Top seeds clash in the Alamodome for a shot at a national title
It's no fluke that both Kansas and Villanova are still standing after a flurry of chaotic upsets in the earlier rounds of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Both teams are true No. 1 seeds who rode powerful offenses to a top-five ranking during the regular season.
Kansas (31-7) has a knack for consistently creating good shots over 40 minutes. The Jayhawks rank 11th in the NCAA both in field goal percentage (.493) and 3-point field goal percentage (.403). They also rank fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency (121.0). It's one reason why Kansas has won 12 of its last 13 games to make its 15th Final Four appearance.
Villanova (34-4) is a true juggernaut on offense. The Wildcats reached the Final Four for the second time in three seasons, in part, because they rank No.1 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency (127.3) and lead the NCAA in scoring offense with 86.6 points per game. They also rank sixth in field goal percentage (.499). Villanova does most of its damage from the perimeter, shooting at a 40.0 percent clip on 3-pointers. The Wildcats make nearly 12 3-pointers per game.
Final Four: No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (31-7) vs. No. 1 Villanova Wildcats (34-4)
Time: 8:49 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Where: Alamodome (San Antonio)
Keys for Kansas
There's a good reason why Devonte' Graham earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors. Graham has done a little bit of everything in getting the Jayhawks to this point. The senior guard is averaging 17.2 points, 7.3 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game this season. Graham leads Kansas in points, assists and steals and he ranks fifth in rebounds. If there's a play to be made, Graham is going to make it. Life will be tough for Villanova if he plays to his usual ability.
Malik Newman has taken his game to a higher level during the NCAA Tournament. Newman has come through with clutch baskets and while providing a decided uptick in offensive production. He poured out 32 points to help Kansas beat Duke in the Elite Eight – including 13 points in overtime. Newman is averaging 22.7 points per game on 54.2 percent shooting in the postseason. He has been lethal from the perimeter in that stretch, with 28 made 3-pointers on 54.9 percent shooting over seven games. The Jayhawks are undefeated this season when he makes four or more 3-pointers in a game.
Keys for Villanova
Crashing the boards could be a pivotal factor that turns the game in Villanova's favor. Kansas is not a good rebounding team by any stretch of the imagination. The Jayhawks allow opponents to grab 35.2 rebounds per game and rank 181st nationally with a plus-0.4 rebound margin. Villanova has enough interior size with Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall to gain an edge in that category. If the Wildcats can control the glass, it will make slowing down their offense even more difficult.
Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are a one-two punch that few teams can counter. Brunson has offered a consistent spark for Villanova all season and can be counted on to provide clutch baskets. With per game averages of 19.2 points on 51.7 percent shooting and 4.6 assists, Brunson is the Wildcats' top offensive threat. Bridges is the x-factor. He is a future NBA lottery pick and a multi-dimensional threat on offense. Bridges averages 17.8 points on 51.2 percent shooting. The Wildcats have lost just once this season when he has a 20-point game.
This is the type of Final Four matchup everyone wants to see. Both Villanova and Kansas are playing their best basketball at the right time. With the strength both teams have on offense – especially on the perimeter – the scoreboard will get a workout. Ultimately, it will come down to which team can get more stops. Villanova has a more efficient defense than Kansas and, as long as the outside shots fall, it will be just enough to bring the Wildcats one step closer to a shot at a second national title in three seasons.
Prediction: Villanova 80, Kansas 73
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.