Game 39: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 1 Villanova – Preview and Prediction

About Villanova: The Wildcats have arguably been the the best team in the country all year, never ranking lower than fifth and as high as No. 1. Similar to their run to a title in 2016, ‘Nova has been scorching hot, shooting 45% for the tournament, including a 59% performance against Radford in the opening round. Head coach Jay Wright runs a four-guard lineup, something that Bill Self has adopted over the last two seasons. The Wildcats are led by All-American guard and National Player of the Year finalist Jalen Brunson, who has been dynamite here in the tournament. These two squads faced off in the 2016 Elite Eight, a game that was somewhat of a rock fight, ultimately won by the Wildcats. While this year’s KU team is different from the one two years ago, there are still some names that were there that night and surely want some revenge.

Game Info and Notes:

  • Friday, March 31st at 7:49 pm CT
  • Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
  • TBS or March Madness App
  • No. 1 seed Kansas advanced to its 15th Final Four, third under head coach Bill Self, with an 85-81 overtime win against Duke in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional finals March 25. Kansas’ last Final Four appearances was in 2012 when the Jayhawks finished runner-up to Kentucky.
  • Defeating No. 9 Duke, Kansas improved to 8-3 against ranked foes in 2017-18, including 4-0 versus Top-10 teams.
  • At 31-7, Kansas has won 31 games for the third-straight year and 15th time in school history with nine in the Bill Self era, which began in 2003-04. KU’s 15 30-win seasons ties for the most in NCAA history with Kentucky.
  • Kansas is playing Villanova seventh time and the first time since the 2016 NCAA South Regional title game in which the Wildcats won 64-59 en route to the NCAA title. The series is tied at 3-3. KU and VU have a home-and-home series scheduled over the next two regular seasons.
  • Senior G Devonte’ Graham, the 2018 Big 12 Player of the Year, is the only player in NCAA Division I averaging 17.0-plus points, 7.0-plus assists, 1.6- plus steals and fewer than 3.0 turnovers per game.
  • Kansas is making its 47th NCAA Tournament appearance and has a 107- 45 record in the event. The Jayhawks have advanced to 31 Sweet 16 contests, 15 Final Fours and three of their five national championships have been in NCAA Championship format (1952, 1988, 2008).
  • At 31-7, Kansas has won 31 games for the third-straight year and 15th time in school history with nine in the Bill Self era, which began in 2003-04. KU’s 15 30-win seasons ties for the most in NCAA history with Kentucky
  • Kansas won its NCAA-record breaking 14th straight, 18th Big 12 and NCAA-leading 61st overall conference regular-season title in 2017-18.
Wildcats to Watch

Jalen Brunson – 6’3″ junior, guard

Perhaps the leading candidate for National Player of the Year, Brunson has lived up to his billing in the NCAA Tournament. He’s averaging 17.5 PPG (including a 31-point performance in the Sweet 16), 4 APG, 3.3 RPG and was named MOP of the East Regional. The matchup between Brunson and Devonte’ Graham will perhaps be the the premier individual matchup of the whole tournament.

Mikal Bridges – 6’6” junior, guard

Bridges is crazy athletic, similar in regards to KU’s Lagerald Vick. Bridges has taken much more of a scoring role this season for ‘Nova, upping his average from 9.8 PPG to 17.8 PPG. He’s also become a bigger threat from the outside, making 43% of his three-pointers. Bridges is coming off his worst performance of the tournament, as he went 3-10 (0-5 3-PT) for just 12 points in the Elite Eight win over Texas Tech.

Donte DiVincenzo – 6’5″ sophomore, guard

Every time I watch Villanova, it always seems as if DiVincenzo is doing the little plays that help you win games. Whether that’s keeping a possession alive or a put back basket, it seems he’s always in the middle of it. I think he could be an x-factor for the Wildcats on Saturday night.

Prediction

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Along with the Duke Elite Eight battle, I think this could end up being one of the best games of the tournament. On one side, you have a team that has arguably been the best team all year long (‘Nova), and on the other, you have a team that’s clicking at the right time (KU).

Most people are picking against the Jayhawks, just like they did leading up to the Duke game. But similarly to what I said before Kansas took on the Blue Devils as an underdog, these just seem to be the type of games Bill Self and the Jayhawks win. During Jesse Newell’s postgame Facebook Live last weekend, I believe he said Bill Self’s record as an underdog is 15-9. That’s incredible. These are the types of games when KU rises to the occasion, and I expect no different on Saturday night.

That being said, it won’t be a cake walk. With this small lineup, Villanova presents some unique challenges for the Jayhawks. How will Self decide to guard stretch big man Omari Spellman? Spellman only stands at 6’9″, but unlike Clemson’s big in Elijah Thomas, Spellman can shoot the ball from the outside, which is a matchup advantage against Udoka Azubuike. Will Self decide to play more of Mitch Lightfoot or Silvio De Sousa, who are a little more nimble?

On the flipside, Kansas should have a huge advantage offensively with Azubuike. Nova ranks 217th nationally in opponents FG attempts at the rim, and Azubuike is the nation’s leader in field goal percentage.

One of the most incredible parts about KU’s run to the Final Four is Devonte’ Graham really hasn’t had a breakout game yet. He’s been good, but not great. It’s hard to think he’ll stay quiet for that much longer, but with the way Malik Newman is playing, KU might not need a loud performance out of Graham.

Give me the Jayhawks in a back-and-forth affair and to pull it out late in the second half….and to also give me 8-9-10 heart attacks along the way.

Kansas 79 – Villanova 75

Bobby Norell

My name is Bobby Norell. I'm from a small town in northern Indiana. I recently graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Sport Communication. Even though my diploma says I'm a Hoosier, my love for the Jayhawks has never wavered. They'll always come No.1.