By: Brandon Hudson
Greetings! We have a matchup for all matchups, Kansas versus Villanova. The only Number One seeds to avoid the dreaded upsets this tournament are now one game away from playing in the National Championship! These are two evenly matched teams led by dynamic Point Guards that are both well coached and elite.
This game could decide the National Championship, but let’s not look too far into the future just yet. This was the same matchup two years ago in the tournament in the Elite Eight in which Villanova came out victorious. The Jayhawks are looking to avenge that loss and advance to the National Championship, which would be their first time in 10 years in ironically the same location. Going to give you the tale of the tape, and the game within the game between Brunson and Graham. Let’s go!
The Wildcats have been considered one of the best teams throughout the season and a popular pick among those who filled out brackets to make the Final Four and win it all. With the way the tournament has gone, the people have to be excited that Villanova fulfilled on their end and made it this far.
But let’s be clear, it was not an easy road for the Wildcats as they beat Radford, a talented and feisty Alabama team, and defensive powerhouses West Virginia and Texas Tech to advance. Each opponent offered various challenges that Villanova had to overcome and in some ways could’ve been their demise, but the composure of the players and the game planning helped them avoid an early end to their season.
They lead the country in scoring and possess great depth that has championship experience. Coached by Jay Wright, Villanova has developed into one of the best programs in the country, evidenced by their second Final Four in three years. The Wildcats are here to stay!
Villanova’s strength starts with their depth, they have six players who average double figures, led by Junior Point Guard, Jalen Brunson. Brunson has been great all season and has been building a case for being considered a first-round pick in the upcoming draft.
The area of concern for Villanova is their reliance on the three-point shot. No team has made more threes than Villanova this year, and in the games where they have struggled, they have shot poorly from ththree-pointnt line. When they struggle from three, they look like a totally different team. The offense isn’t as crisp and they look out of rhythm.
86.6 – The points per game that Villanova scores, ranks the Wildcats first in the nation
122.1 – Offensive rating on the year for the Wildcats, also ranks them first in the nation
436 – The total numbers of three pointers made this season, also ranking the Wildcats first in the nation.
Not five, not six, not seven, but 14 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles for The Kansas Jayhawks!
Bill Self isn’t new to winning and being led by Senior Point Guard, Devonte’ Graham, they have no intentions of not continuing that tradition. Looking to reach the mountain top again as college basketball’s best team, they come into this game after outlasting Duke in their Elite 8 game.
Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen Bill Self transform his Jayhawks from a heavy front court attack and start to utilize a small ball lineup with strong play from his guards and wings. Self still has very talented big men on his squad, including getting Silvio De Sousa in January and Sophomore Center Udoka Azubuike, but everything starts with Devonte’ Graham. What else can be said about Graham? He does a lot for this Jayhawk team, he usually guards the opposing team’s best perimeter player, makes plays on the offense and hits big shots when his team needs him to. His growth as a player and leader has been a joy to watch and I’m sure he’ll bring those same qualities to a team in the NBA next season.
Areas of concern for Kansas include lack of playmakers outside of Devonte’ Graham. Graham rarely comes off of the floor for Kansas and Bill Self has been very creative in trying to find ways to get him rest without a lot of game time being used. Now, if Malik Newman can turn in another game like he had against Duke, hey, that’s a huge help, but it’s dangerous to count on 32 points against Nova’s defense.
Like Villanova, Kansas has relied on the three ball way more than in the past. If the threes aren’t falling, teams can just load up on Graham as he is the only real consistent shot creator. Another area of concern is on defense. The Jayhawks aren’t as strong on D as they have been historically and that is because of the change in personnel.
According to basketball reference, Kansas ranks 130th in defensive efficiency. Kansas has adopted the trend of playing the five best players on the court at all time, which for them mean fours guards and big man, Azubuike. Because of this, Kansas is playing undersized and the D is often exposed, pretty similar to Villanova. Probably the biggest area of concern is the poor free throw shooting by Center, Udoka Azubuike. While he has shown improvement, Azubuike is still only shooting 42% from the charity stripe! Look for Villanova to try and exploit that in the game.
81.4 – The points per game Kansas scores. They’re ranked 29th in the country
40 – The percent of three point makes on the season. The Jayhawks sit 11th in the country.
37.8 – The minutes per game that Devonte’ Graham averages. He barely sits down for the Jayhawks!
These two teams mirror each other, in their style, personnel and experience. No one team has the clear cut advantage which should mean this one should be very close. It will honestly come down to whoever minimizes mistakes. I’ve almost talked exclusively about Brunson and Graham but the guys around them are talented too. There are guys who can impact the game outside of Graham and Brunson and if a player does emerge, that could also tip the scale in one of the team’s favor.
What to watch for
Which big man gets in foul trouble?
Since both teams come in with more depth at the guard and wing positions, look to see which of the big men get in foul trouble and look for the other team to exploit that. The big guys for each team offer differing skill sets. Spellman, for Villanova, is a stretch big who is a big threat from three. He can also take bigs off of the dribble and shows nice touch around the rim. Udoka Azubuike is an active big (and by big I mean HUGE) who can operate down low and play above the rim. He provides rim protection and is active on the glass.
Will Malik Newman stay hot?
Malik Newman has struggled at times throughout the season but has found a comfort level in the NCAA tournament. As mentioned earlier, if Newman can have a performance like the one he had against Duke, it would be a long game for Villanova to have to contain both he and Graham.
Which one of the other Wildcats step up?
The one thing about Villanova is that they have six guys who can go off. Brunson has been the most consistent, but who else from the team will take their game to the next level? My guess would be Donte DiVincenzo or Mikal Bridges as they have been productive all year.
Which team defends the three better?
Both teams are elite from shooting three, whoever does a better job of containing the other will probably end up on top.
The game within the game: Brunson v Graham
There is a lot at stake here. I honestly think whoever wins this matchup, their team will come out victorious. These two guys get it done, just when teams think they have their number, they make a play that crushes the hopes of the opponent.
If you asked me who I would take, I would pick the best parts of each their games because it’s that close between them. Graham’s motor is unmatched. For him to expend the energy that he does guarding people, then coming back and running the Jayhawk offense, there is no denying his competitiveness at all. Brunson’s composure when everything breaks down along with his footwork and craftiness is what has enabled him to have the year he’s had.
I would take Graham’s vision and pinpoint passes. Graham’s vision is very underrated, he’s known for his shot making ability and his deep range but pay attention to how he sets up his teammates. Each trait is the making of an elite point guard, which both these guys are. We are in for real treat when this game tips off on Saturday at 7!
Brandon Hudson runs The Hudson Hornet blog. Catch up on his work right here. We hope to have more guest posts from Brandon, especially with the NCAA tournament getting underway.