Donte DiVincenzo has two great nicknames and the greatest national championship performance of the millennium.
His first nickname is the Big Ragu, coined by Gus Johnson because of DiVincenzo’s reddish hair and incredibly Italian last name. The second is “the Michael Jordan of Delaware,” given to him by Villanova coach Jay Wright because of DiVincenzo’s high school championships.
That was supposed to be a joke—that some shrimp from a shrimp-sized state could be compared to the greatest player of all time. But after DiVincenzo’s performance guided Villanova to a 79-62 victory over Michigan in Monday night’s NCAA championship game, I have to wonder—how can we compare Michael Jordan to DiVincenzo, who took over college basketball’s biggest game in a way Jordan never did?
DiVincenzo dropped 31 points to win the Wildcats their second championship in three years, while MJ never scored 30 points in a single NCAA tournament game in his three years at North Carolina, let alone in the national championship game. It’s true that MJ had title game heroics—his legend began when he hit a championship-winning shot against Georgetown—but DiVincenzo dominated Monday’s game so thoroughly that his team won by double digits, leaving no need for a shot at the horn. Michael Jordan hit five 3s in a game eight times in his 15-year NBA career; DiVincenzo hit five 3s in the biggest game of his life, marking his sixth game with five or more 3s in his three-year college career. But I guess what’s really important is rings, and DiVincenzo now has twice as many NCAA championships as Jordan. And unlike Jordan, DiVincenzo earned the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.
Look at the Big Ragu cook:
Considering the talent on Villanova, few would have picked DiVincenzo as the player to lead the Wildcats to a second title in three years. Jalen Brunson won every player of the year award to be won this season; Mikal Bridges is going to be an NBA lottery pick this year; Omari Spellman was a five-star recruit; Phil Booth led Villanova in scoring in the national title game two years ago. Last month, when I asked Wright what made Villanova’s offense so successful, he said that it was because his team had five perimeter shooters who could make plays. Then he paused, looked off into the distance for a moment, and corrected himself: “Actually, we have six, because Donte.” On a loaded squad, DiVincenzo was largely an afterthought this season, even to his own coach. If anything, he was notable because he exemplified the team’s depth and interchangeability, not because he was likely to take over the biggest game of the year.
So it was odd to see DiVincenzo dominate on both ends of the court on Monday night. His 3-point shooting was kind of expected—he also hit five 3s against Alabama in the second round of the tournament. There’s something understandable about a kid off the bench getting hot from beyond the arc in a big game—hell, Luke Hancock did the same against Michigan just five years ago.
But DiVincenzo’s two blocks weren’t:
DiVincenzo with the exclamation point block!— Sporting News (@sportingnews) April 3, 2018
Wildcats take a 9-point lead to the half.pic.twitter.com/KqyAUWwmw0
Like his 31 points, two blocks is his career high. “He didn’t really play much defense in high school,” Wright said of DiVincenzo last year.
He also took two separate defenders to the rack and finished strong.
And this wink is worth at least another 15 points.
You thought Michigan’s Moritz Wagner was a tourney standout? Look at his garbage wink attempt.
This was not just one of the best national championship performances by a bench player, or by a Delawarean, or by a stringy white kid. This was one of the best national championship performances of all time: No player had scored 30 in a title game this millennium; the most recent player was Arizona’s Miles Simon in 1997.
We should have known DiVincenzo loved the big stage. As a high school junior, DiVincenzo led his team in scoring in the Delaware state championship game to win his school its first title; as a senior, DiVincenzo took over in the fourth quarter of the state championship game to win back-to-back titles, earning state player-of-the-year honors in the process. This championship performance was just an extension of the big-game play we already knew DiVincenzo was capable of.
After Monday night, it’s clear Wright’s nickname was wrong all along. Donte DiVincenzo is not the Michael Jordan of Delaware; Michael Jordan was the Donte DiVincenzo of North Carolina.