Traveling: The Weekend in Basketball / Final Four Preview

Traveling is your quickest way to catch up on the weekend (or week) in the NBA and college basketball. The format is ideal for your morning commute to work or that first bathroom break of the day.

Let’s get into it! Note – This is a little bit longer than normal, I kind of turned it into a Final Four preview.

bear ref

The Final Four is set

What I was thinking was let’s just do a quick recap on who the Final Four teams are, what to know about them, and why they could be the team to do it (or why their journey ends on Saturday).

Loyola Chicago 

America’s favorite team with America’s favorite nun. Go, Sister Jean, go.

How did they do it? Yes, Loyola is a Cinderella in terms of being a midmajor program, an 11 seed, small school, etc. but at 32-5, and the way they’ve played all year (let’s not short-change that road win at Florida during the season), this is probably a team that should’ve been on the No. 4 or 5 line a la Wichita State or Gonzaga.

Incredibly efficient on offense, great defense, and Krutwig gives the Ramblers some Medium Rare Big Man size (#Farm2Table!) inside to go with their elite guard play.

So… do they have two more in them? I like their matchup with Michigan better than Villanova or Kansas. Michigan won’t overwhelm them physically, look for a hard-fought efficient game played in the 60’s. And hey, if they get to that final game, maybe KU or Nova will be so beat up from their Final Four game, it could happen.

Debbie Downer point – John Beilein with a week to prepare you might see a result similar to the beatdown U of M gave Texas A&M. Also, as fun as the ride has been, Loyola has yet to see an elite team (Tennessee being the closest to that mark). Impressive win against Kansas State but everything else was decided by 1pt.

Weird thing to point out – If Loyola wins the title this year, they will have as many titles since 1960 as both Villanova and Kansas. They will have more titles than U of M. Weird but true.

University of Michigan

Earlier in the season, it looked to be Purdue’s year as the Top Big 10 team. Toward the end, Michigan State was the more popular pick even though the Wolverines beat them two out of three. But here we are, Michigan as the Big 10 representative in the Final Four.

So… do they have two more in them? It’s a lot easier to picture the U of M vs. Loyola game being lopsided than Villanova vs. Kansas. Which means Michigan might have more in the tank in the finals (both KU and Villanova aren’t very deep, and Udoka doesn’t appear to be fully healthy yet).

And, besides that, Michigan is great defensively. Like almost best team in the country great. Since Feb. 14, they have only given up 70 points in two games (one of those being Texas A&M where the Wolverines won by 27, the game was over at halftime). They’re riding a 13-game winning streak.

They don’t make mistakes on offense. Either No. 1 or No. 2 in fewest turnovers. They absolutely could frustrate Kansas and give Villanova an even tougher time than the elite defenses of West Virginia and Texas Tech.

Debbie Downer point – Similar to Loyola, Michigan hasn’t run into a “top tier” team yet. If they get to the final game, they will have played a 14, 6, 7, 9, and 11.

In fairness, both Florida State and Texas A&M were looking much higher than their seed indicated. And Houston finished the year right there with Cincinnati who came in as a No. 2 seed. But, point still remains, they have managed to avoid No. 1 seeds until the final game.

Villanova

Two Final Fours in three years. Even with that second round exit last year to Wisconsin, Jay Wright is an impressive 11-1 in the last three tournaments. Only Roy Williams has done better (and that is subject to change).

So… do they have two more in them? Absolutely. They are the favorites for sure. Vegas has them a 5.5 over Kansas. Great guards, good size, tons of experience. No. 2 overall seed, 34-4, potential National Player of the Year in point guard Jalen Brunson.

The Wildcats matchup really well against Kansas. Look for Booth to guard Newman, and can comfortably play a fast-paced game in the 80-90s or slug it out in a game reminiscent of their Elite Eight battle from 2015.

Also, worth pointing out, when they won on Sunday, the players were headed back to the locker room and had to be reminded to go cut down the nets. Compare that to Kansas who was celebrating as if they won the National Championship. The argument being KU already feels like their season is a success, Villanova has bigger goals.

