Villanova and Kansas meet once again in the NCAA Tournament, and this time a spot in the national championship game is on the line. In a Tournament where top seeds took a beating last week, the Kansas Jayhawks are the final No. 1 seed left standing, but they face a Villanova program that has been one of the most consistent programs in recent years. The Wildcats have won the last two Tournament meetings with Kansas — an Elite Eight matchup in 2016 and a Final Four matchup in 2018. In both cases, Villanova ultimately won the national championship.
The two programs also met in 2008, with Kansas handling the Wildcats en route to their own national championship. Could this game prove to be another step along the way for an eventual national champion?
Final Four: No. 2 Villanova Wildcats (30-7) vs. No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (32-6)
Time: Saturday, April 2 at 6:09 pm ET
Where: Caesars Superdome (New Orleans)
Spread: Kansas -4.5
Keys for Villanova
Villanova has two keys to victory against Kansas. The first is its ability to play defense. The second is its ability to get hot hitting 3-point shots. No team knows this as well as Kansas, as Villanova torched the Jayhawks from the 3-point line in their last Final Four matchup. But the Wildcats will need a better performance from beyond the arc than they managed in their South Region final victory against Houston last Saturday. The Wildcats struggled, connecting on just five of their 21 attempts (23.8 percent) from long range.
Fortunately for Villanova, the defense helped make up for the lack of 3-point shooting as the Wildcats won 50-44. Villanova won't be able to keep Kansas in that kind of a defensive battle, but the team's defense can control the tempo of the game to drag the Jayhawks into a lower-scoring game than they might want to be involved in.
But the biggest reason the Wildcats can prevail is their historically good performance at the free-throw line. Villanova is on pace to have the best free-throwing shooting performance for a season in college basketball history. If a game comes down to what each team does from the charity stripe, these Wildcats have a decisive advantage to rely on.
Keys for Kansas
Kansas has already overcome some stiff defensive challenges in its run to the Final Four. The Jayhawks managed to take care of two other Big East programs in the process with victories over Creighton and Providence before dominating Miami by 26 points in the Midwest Region final this past Sunday.
Having a balanced scoring attack has been key for Kansas, and it will be needed against the defensive pressure Villanova will bring to the floor. Despite having a balanced offense, the Jayhawks have Ochai Agbaji, the consensus All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year, who is capable of being the kind of difference-maker they need to swing a game in their favor. The Wildcats don't quite have that same kind of player on their roster. If Agbaji can get hot in the second half, then Kansas could find a way to pull ahead.
Villanova is down one key player for this Final Four matchup with point guard Justin Moore tearing his Achilles tendon in the final moments of the Elite Eight victory over Houston. But the Wildcats still have a balanced approach, and head coach Jay Wright is a master at creating matchup advantages in his team's favor.
Kansas has been the trending favorite in this game since the matchup became official, but this should be another good defensive battle between the two teams. But this time, Bill Self will get his Jayhawks past Wright's Wildcats in a tight one.