VILLANOVA WILDCATS vs. KANSAS JAYHAWKS
NCAA Tournament – Final Four – Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
Tip-off: Saturday, 8:49 pm ET
Line: Villanova -5, Total: 155
The two remaining 1 seeds square off in the Saturday’s late Final Four game.
Based on season-long body of work, Kansas and Villanova are far and away the two best teams remaining in the tournament. And whichever beats the other in the Final Four in San Antonio will certainly be favored on Monday in the national championship game. But that's neither here nor there for Saturday night, when the Jayhawks and Wildcats will be at each other's throats in hopes of keeping their championship hopes alive. Kansas played the most entertaining game of the tournament last weekend, needing overtime to squeak past Duke and its zone defense by a score of 85-81. It was their third straight win to come by exactly four points. Villanova has made its path look easier, earning 12-point wins over two of Kansas' Big 12 foes in the tournament's second weekend by taking down West Virginia and then Texas Tech. Since 1997, neutral court favorites (or picks) that have won three straight games by 10 or more points (NOVA) are 70-30 ATS in games between two teams allowing 67-74 PPG to opponents. In the same time frame, neutral court games where either team has had five or six days rest (both have, in this one) and each team has a winning percentage of at least .800 are 42-15 Over against the total.
A five-star recruit who spent a season at Mississippi State before transferring, Kansas G Malik Newman has flown under the radar somewhat in Lawrence, having sat out last season before debuting as a Jayhawk this year. Thanks to the spotlight of March Madness—and Newman's own brilliant performances—that's no longer the case. His best game yet came right when Kansas needed it, as Newman dropped 32 points on Duke to end the Blue Devils' season and propel his team to the Final Four. He scored all 13 of their points in overtime; no other Jayhawk had more than 14 points on the entire night. Newman had 28 points two rounds earlier against Seton Hall, and he had 17 in the Elite Eight win over Clemson. Still, this team's undisputed star is G Devonte' Graham, a finalist for the Wooden Award. Eight of Graham's 10 field goal attempts against the Blue Devils were threes, and he hit three of those shots from deep to finish with 11 points. He also added six assists and six rebounds, and was the only Jayhawk to play all 45 minutes. C Udoka Azubuike only logged 19 minutes before fouling out, but still notched nine points and eight rebounds. He's shockingly athletic for 7-0, 280 pounds, and could pose problems for Villanova's interior if he can stay out of foul trouble. G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is, like Newman, oddly underrated for being one of the best players on one of the nation's best teams. He matched a game high with 10 boards and hit a three near the end of regulation that allowed Kansas to sneak into overtime. G LaGerald Vick had 14 points, and F Silvio de Sousa had 10 rebounds off the bench while spelling Azubuike.
Like Kansas, Villanova is led by a Wooden Award finalist in G Jalen Brunson. Last weekend, he had 27 against West Virginia and 15 against Texas Tech, struggling in his shooting a bit in the latter contest. But he showed his ability to score in just about any way late in the Tech game, backing down an opposing guard in the post for an impressive one-on-one bucket. He's consistent from the line, too, hitting 18 of 20 free throws so far in the tournament. But like Graham, he has plenty of big-name talent around him. Foremost on the Wildcats is G Mikal Bridges, a beast on the perimeter at 6-6, 210 pounds. He exploded against Alabama in the second round with a ridiculous three-point display early in the second half, but has been relatively quiet (but very solid) since. With 'Nova winning every tourney contest thus far by at least 12 points, he's yet to play more than 30 minutes in a game. G Donte DiVincenzo had 12 points and eight rebounds against Tech, with two of those points and one of those rebounds coming on a vicious put-back slam that helped stifle a Raiders comeback late in the second half. Like any number of Villanova players, he can get red-hot from three at a moment's notice. G Phil Booth has been quiet in the tournament so far, but figures to be an x-factor if and when the Wildcats get into a close game. Fs Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall start in the frontcourt for 'Nova, and they're both talented and impactful players. Spellman, a freshman, got into foul trouble against Texas Tech, but Paschall had 14 rebounds.