Final Four Preview: Kansas vs. Villanova

Final Four Preview: Kansas vs. Villanova

This article is part of our Final Four Preview series.

Matchup: The school with the most NCAA Tournament wins since 2016 faces off against the team with the most NCAA Tournament wins of all-time.  The Villanova Wildcats are looking for their third title under coach Jay Wright, while the Kansas Jayhawks seek their first National Championship under coach Bill Self in almost 15 years.  Interestingly, the Wildcats and Jayhawks have met on three prior occasions in the big dance.  All three times, the winner of that game went on to win the National Championship.  The Wildcats never had to beat a seed higher than five on their way to the Final Four this year, while Kansas is the lone remaining No. 1 seed in the entire tournament.

Villanova Wildcats, South Region No. 2 seed

Backcourt: The guards have been the strength of this squad up to this point in the season.  However, this matchup will be marred by the absence of Justin Moore, who tore his Achilles in the Regional Final win over Houston and subsequently underwent season-ending surgery.  Two-time Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie had just six points versus the Cougars but is going to be asked to shoulder a Herculean offensive load if the Wildcats hope to keep pace with the high-flying Kansas attack.  Caleb Daniels will fill the other starting guard slot in the absence of Moore, and as expected for Villanova, Daniels has been unafraid to mix it up down low and help offset the lack of size for the Wildcats.  Daniels

Matchup: The school with the most NCAA Tournament wins since 2016 faces off against the team with the most NCAA Tournament wins of all-time.  The Villanova Wildcats are looking for their third title under coach Jay Wright, while the Kansas Jayhawks seek their first National Championship under coach Bill Self in almost 15 years.  Interestingly, the Wildcats and Jayhawks have met on three prior occasions in the big dance.  All three times, the winner of that game went on to win the National Championship.  The Wildcats never had to beat a seed higher than five on their way to the Final Four this year, while Kansas is the lone remaining No. 1 seed in the entire tournament.

Villanova Wildcats, South Region No. 2 seed

Backcourt: The guards have been the strength of this squad up to this point in the season.  However, this matchup will be marred by the absence of Justin Moore, who tore his Achilles in the Regional Final win over Houston and subsequently underwent season-ending surgery.  Two-time Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie had just six points versus the Cougars but is going to be asked to shoulder a Herculean offensive load if the Wildcats hope to keep pace with the high-flying Kansas attack.  Caleb Daniels will fill the other starting guard slot in the absence of Moore, and as expected for Villanova, Daniels has been unafraid to mix it up down low and help offset the lack of size for the Wildcats.  Daniels has 23 rebounds in the last three tournament games to go along with an average of over 10 points per contest.

Frontcourt: Jermaine Samuels was a little-used freshman on the aforementioned 2018 squad but has come into his own as the anchor of the Villanova forwards.  He posted a double-double in the Elite 8 with 16 points and 10 rebounds.  Eric Dixon is actually the leading rebounder on the squad, though, as well as the tallest starter at 6-foot-8.  Dixon is also an efficient three-point shooter.  While he does not take them often, Dixon is 17-for-33 (51.5%) from long range on the season.  Brandon Slater rounds out the frontcourt and is one of six players on the Villanova roster averaging at least eight points per game this season.

X-Factor: The absence of Moore.  The impact of this devastating injury cannot be overstated.  Moore averaged nearly 35 minutes per game for the Wildcats, was second in scoring and assists, and third in rebounding.  Replacing this production is going to be impossible, especially for a thin Villanova squad that largely played only six players to begin with.  Juniors Bryan Antoine and Chris Arcidiacono are going to be asked to play crucial minutes no one ever expected in the most important game of the season.  Otherwise, the Villanova starters are going to get even more minutes than their normally-heavy load.


Who They Beat to Get Here:

Delaware, 80-60
Ohio State, 71-61
Michigan, 63-55
Houston, 50-44

They'll Win If: an unsung hero emerges from the bench.  Not to beat a dead horse, but without Justin Moore, Villanova's starters will play even heavier minutes than they usually do.  In fact, the starters could play virtually the entire game.  That being said, foul trouble, or simply exhaustion, will force coach Jay Wright to utilize Arcidiacono and Antoine, or perhaps even another player who has barely seen the court.  The Wildcats will have a week to sort out their rotation or substitution patterns, but suffice to say, the Wildcats will need some unforeseen production from one (or more) of their bench players in order to move on to the National Championship.