Debbie Downer Point – They say every championship team needs that one down to the wire game where they hit a last second (or close to last second) shot to win.

Villanova hasn’t had that game yet. Kansas did with Duke, Michigan with Houston, Loyola with Miami, Tennessee, and Nevada.

As a Kansas fan, I’m clinging to this logic. And not letting myself realize that my biggest argument against Villanova is that they haven’t had a game decided by less than 10 points yet… yikes

One other thought – Who will be the next generation of Roy Williams and Coach K? The leading candidates were always Tom Izzo and then John Calipari and Bill Self.

Jay Wright, if he gets another title here, quietly moves into the conversation.

Which, one thing I want to point out, think about what a couple runs to the Final Four + a title or two can do to a coaching legacy. Wright is 21-13 overall in the NCAA Tournament. As mentioned earlier, 11 of those wins have come in the last three years. Meaning he was just 10-12 prior to 2015. What a difference three seasons makes; and one of those was a second-round exit as the No. 1 overall seed!

I’m reminded of Tony Bennett who is currently 10-8 in the NCAA Tournament but has already achieved so much at Virginia (albeit some early exits, the exclamation point being UMBC). By the time Bennett is 55, 56, I think luck will change and he’ll have more of a Jay Wright resume.

What’s my age again? What’s my age again?

Thought this was interesting, here’s a look at some of the Final Four coaches compared to the Hall of Fame legends.

Jim Boeheim – 73

Coach K – 71

Roy Williams – 67

John Beilein – 65

Tom Izzo – 63

John Calipari – 59

Jay Wright – 56

Bill Self – 55

Porter Moser (Loyola) – 49

Tony Bennett – 48

University of Kansas

Last but not least, the Jayhawks. If you want a deeper dive into this team just hop into the Bill Self’s Backup series or check out the ebook link at the end of this post. For now, here’s the shorter Traveling version:

So… do they have two more in them? Yes. Kansas defeating Duke was big for multiple reasons, but the two biggest being: 1) They have the most impressive win of any team left in the tournament 2) They showed their biggest flaw (lack of size) wasn’t going to take them down, even when matched up against the team best poised to expose it.

Duke was one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and the best in offensive rebounding. Yet somehow KU outrebounded the Blue Devils by 18 and won the offensive glass battle as well.

Villanova has a strong frontcourt but not Bagley and Carter strong. The guards of Duke, Clemson, and Seton Hall were also great preparation for what they will see against Villanova. Similar to the Wildcats, the Jayhawks have proven they can win in multiple ways.

Kansas fans worried about the 5.5 Vegas spread, just remember they had Duke by 3.5.

Debbie Downer point – They haven’t seen a guy like Mikal Bridges yet. Will the Jayhawks have an answer for another Top 10 Draft pick, this time at the small forward position? Will Brunson cancel out Graham, Booth keep Newman in check, can Svi and Doke provide enough scoring to keep up?

Texas Tech and West Virginia made it close, but still both lost by 10+. Would have felt better if the No. 2 and No. 3 Big 12 teams had pushed Villanova further.

And KU will not be able to turn the ball over 18 times against Villanova like they did against Duke. The number needs to be more like 12 if they want a chance to pull this off.

The Bob Huggins bond – Bill Self and Bob Huggins are good friends. Maybe Huggy bear stops by Lawrence with the game film of West Virginia vs. Nova to help Self strategize? Maybe? Am I really starting to stretch here? 

Update on the NBA

NBA, we still love you, but with all due respect, this is college basketball’s last week to shine. (#OneShiningMoment). We’ll have plenty of time to catch up in April, May, June, and probably July.

BASKETBALL EBOOKS

Traveling will always be told in this short to-go format. But if you’re looking for deeper dives, consider these ebooks below. Click on the cover to see more about it:

Kansas 14Uploaddon't hateChris_Kindle_cover

 

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