- Despite facing another #1 seed, Villanova is laying five points in the Final Four.
- That’s still their smallest spread of the tournament, though, and they’re 4-0 ATS to date.
- Can Kansas’ lights-out guard play put an end to Nova’s hot streak?
#1 Villanova (-5.0, 155 o/u) vs #1 Kansas
Date/Location: Saturday, March 30 (5:49 PM ET), Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
Are you a fan of stifling defense and grind-it-out, slow tempo affairs? Then stick to Michigan vs Loyola.
Are you a fan of three-point barrages and games played in the high 80s? Then you have come to the right place, because Villanova (34-4 SU, 25-12-1 ATS) vs Kansas (31-7 SU, 20-16-1 ATS) is going to be everything the first semifinal lacks.
At a glance, five points looks like a big spread in a game between two #1 seeds with similarly high-scoring offenses. But digging deeper, the margin is understandable. Nova does everything Kansas does well, and does it a little better.
Both teams rely heavily on their smalls. Kansas basically starts four guards, depending on how you label 6’8 wing Svi Mykhailiuk (14.7 PPG, 44.7 3P%), and each one plays over 30 minutes per game. While it was Malik Newman (14.0 PPG, 41.5 APG) and his 32 points that led Kansas past Duke, the offense runs through senior point guard Devonte’ Graham (17.2 PPG, 7.3 APG, 40.3 3P%), who has the Jayhawk offense operating as the fourth-most efficient unit in the country.
But Villanova fans look at Kansas’ 81.4 PPG average and wonder what all the fuss is about. Nova leads the country in scoring (86.6 PPG) and offensive efficiency. With national player of the year favorite Jalen Brunson (19.2 PPG, 4.6 APG) running the point, they can play fast or slow. The junior is arguably the headiest player in America and makes sure his team is getting the best look it can almost every time down the floor.
Brunson’s vision gets the most out of Villanova’s other elite three-point shooters, including future lottery pick Mikal Bridges (17.8 PPG, 43.6 3P%). But it’s not just Brunson and Bridges that can burn you from deep; freshman forward Omari Spellman (10/8 PPG, 7.8 RPG) is hitting at 44.6%, and Nova has six players, total, shooting 38.5% or better from three.
Yes, their reliance on the three (29 attempts per game, 19th in the nation) can hurt them when their shots aren’t falling, but those games are few and far between, and the Elite Eight tilt with Texas Tech proved that it’s not a death sentence. The Wildcats only hit 16.7% of their threes against Tech, yet still won comfortably (71-59) thanks to a +18 rebounding margin and a ludicrous 29-35 performance from the free-throw line.
Perhaps “ludicrous” is too strong a word, since this team averages over 77% from the stripe. Their ability to knock down free throws has helped them post that gaudy 25-12-1 record against the number, and cover all four of their tournament games so far.
That said, doubt Kansas at your peril. This team has been an underdog five times this season, and won four of those games straight-up:
- 74-72 as 2.5-point dogs at Texas Tech;
- 71-66 as 5.5-point dogs at West Virginia;
- 81-70 as 1.5-point dogs vs West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament; and
- 85-81 as 3.5-point dogs vs Duke in the Elite Eight.
They have laid some eggs this year, but not when the terrain has been at its roughest.
Bill Self gets a bad rap for his performance in the tournament, particularly in the later rounds. (He’s now 3-7 in the Elite Eight.) But the game against Duke was just the latest example of his Xs and Os prowess. He outcoached Mike Krzyzewski from start to finish, and you don’t win 14 straight Big 12 titles without consistently great game prep and in-game adjustments.
At the end of the day, that’s what’s selling me on Kansas and the points. The Jayhawks have the horses to run with Jay Wright’s squad, and a tremendous jockey who will have those horses running at full speed.
Pick: Kansas (+5.0)