PREDICTION

Despite winning the South region as a No. 2 seed, there is little doubt that the Wildcats will be the least popular selection to emerge victorious from this final group of four.  This would have been a tough matchup for Kansas even with Justin Moore.  Without the services of one of their top players, the Wildcats will have difficulty with the size, athleticism and depth of this Kansas squad.  The Jayhawks blitzed Miami in the second half of their Regional Final, overwhelming a smaller Hurricane team, particularly in the paint and on the glass.  While Villanova will not get rattled like the 'Canes did, the lack of any contribution outside the starting five will ultimately spell doom for the Wildcats.

-Written by Jesse Siegel.
 

Kansas Jayhawks, Midwest Region No. 1 Seed

Backcourt: Kansas' starting backcourt includes a pair of guards with Dajuan Harris running the point and Ochai Agbaji as the team's primary scorer. Harris isn't relied upon to do much scoring at just 5.4 ppg and is mainly asked to set up others. Leading the team with 4.2 assists per game, he's done a good job of doing just that, and it surely helps to have a plethora of offensive options. One of those is Naismith Player of the Year finalist, Agbaji, who after an inconspicuous start to the NCAA Tournament finally emerged in the Elite Eight against Miami with a team-high 18 points on 75 percent shooting. Of course, you can't forget about sixth man Remy Martin, who had led the team in scoring the first three games of the tournament. Martin has outshined starter Harris and also logged more minutes despite the bench role (25.3 minutes per game to 23.3 for Harris) through four games. After an up-and-down season, the backup PG is playing his best basketball at the right time. 

Frontcourt: As good as Agbaji and Martin are, this isn't a team that has a glaring weakness, as the frontcourt is also a strength for the Jayhawks. Starters Christian Braun, Jalen Wilson and David McCormack are all averaging double figures this season, and each have a unique set of strengths. Braun is a jack-of-all-trades, with efficient 55/39/74 shooting splits that contributes across the stat sheet. A 6-8 wing, Wilson is an efficient role player that is the team's leading rebounder at 7.4 per game. Then there is 6-10, 250-pound center David McCormack, who broke out of a slump to post 15 points in 18 minutes Saturday. He's a force in the paint that leads the team in usage rate at 25.6 percent and is fourth in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. Mitch Lightfoot is the lone frontcourt contributor off the bench, logging at least 16 minutes in each of the last two games and is shooting 67 percent on the season.

X-Factor: Wilson. On a team full of stars, it's easy to forget about Wilson, who is often the last option offensively when Remy Martin is on the court over Dajuan Harris. That's not to say that the redshirt sophomore isn't an integral part of Kansas' success. The 6-8 wing is shooting an efficient 58 percent from inside the arc and has a pair of double-doubles over the last three games. The Jayhawks are also an impressive 10-1 when he's recorded at least 10 boards, as he's a key factor alongside David McCormack in controlling the glass. Since the start of the Big 12 Tournament, Wilson is averaging 11.7 points and 7.7 rebounds over seven games, and his 16 points against Providence were critical in helping preserve the lead on a night where the remaining starters struggled.

Who they beat to get here

Texas Southern 83-56
Creighton 79-72
Providence 66-61
Miami Florida 76-50

They'll win if: They win the rebounding battle. Kansas has out-rebounded its opponent in each tournament game thus far, holding Miami to just five offensive rebounds and Creighton six. With Villanova without its second leading scorer in Justin Moore, it'll be important not to give up easy second-chance points and force them to make jump shots in the half-court. Considering the Wildcats don't start anyone over 6-8, this should be a doable task for Kansas. Another important factor will be how Villanova is able to shoot it from the perimeter, where it has relied on doing most of its scoring this season. That does fit into what Kansas does well defensively, where opponents are shooting under 30 percent on on the season.

Prediction: Villanova's depth will be tested without Moore, as it has been using a six-man rotation. While Caleb Daniels is an efficient perimeter shooter with plenty of experience capable of filling in, the Wildcats will need to rely heavily on Collin Gillespie having a big game to pull off the upset. It's unfortunate to lose such a key player at any point of the season, but doing it in such a short time frame is going to be a tall challenge. Chris Arcidiacono and Bryan Antoine have played sparingly and haven't shown much in minor roles, while Kansas' up-tempo style will likely wear on the Wildcats as the game goes go on. Nevertheless, Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Eric Dixon are still an excellent trio that will keep the game close, although in the end I expect Kansas to prevail. 

-Written by Ryan Pohle

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Ryan Pohle
Ryan Pohle breaks down golf bets and covers college basketball for RotoWire.
Jesse Siegel
Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
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