been an uncomfortable experience, for it takes a lot of work.
"So with five straight Sweet 16 appearances, it's not easy. It takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of being uncomfortable," Howard noted.
Eli Brooks, who was recruited by Michigan over the likes of Villanova, played the final three minutes of the championship game, is the only current member of the team who played in the championship game.
During a press conference, Hunter Dickinson, a big man for the Wolverines, mentioned that Brooks is the reason why Michigan is in the Sweet 16 five times in a row. "I've only got four of them. I can't take credit for all five," he praised Brooks.
Playing with a different roster
The Wolverines lost three of their top four players from the championship team. On the other team, Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson were among the drafted players after the title game.
According to Jay Wright, the leadership skills of Bridges and Brunson were learned by the other members of the team. He noted that by having those two players, the Wildcats could develop their own leaders.
"They watched the leadership of Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and they really learned from that and they've become the same kind of leaders," Wright said. "When you had Jalen and Mikal and guys like that, you never think you're going to get leaders like that again. Then you watch Collin and Jermaine and you realize, if you have guys like that, there's a chance they can pass it on."
Despite his record in the tournament, Wright is only 4-3 in Sweet 16 during his career as a head coach. His teams were either Top 3 seeds or higher in his four victories.