Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson Earns Colossal Praise From Villanova’s Jay Wright After Sweet 16 Battle

If the Villanova Wildcats wanted to beat the Michigan Wolverines in the Sweet 16 and earn their spot in the Elite Eight, they first had to stop Hunter Dickinson.

That’s no easy task as the Michigan big man checks in at 7-foot-1, 260-pounds. He’s built like Shaq with the soft touch of Steph Curry around the rim.

Villanova did ultimatly shut Dickinson and the Wolverines down, winning, 63-55. After the contest, though, ‘Nova head coach Jay Wright was still effusive in praising Michigan’s star.

Villanova was ultimately tougher than Michigan in the Sweet 16

Jay Wright and Villanova
Head coach Jay Wright of the Villanova Wildcats talks with Jermaine Samuels #23 of the Villanova Wildcats during the second half against the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Sweet 16 | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Credit to Jay Wright and the Wildcats. They were the smaller team by far, and they were going up against a Michigan team that was red-hot and extremely big and physical.

Dickinson stands out because of his height and linebacker-like frame, but freshman Moussa Diabate is a lanky 6-foot-11, 210-pounds and Juwan Howard could go to the bench with 6-foot-7, 230-pound Terrance Williams II or 6-foot-8, 240-pound Brandon Johns Jr. 

Meanwhile, the tallest player in Villanova’s starting lineup was 6-foot-8, 255-pound Eric Dixon. Jermaine Samuels, who led the way for the Wildcats with 22 points and seven rebounds in the win, is just 6-foot-7, 230-pounds.

Nonetheless, Villanova stayed tight with Michigan on the boards, pulling down 38 (including 10 on the offensive end) compared to the Wolverines’ 41. The Wildcats also blocked four shots, including two in the second half for critical stops when the game was still close.

In fact, Villanova played bigger than it really was all night. Attacking Michigan’s defense is a lot like playing amongst the tall trees, but the Wolverines got a taste of their own medicine against the feisty team defense Wright’s team showed off.

Dickinson’s stat line was indicative of thate, especially in the second half as the game wore on.

He was 4-of-7 in the first half for eight points, with all but one of his shots coming in the key. As Villanova wore him and Michigan down in the second half, his shot stopped falling, even near the rim where he’s usually been automatic.

Villanova forced Dickinson to go 2-of-6 from the field in the second half with four missed layups and two misses from deep (one of those shots was an actualy three-pointer). He finished the game shooting 6-of-16 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free-throw line for 15 points. He also snagged 15 rebounds.

Jay Wright was effusive in his praise of Hunter Dickinson after the Villanova win

Hunter Dickinson, Michigan Wolverines
Brandon Slater #3 of the Villanova Wildcats guards Hunter Dickinson #1 of the Michigan Wolverines | Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Wright has been around the block with Villanova a time or two, and he’s both coached and played against some great players.

His 2016 National Championship team featured Jalen Bruson, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges, and Ryan Arcidiacono. 

Who could forget the ending of that epic National Championship Game win? North Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit an off-balanced and acrobatic three-point shot to tie the game with six seconds left. Facing a full-court press and four seconds to go, Arcidiacono sprinted down the sideline and found a trailing and wide-open Kris Jenkins, who nailed the game-winning three-pointer as the clock expired.

Wright also has a little bit of experience coaching against Michigan in the tournament. Speaking of National Championship Games, Wright and the Wildcats beat Michigan in the 2018 finale to March Madness. Notable players on that Michigan team included Moritz Wagner, who was a first-round pick in the 2018 NBA draft, and Jordan Poole, who was the first rounder the very next year.

The point is this: Wright knows great players when he sees them, and that says a lot about Dickinson, who the Villanova coach spoke highly of after the Sweet 16 matchup.

“We didn’t run into anybody anywhere like Hunter Dickinson,” Wright said after the Villanova win, according to Zach Shaw of 247Sports.

That jives with what the head coach had to say about Dickinson a day before the contest as he prepared to take on the Michigan big man.

“He’s only a sophomore, but for whatever reason, in my mind, he plays like a senior to me,” Wright had said, according to Clayton Sayfie of TheWolverine.com.

Dickinson and the Wolverines had a great tournament run

Hunter Dickinson
Hunter Dickinson #1 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates during the first half of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Sweet 16 Round game against the Villanova Wildcats | Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

It’s hard not to be impressed by what the Wolverines did this March. They were 19-15 overall and 11-9 against Big Ten opponents, so it’s not as if Michigan was a juggernaut for much of the season. In fact, the Wolverines lost four of their last seven games. It was a stretch that saw Howard suspended from the team because he hit an assistant coach from Wisconsin after a 77-63 loss to the Badgers in Madison. The Wolverines also lost to the Indiana Hoosiers in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

So no, expectations weren’t high for the Wolverines this March, especailly as they entered the tournament ranked only as an 11th seed.

With that said, they came out of the gate strong with an upset over the No. 6 Colorado State Rams and took it to the red hot No. 3 ranked Tennessee Volunteers, who had just won the SEC for the first time in 43 years.

Villanova proved to be too much, and too tough, for the Wolverines, but Howard and the Wolverines should be proud of their March Madness showing.

“Nothing but to hold our heads high,” the head coach said when asked about how his team made “something” out of “nothing” in 2022.

Hold your heads high, Wolverines. It was a great run.

Stats courtesy of ESPN and Pro Football Reference. Contract information via Spotrac

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