SAN ANTONIO –– Is there a better way to finish such an uproarious season? Is this a swell last chapter, or what? A Villanova team that has shot its way through the NCAA tournament with all five victories by 12 or more points, and a Michigan team that has not lost since Feb. 6.

Hot vs. hotter. Only, which is which?



MARCH MADNESS SHOP

As Michigan’s Moe Wagner said Sunday, “It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s the national championship.”

Introducing some of the key faces.

The former Williams College Eph.

The former Kentucky Wildcat.

The former Fordham Ram.

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The former member of the Alba Berlin team.

The academic redshirt.

Two guys early in their careers in western New York, chasing the same recruits.

A lot of different paths have led to the compelling last chapter in the Alamodome Monday night. Let’s follow a few.

It is March 22, 2014 . . .

Williams is battling Wisconsin-Whitewater for the Division III national championship in Salem, Va. Wisconsin-Whitewater scores on a conventional three-point play with one second left to win 75-73. The Ephs’ last chance is a desperation 3-pointer by the freshman who has 17 points. Duncan Robinson. He misses. The 2,681 in attendance go home.

Robinson scored 17 points in Williams' loss to UW-Whitewater in the 2014 DIII championship game.

Andres Alonso | NCAA Photos

Robinson scored 17 points in Williams’ loss to UW-Whitewater in the 2014 DIII championship game.

Four years later, Duncan Robinson is back in another national championship game in San Antonio. He’ll play for Michigan in front of 70,000 people.

“I understand it doesn’t happen to a lot of people,” he said of the journey from Division III to this high ground. Actually, to no one before. It is remarkable, the symmetry from title game to title game, in two different basketball universes.

“I hope there isn’t too much symmetry, with the loss,” Robinson said. “I’ve done a poor job of explaining how I feel with it all, but it’s incredible, the journey that I’ve taken and the people I’ve been able to share it with.

“You go through something like this, a championship run, you’re kind of forged together for, hopefully, life. Those guys are still some of my closest friends, as I know that these guys on this team will be as well.”

It is the spring of 2016 . . .

Eric Paschall is not playing. He had been good enough at Fordham to be Atlantic 10 rookie of the year. But the Rams’ coach is fired, and he went looking for a new challenge: Villanova.

But that meant sitting out a season, so he is watching from the sidelines when Kris Jenkins buries the 3-pointer to give the Wildcats the national championship in Houston. What a year to be in street clothes, distant from it all. “It’s always tough to watch. You want to be on the court, but I was happy to support,” he said. “I had great teammates that just always talked to me. I had great coaches that always worked with me and kept in contact and always made sure I was fine.”

Two years later, he has just torched Kansas in the Final Four, hitting 10 of 11 shots. And this Villanova championship game, he’ll be doing more than watching.

It is March of 2016 . . .

Kentucky has been bounced out of the second round by Indiana. One of the freshman guards had given the Wildcats some good play in the SEC tournament – “That’s the best version of him,” John Calipari said then — but plays only one minute in the Indiana game.

Charles Matthews ends up another one-and-done Kentucky freshman. Only in this case, done means leaving Lexington for a better fit. He opts for Michigan.

Two years later, he is the Wolverines’ leading scorer in the NCAA tournament.

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Charles Matthews talks with Andy Katz following Michigan’s win

It is the fall of 2016 . . .

Omari Spellman has come to Villanova as a prized recruit, but his high school career had been that of a vagabond, from one place to the next. The byzantine trail and credit transfer messiness — nothing wrong with his grades — convince the NCAA to demand an academic redshirt season. “I was in coach’s office and I bawled my eyes out for 15 minutes,” he said earlier this season of the moment he heard the news from Jay Wright.

“It was hard for me just because I never had to sit out,” he said Sunday. “I never had to go a whole year without playing basketball. If I wanted to, I never had to go more than two days. It was extremely humbling, but I look at it more now as a blessing. I grew up a lot in a year.”

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