The 2018 NCAA Tournament has been one of the wildest in recent memory, and with only four teams remaining, we look at who will be moving on and winning the national championship.
After picking Michigan to beat Loyola in the first game, it is time to look at the latter Final four matchup of the evening; Kansas vs Villanova. Each are both powerhouse schools with plenty of postseason experience, but only one will get the opportunity to reach the National Championship.
Kansas vs Villanova boasts a much different narrative than the first Final Four game. While each team is talented in many areas, both Kansas and Villanova rely heavily on their star power on the perimeter. Projected second round picks in senior Devonte’ Graham (17 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists per game) and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (14 points, 4 rebounds) carry the workload for the Jayhawks, while projected NBA lottery pick Mikal Bridges (18 points, 5 rebounds per game) and projected second rounder Jalen Brunson (19 points, 5 assists per game) spearhead the offense for the Wildcats.
I believe that each teams’ star players will show up and show out, but each of their third and fourth options will be major factors of the contest. Kansas guard Malik Newman (14 points, 5 rebounds per game) has come on strong in the tournament, including an impressive 32-point performance against Duke in the Elite Eight. Their next key player is sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike, who will play an interesting part against Villanova. The 7-footer averaged an efficient 13 points and 7 rebounds this season but becomes a liability when other teams spread the floor out, forcing Kansas to play their own small-ball lineup. Villanova’s starting front-court are each only 6’9, but both stretch the defense to the 3-point line. Azubuike will either be a great presence that dominates the boards and in the paint, or will have to be benched for a quicker lineup if he is unable to guard and stay out of foul trouble.
After Bridges and Brunson, there are a plethora of solid support guys for Villanova. Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, and Omar Spellman all will need to step up if Villanova expects to knock off the Jayhawks. Paschall and Spellman are Nova’s big men and will have to do all they can to spread out Azubuike on offense and get him in foul trouble, as well as hold their own when guarding him. Booth is their defensive specialist, while DiVincenzo is the third leading scorer and brings lots of energy to the squad.
While it undoubtedly will be a game that comes down to the wire, I think Kansas will prevail. The trio of Graham, Mykhailiuk, and Newman give the Jayhawks all kinds of weapons and I even believe Azubuike will play a positive role against Villanova by dominating the glass and getting an easy 15 points by outmuscling their big men. It will be a tight one and will come down to whose star players are on that night, but when the dust settles, the Kansas Jayhawks will be facing Michigan in the National Championship.