March Madness Final Four Previewby Sam Schneider April 2, 2022 0 comments
And then there were four. Another exciting entry into the annals of March Madness has just three games remaining. Two are tonight, and the Final Four is a quartet of powerhouse college programs with a few intriguing storylines, to boot. Kansas and Villanova, playing completely opposite styles, clash in the first game. In the nightcap, bitter rivals Duke and North Carolina will face off for the first time ever in the tournament’s history.
First year head coach Hubert Davis of North Carolina has guided his alma mater to this point in a feat worthy of a standing ovation. In a classic case of “one of these things is not like the others”, Davis is joined by a trio of Hall of Fame coaches who have all spent many years on the bench. Villanova’s Jay Wright (28 years coaching), Kansas’ Bill Self (29), and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (47) exemplify leadership and the ability to adapt and always find a way to come out on top. All told, the four programs that have reached this penultimate moment have combined for 17 national titles.
Perhaps most notable is Krzyzewski, who is on his farewell tour before riding off into the sunset. The 75-year-old has won nearly every accolade imaginable, as well as three gold medals at the Olympic Games. He is the winningest coach in college history, and surpassed the legendary John Wooden this season for the most Final Four appearances ever. He aims to add a sixth championship before hanging it up.
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Villanova (2) vs. Kansas (1)
Date: Saturday, April 2
Time: 6:09 pm
Where to Watch: TBS
Spread: Villanova +4 (-110) | Kansas -4 (-110)
MoneyLine: Villanova +165 | Kansas -195
Over/Under: Over 133 (-110) | Under 133 (-110)
There are upsets every season, and that’s part of the fun of March Madness. This year was no exception, as no less than 10 lower-seeded teams won in the first round, and a No. 15 seed (Saint Peter’s) made the Elite 8. However, by the time we arrive at this point, there are typically still at least a pair (if not three) No. 1 seeds left standing. The cream always rises to the top. This season, Kansas is the lone top seed standing, although they did play a few close affairs along the way. They beat Creighton and Providence by a combined 12 points. It looked like another battle was in order as they trailed Miami (FL) in the Elite 8 before a blistering second half saw them put away the Hurricanes with a 47-15 run.
‘Nova had issues of their own, playing through a tough set of teams, culminating in a close win over American Athletic Conference champs Houston. The regional final win came at a cost, though, as top scorer Justin Moore was lost with an Achilles tear. Moore also plays the most minutes for Wright’s squad, and Villanova already had a slim rotation of players. If they are to win, they will need to find others to eat those minutes and rely on their defense to slow down KU. This is a very different team than fans have seen from the Wildcats in the past. They will lean on their defense, ball control (just 9.9 turnovers per game this season) and excellent free throw shooting.
The Jayhawks play a completely different game. They push the ball and get down the court in a hurry. Self is likely to encourage that, given Villanova’s short bench. “Rock Chalk” is going to run and try to wear the Wildcats out. Star Ochai Agbaji has yet to go off in this tournament (12.3 PPG) and is due to score in numerous ways. The spread on this game is surprising given the absence of Moore for ‘Nova. Kansas runs away with it late in the second half, as Villanova cannot hit shots to play catch up.
Projected Winner: Kansas
North Carolina (8) vs. Duke (2)
Date: Saturday, April 2
Time: 8:49 pm
Where to Watch: TBS
Spread: North Carolina +4 (-110) | Duke -4 (-110)
MoneyLine: Villanova +160 | Kansas -190
Over/Under: Over 151 (-110) | Under 151 (-110)
As mentioned, this will be the first ever meeting of this historic rivalry to take place during March Madness. It is truly amazing that they have never faced off in the tournament, but that goes to show that in the past the selection committee was always keen on putting them on opposite sides of the bracket. The juxtaposition of a first-year coach facing one that is headed to retirement as one of the greatest of all time is truly fitting.
Duke had a cup of coffee at No. 1 earlier this season after taking down then-top ranked Gonzaga. They lost that spot in short order but maintained their place near the top of the polls all season long. UNC, on the other hand, had an up-and-down season. They lost games they were supposed to win, and then followed by rattling off five- and six-game win streaks. They did this behind coach Davis, who adjusted to his team’s strengths and employed a ‘can-do’ attitude, making his players believers. While a 24-9 record is not terribly impressive given their schedule, they did enough to grab the No. 8 seed in the region. The Tar Heels are the perfect example of what getting hot at the right time can do in March.
Duke has a young core and they like to run. The most talented player on the floor for this game is Paolo Banchero. He has been lighting up the tournament (18.5 PPG, 7 RPG, 3 APG, 1.6 SPG) and should continue to do so. His supporting cast should also wreak havoc, as the Blue Devils have five players averaging double figures in scoring. Even on down nights, it is universally accepted that they have one of the most explosive offenses in college basketball. North Carolina boasts four double-digit scorers of their own, are mere percentage points shy of the Blue Devils on three-pointers, and average just 2.7 PPG less.
This game should be another classic between these two teams. Krzyzewski will outcoach Davis, but the Tar Heels have more experience on their roster and a longer bench. This will be a fast-paced shootout where everything is left on the floor. Duke holds the lead for the game, with UNC keeping it close all the way. In the end, the Blue Devils get their coach the victory, and some sweet revenge for the Tar Heels beating them at Cameron in Krzyzewski’s last home game.
Projected Winner: Duke
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Main Image Credit: via betarena