For Kansas and Villanova, their experience helped lead them to Elite Eight wins on Sunday and gets them to a matchup in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.
When the NCAA Tournament gets to the second weekend, experience can be a big factor in deciding who gets to the Final Four and who goes home. For Kansas and Villanova on Sunday in their regional finals, their experience on this big stage helped lead them into what should be a great semifinal on Saturday night in San Antonio (8:49 p.m. ET, TBS)
In the first game of the day out in Boston, it was Villanova who reached its second Final Four in the last three years with a 71-59 win over Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were in the Elite Eight for the first time in program history and their offense was contained by the Wildcats’ defense.
In total, Texas Tech shot just 33.3 percent from the floor, made just five of their 20 three-point attempts, and they were outrebounded 51-33. That large rebounding margin was due in part to the play of Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall in the ‘Nova frontcourt (20 combined boards).
For Villanova, their defense had to play a big part in beating the Red Raiders because they did not shoot the ball well from the perimeter (4-for-24). You rarely see a case where a team wins a game by making less than ten field goals in the second half, but the Wildcats did just that on Sunday afternoon.
The Wildcats had built up a 15-point lead in the second half, but Texas Tech did not go away as they cut the deficit to five with 4:13 to go. But, the strong duo of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges had eight of the team’s final 13 points to help secure the win. In fact, it was Brunson who scored the final seven points of the first half that got Villanova’s halftime lead up to 13.
Brunson and Bridges were both freshmen when Villanova won the National Championship in 2015-16, but now they are the key pieces on this year’s team and they want to get that second title. In addition to those two players, they have junior guard Phil Booth, who had 20 points in the title game that year against North Carolina.
While Texas Tech should be proud of the season they had, Villanova showed that they can beat you in different ways and that is the mark of an experienced team. They can win games with their three-point shooting and their defense and that will go a long way against their next opponent.
As for the other regional final in Omaha, Duke and Kansas treated fans to a game that was arguably one of the best, if not the best game of the tournament so far. The Jayhawks made the third time the charm in the Elite Eight as they defeated the Blue Devils, 85-81, in overtime out in Omaha to get to the Final Four for the first time since 2014-15.
When you think about Kansas, Devonte Graham is the first name that comes to mind. The senior guard hasn’t had more than 16 points in each of his last three games, but he has 19 total assists. Part of being an experienced guard this time of year is not only to make plays yourself but to make others better.
With that being the case, you can see the impact that Graham has had on sophomore Malik Newman. Newman has been a rising start this March and that continued against Duke. He had 32 points and that included all of Kansas’ 13 points that they had in overtime. In the four games Kansas has played, he has averaged 21.75 points per game.
Another senior guard that was key on Sunday for Kansas was Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. Mykhailiuk had a double-double (11 points, ten rebounds), which was a big improvement from the zero boards he had against Clemson on Friday.
If Kansas goes on to win the title, his game-tying three-pointer with 25.7 seconds to go will be remembered in Lawrence for a long time. Over the final nine minutes of regulation, Graham and Mykhailliuk combined for eight of Kansas’s final 13 points, which helped set the stage for Newman’s great overtime.
While no team had a lead bigger than seven throughout the night, Kansas did a great job attacking the Duke zone as they made 50 percent of their shots (17-of-34) in the second half and overtime. In addition to the points, it was shocking to see they dominated Duke on the glass, 47-32, when you consider the Blue Devils have Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. down low.
Since Kansas had 17 offensive rebounds, they were able to get second chances when their perimeter shots weren’t falling. Meanwhile, on the Duke side, the three-point woes continued from the Sweet 16 as they were 7-for-29 from downtown despite all five starters scoring in double figures.
True, a different bounce off the rim on Grayson Allen’s final shot of regulation would have changed everything. With that being said, the experienced teams in March usually find a way to make the plays when it counts and the Jayhawks had the superior edge in that category against a Duke team that has its fair share of freshmen.
So, the stage is set for Wright and Bill Self to coach their experienced teams Saturday night in San Antonio. One coach will be looking for a chance to go for his third national championship (Wright) while another will try to write another chapter of his legacy in Texas (Self coached the 2007-08 Kansas team that won it all in San Antonio). These two coached against each other back in the 2015-16 Elite Eight when ‘Nova got the win, 64-59, in Louisville.
Of course, you won’t get my official pick on this matchup of top seeds till Friday. However, I would be surprised if these two experienced teams did not give us another great game in a national semifinal.