Big East Coast Bias: As a college basketball fan (and Mizzou alum, full disclosure), I generally follow the marquee programs like Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, etc, rather closely. I think my biggest question, and I mean this in the most diplomatic way possible, is how the heck did Bill Self get to the Final Four with *this* team? Obviously the NCAA Tournament is a crapshoot, but we’ve seen far more talented Kansas teams fizzle out far earlier in the Big Dance.
Rock Chalk Talk: We’ve been asking that question ourselves for quite a while, although first it was how did he win the Big 12 with this team, then it was how did he run through the Big 12 Tournament with this team minus Udoka Azubuike, and then how did he get a one seed with this team, and you get the idea.
A lot of the answer has to do with intangibles that we have in this team, with a senior leader that is truly adept at getting the best out of his teammates, even if it comes at the expense of his own numbers. There was a story written by Jesse Newell of the Kansas City Star that talks about how Devonte Graham recognizes when it isn’t his night and allows his teammates to take over roles that would naturally fall to him. His refusal to force it when it isn’t there has saved this team multiple times.
And of course it helps that there are multiple guys that can step up and take over a game if needed. The stats for this team are mildly depressed by the fact that every guy on the floor has shown the ability to have a stellar performance, but with the exception of Malik Newman since the postseason started, no one has been able to do it every night. That makes the overall numbers look worse than what the ceiling truly is for this team.
BECB: What can Kansas do to slow down Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and the rest of Villanova’s high-powered offense?
RCT: There is lots of talk about how Villanova has the best offense in the nation, and potentially the KenPom era, but for some reason I don’t see that as much of a problem. Bill Self has shown himself to be a master at adapting his style of play to take advantage of the situation, and I fully expect that to continue in the Final Four.
The only concern that I have is the ability of the Wildcats to light it up from 3. The common thread in most of the KU losses has been an unbelievable 3-point shooting performance uncharacteristic of the opponent, but that doesn’t really have to happen for Villanova to make a ton of them. I have confidence in the ability of Kansas to defend the 3 well, but that doesn’t always translate into missed buckets.
BECB: Devonte Graham and Malik Newman are obviously awesome, but who are some other Kansas players that Villanova fans should be aware of?
RCT: I could list the entire lineup, as Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick, Marcus Garrett and Mitch Lightfoot have all had their moments too this year (especially the sharpshooting Svi), but the two main guys are Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa down low. Dok is an imposing presence down low, one that I don’t think Villanova will have a good answer for when KU is on offense. And he is a fabulous passer, whether it is the kick-out to the open shooter when the defense collapses, or the interior passing to the other guy in the post when he gets doubled. Add in that he has some experience playing out on the perimeter and the Kansas defense rotates fairly well to help him out, and I think he will have a huge game.
Silvio De Sousa is the other guy who flashed in the Big 12 Tournament, filling in admirably when Dok was dealing with his knee injury (which IS fully healed by the way). He has much of the same athleticism and is a big quicker. His main drawback is that he still is trying to get fully up to speed on the playbook and developing his instincts for the college game. Considering he was playing in high school 3 months ago, he’s doing pretty well however and could be a key piece to a Kansas victory.
BECB: Last time the Final Four was in San Antonio, Kansas won the title. Last time the Final Four was in Texas, Villanova win the title. Do these narratives matter to you?!?!
City trumps state every time, so if we are playing the narrative game, I think Wildcat fans should be worried.
The bigger narrative at play is that of depth. It seems that everyone talks about how Kansas has no depth, but I’ve yet to hear the same criticism of the Wildcats, who appear to only really play 6 or 7 guys to Kansas’ 7 or 8. I don’t think depth is going to be an issue for either team though.
BECB: Finally, who wins and why?
RCT: I really should try to employ the reverse jinx, but I’ll save that for our official predictions thread. I went back and forth on this several times, but I think that the actual mismatch down low is in favor of Kansas, as Spellman is going to have to adapt to three different big men playing three different styles that can attack him three different ways. If he is able to take advantage of each one individually, he could have a huge game. But we saw Bill Self throw in exotic defenses against Duke, ones that we had not run the entire year, for just a couple minutes here and there to completely bewilder the opponent, only to never come back to it. I fully expect him to pull out the entire bag of tricks, and it’s been amazing to see what he can come up with that no one in their right mind would think about. And it has all basically worked for the last 3 weeks. I’ll go Kansas 78, Villanova 71.