March Madness turned to April, and college basketball upstarts and new title seekers gave way to heavyweights. The quartet left standing in the men’s Final Four is the most decorated in NCAA tournament history, and a program will add another chapter to an already impressive legacy.
Saturday night’s first semi-final features the most recent successful program. But while Villanova has ended up cutting the nets in two of the last five tournaments played, this year’s Wildcats face a tough challenge against Kansas. Oddly enough, though the Jayhawks are rightfully considered one of the sport’s perennial powerhouses, they have the longest national title drought among the four schools, their last crown dating back to 2008.
The nightcap, of course, is the one that dominates the spotlight as longtime rivals Duke and North Carolina go head-to-head in what may well be the most anticipated game in the event’s history. Either retired Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will have the opportunity to add a sixth championship to his list of accomplishments, or Hubert Davis will have the chance to lead the Tar Heels to the promised land in his first season in the head of the program.
Here’s a viewers guide to the action.
Kansas vs. Villanova, 6:09 p.m. ET, TBS
Why watch: It might not be the prettiest basketball game you’ll ever see, but it should be extremely competitive as both teams know how to play through a grind-it-out type affair.
This is a rematch of a 2018 Final Four clash. The Wildcats controlled that encounter 95-79 en route to their second title in three years, but Villanova’s shorthanded team this season will be the outsider. The Wildcats are an experienced group, however, with super seniors Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels leading the way. Kansas has its own top-tier lead guard in Ochai Agbaji and an experienced big man in David McCormack. Villanova is the best free-throw shooting team in the nation at 83%, including a perfect 15-for-15 performance at the line in their regional final win over Houston. The Wildcats aren’t as prolific from the three-point arc as their more recent title teams, and the Jayhawks’ Christian Braun and Dajuan Harris are exceptional perimeter defenders who won’t give up many looks anyway. open.
PREDICTIONS: Will Coach K win his sixth title?
TO ANALYSE: Breaking down the Final Four matches
Why it might disappoint: Kansas, with Remy Martin providing a spark off the bench and veteran Mitch Lightfoot providing some quality minutes in the frontcourt lately, now believe they have an even greater advantage at depth with Villanova guard Justin Moore put on the line. spread by a torn Achilles tendon. Caleb Daniels has done a terrific job all season as the Wildcats’ sixth man, but coach Jay Wright will have few options behind the starting lineup if anyone is having foul trouble. Less likely but at least conceivable is a one-sided result from Villanova if the Wildcats can somehow force the Jayhawks into a three-point shooting contest, but Bill Self’s KU team did a good job of getting away with it. sticking to his game plan throughout this playoff series.
Duke vs. North Carolina, 8:39 p.m. ET, TBS
Why watch: One way or another, this historic rivalry – some say the greatest of all sports – will have a new chapter written on the game’s biggest stage. But from a purely basketball perspective, the competition should be equally compelling.
The Blue Devils carried out their attack with almost maximum efficiency. While the defensive attention to detail hasn’t been as solid, most of Duke’s opponents don’t have the firepower to keep up. The Tar Heels, however, have the staff to do it. Freshman sensation Paolo Banchero remains the keystone of Duke’s offense, but Mark Williams’ finishing ability at the rim and Jeremy Roach’s knack for creating off the dribble keep all scoring options open. UNC will counter with Armando Bacot, an elite inside scorer and rebounder, versatile forward Brady Manek, who can score inside and outside, and standout defender Leaky Black, who should be tasked with limit Roach’s penetration play. Neither team wants to rely on the three-point arc, but that’s where the outcome could be determined nonetheless. Duke’s occasional use of zone looks won’t last long if the Tar Heels’ Caleb Love and RJ Davis continue their hot firing. The Blue Devils will need at least a few treys from Wendell Moore and AJ Griffin to keep the interior clear.
Why it might disappoint: We can only hope that won’t be the case, but events that arrive with this level of hype don’t always live up to it. The teams shared their regular season encounters in ACC play and, oddly, none had any suspense at the end. Duke won by 20 at Chapel Hill on Feb. 5 before the Tar Heels hit their stride, while UNC returned the favor a month later with a 13-point triumph at Durham that spoiled the party at Coach K’s home final at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It seems unlikely that this one will walk away from either team in the same way, but it’s not out of the question. Neither team is particularly deep, so fouls could be an issue. Another element that could spoil the proceedings – and we hate to talk about it for fear of warding it off – is a series of seemingly endless surveillance reviews by officials in the critical closing minutes.
Follow college reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus