Villanova vs. Kansas in the Final Four: How they got here plus a prediction – SB Nation


The road to the Final Four doesn’t start on Selection Sunday. For Villanova and Kansas, a trip to San Antonio is the realization of a dream that began six months ago when practice first opened.

Villanova’s season was always going to be Final Four or bust with so much returning talent and a championship pedigree already in place. Kansas is a threat to get here every year as a true blueblood and college basketball’s most consistent regular season winner.

Each of these four teams left standing have had drastically different journeys to reach the Alamodome. This is how Villanova and Kansas have done it.

Villanova


NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Villanova vs Texas Tech

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

What were preseason expectations?

Villanova expected to be here. The Wildcats were No. 6 in the preseason polls even after major roster turnover from a 32-win team the season before, which included the departure of star wing Josh Hart and national title game hero Kris Jenkins.

Villanova had groomed Jalen Brunson to step up into his leading role, and co-star Mikal Bridges was poised for a jump, too. Villanova was betting on internal development for everyone else — an ethos that defines the program and has helped build it into one of college hoops’ most sustainable winners.

The road to March

For the first time since the inception of the “new” Big East, Villanova did not win the league in the regular season. Xavier claimed that honor this year even as ‘Nova swept the two-game series in the regular season.

Villanova was still fantastic, of course. It ascended to No. 1 in the polls for the first time six weeks into the season. It stayed there a total of eight weeks, more than any other team this year. It won the Big East tournament with an overtime win over Providence, earning a No. 1 seed in the East Region.

How they got here

Villanova opened the tournament with a 26-point win over Radford and then beat Alabama by 23 to reach the second weekend. A Sweet 16 matchup with West Virginia looked like a potential landmine. ‘Nova only led by two at the half but went on to win by 12. An Elite Eight game against Texas Tech was never particularly close, with the Wildcats coasting to a 12-point victory.

Most essential player

Bridges will be a lottery pick in June for his 3-and-D skill set, but Brunson is the player that makes this team go. He’s a deadly scorer all over the court. Just ask West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, arguably the country’s best defender this season. Brunson dropped 27 points on 15 shots on him in the Sweet 16 win. Brunson has already won AP Player of the Year and is the favorite to win this tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award if ‘Nova cuts down the nets.

X-Factor

Donte DiVincenzo, aka The Michael Jordan of Delaware aka The Big Ragu. The redshirt sophomore guard adds scoring punch off the bench for ‘Nova, already dropping 18 points on Alabama in this tournament. He’s likely to be the star of this team next year, and he could foreshadow that with a big performance in San Antonio.

Kansas


NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Kansas vs Duke

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

What were preseason expectations?

Kansas started this year on a mission to make history. The Jayhawks had won at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title for 13 straight years, tying a mark set by UCLA throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The Jayhawks started the year No. 4 in the preseason polls even after losing National Player of the Year Frank Mason to graduation and star freshman wing Josh Jackson to the NBA as a top-five draft pick. Kansas’ ability to remain so great even after losing its two best players is the ultimate testament to its bluebloodedness.

The road to March

When Kansas stumbled in back-to-back home games (yes, the first one was in Kansas City) in Dec. to Washington and Arizona State, it looked like this might be its toughest Big 12 title yet. The Big 12 looked loaded. Of course, Kansas still won the league outright by two games. The Jayhawks also won the conference tournament — one thing all four Final Four teams have in common.

How they got here

Kansas made short work of Penn in a 16-1 game some thought could be competitive. It got hairy after that. Seton Hall made a late charge in the round of 32. Clemson made a late charge in the Sweet 16. Still, KU held on to set up the Elite Eight matchup with Duke that everyone wanted to see. The game was an instant classic, with Grayson Allen missing a shot at the buzzer to win and Malik Newman scoring every Kansas point in overtime to secure the Final Four berth.

Most essential player

Newman has been on fire in the tournament, but Kansas has other wing shooters (Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick) who can get hot, too. The answer here is senior point guard Devonte Graham, Kansas’ leading man all season. He hasn’t had a breakout game in the tournament yet, but he’ll need one in his matchup with Brunson if KU wants to reach the title game.

X-Factor

Udoka Azubuike. A massive 280-pound center who shoots 77 percent from the field and 41 percent from the foul line. When he gets the ball in close, it’s free cheese. If he’s fouled, it’s the ultimate adventure.

Prediction


NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Villanova vs Texas Tech

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova 84, Kansas 77

Both of these teams have so many offensive weapons, which should create a thrilling up-and-down game heavy on creating looks in transition and from three-point range. It’s so hard to beat Villanova in an uptempo game, where the Wildcats’ No. 1 offense can get out and do heavy damage.

‘Nova to the title game.



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