MATCHING UP THE FINAL FOUR
No. 1 Kansas (32-6) vs. No. 2 Villanova (30-7)
Site/time: Caesars Superdome, 3:09 p.m.
How they got here: Kansas has quietly advanced as the remaining top seed with wins against Texas Southern, Creighton, Providence and Miami; Villanova avoided any top seeds — No. 5 Houston in a regional final being the highest — while dismissing Delaware, Ohio State, Michigan and the Cougars.
Overview: The good for Villanova — two of the Kansas wins thus far have come against Big East teams, so expect the Wildcats to have a strong idea how to attack and potentially stop the Jayhawks. The bad — key junior guard Justin Moore (14.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.3 app) tore his Achilles in the Elite Eight and is out.
Kansas has been the field’s most dominant team as other storylines played out across the bracket. It has won nine straight and just blitzed opponents at times during the event.
If the game is close down the stretch, remember that Villanova is the nation’s best free-throw shooting team. It’s also the more experienced team.
Guard play — see Ochai Agbaji (Kansas) and Collin Gillespie (Villanova) — should be superb.
Matchup to watch: Jalen Wilson (Kansas) vs. Jermaine Samuels (Villanova). A battle of talented forwards. The Wildcats are 11-2 when Samuels has eight or more rebounds in a game and his experience (152 games played) is second all-time at the school. The sophomore Wilson averages 11.0 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Jayhawks.
Potential unsung hero: Caleb Daniels (Villanova). As with Gillespie and Villanova’s depleted backcourt, this senior guard likely needs to score above his average (10.2) for the Wildcats to have a chance. A transfer from Tulane, there would be no better place than returning home and breaking out with a big game.
Stat to consider: 16.7. The scoring average of Kansas guard and Arizona State transfer Remy Martin in this NCAA Tournament.
Quote to note: “Villanova is unbelievably sound, fundamental, doesn’t turn it over, doesn’t beat themselves. More games are lost than won, and they’re not going to help you beat them.” — Kansas coach Bill Self.
Prediction: Kansas 68, Villanova 61.
No. 2 Duke (32-6) vs. No. 8 North Carolina (28-9)
Site/time: Caesars Superdome, 5:49 p.m.
How they got here: The Blue Devils won the West Region with victories against Cal State Fullerton, Michigan State, Texas Tech and Arkansas; North Carolina took care of Marquette, No. 1 seed Baylor and UCLA before striking midnight for a true Cinderella in St. Peter’s.
Overview: Yeah. So it doesn’t get much better than this. Amazingly, it’s the first time these rivals have met in the NCAA Tournament. Add that to the fact Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will retire at season’s end and you have a hefty Hollywood script.
Duke has the best offense nationally by most metrics, led by several future NBA players. But the Blue Devils suffered some defensive lapses at times during the season and aren’t the most dependable team from deep. North Carolina is the most versatile team left in the bracket. The Tar Heels rely heavily on their starting five to produce. Foul trouble for North Carolina could mean a certain exit.
Matchup to watch: Brady Manek (North Carolina) vs. Paolo Banchero (Duke). The former is an Oklahoma transfer and stretch four at 6-9 who averages 15.2 ppg and 5.9 rpg. Banchero is the ACC’s Freshman of the Year and averages 17.1 ppg and 7.7 rpg. Both are matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. Whichever proves the bigger one could make the difference in his team advancing to Monday’s national championship.
Potential unsung hero: Caleb Love (North Carolina). The sophomore guard went for 30 points against UCLA in the Sweet 16 and has that instant offense ability to take over a game. One of the more confident players remaining in the draw, he has never met a shot he doesn’t embrace.
Stat to consider: Nearly 39 percent of North Carolina’s shot attempts this season have been beyond the 3-point line.
Quote to note: “It was more a question of could we be good enough in time. I knew we were locked in and the way we play has created a lot of mismatches in the tournament with shooters and me inside. We attack differently than most teams. I just didn’t know if we could get it right at the right time.”
— North Carolina center Armando Bacot.
Prediction: Duke 75, North Carolina 70.