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Preview: #2 Villanova Wildcats vs. #1 Kansas Jayhawks

The ‘Cats once again face the Jayhawks for a trip to the title game

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Kansas William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Final Four Friday, ‘Nova Nation! I will admit that I started this preview as a meandering diary entry full of FEELINGS. However, I think I will save that for next week. Mark your calendars.

The main gist of the diary entry was that this past week has been a weird conflicted mess for me - the excitement of the Final Four obviously overshadowed by Moore’s injury. While I grew closer to the “excited” camp as the week rolled along, I didn’t feel like I felt during the most recent Final Four runs.

And I think I finally realized why: perspective.

I, and most of you, spend October to March (hopefully April) breathing Villanova basketball. My emotional stability is put on the line twice a week as I try to survive 40 minutes at a time. Any diehard sports fan has had that conversation with themselves - when they stare into the mirror and ask “do I actually like sports? Because this seems miserable.” I have it nightly these days. I ponder to myself whether my fandom - and the accompanying stress, anxiety, and occasional heartbreak - has sucked all the enjoyment out of it. I had these debates with myself in 2016 and 2018.

And then we won. And those questions were answered. Yes, it’s 100% worth it.

So, as a I struggled to survive the Houston game, I kept reminding myself that a trip to the Final Four makes this all worth it - months of supporting a team you love, living and dying with them through every game. It’s justified. You are vindicated.

Getty Images

The buzzer sounded. We won. Emptiness.

I didn’t spend the first few days of this week watching breakdowns of the Houston game, highlights from Villanova’s run, or Kansas’ games. I watched the postgame interviews about Justin Moore. I watched videos of support submitted by fans. I scrolled Twitter for hours - not for Houston schadenfreude or for talking heads having to eat their words - but for updates on an injury I knew would not be healed by Saturday. This was subconscious - my interest in Justin Moore’s condition and the team’s reaction surging past my excitement at reaching another Final Four. Based on what I saw on this blog, many of you felt the same.

That was a long-winded way of saying I used to live and die by wins and losses (and I still may) and I measured this team’s success in those columns. However, the display of compassion, heart, brotherhood, and kindness that I witnessed this past week has made me prouder than a Final Four ever could. Since the final buzzer sounded against Houston, the Villanova players have done more to show the world what this program is about than they did in those prior 40 minutes.

That being said, let’s **** sh*t up.

The University of Kansas (KU) is a public research university with its main campus in Lawrence, Kansas, As we all know, James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, served as both the athletic director and men’s basketball coach at Kansas. Naismith coached the Jayhawks from 1898-1907 and, wildly, remains the only coach in Kansas men’s basketball history with a losing record (55-60). Is Naismith on the hot seat?

Here are three random alumni presented without comment:

  • Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap
  • Mandy Patinkin
  • The actress that played the mom on Boy Meets World

In Bill Self’s 19th season at the helm, the Jayhawks finished 32-6 (14-4) en route to clinching their 16th Big 12 title in the previous 18 seasons. The Jayhawks defeated Texas Tech twice and absolutely throttled Baylor by nearly 30. The Jayhawks rolled through the conference pretty much without incident, tripping up once on the road to TCU (the other three losses coming on the road to Baylor, Texas Tech, and Texas).

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional - Miami vs Kansas Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

However, the Jayhawks are arguably without an impressive non-conference win this season (aside from the recent defeats of Providence, Creighton, and Miami). Kansas lost to Dayton in late November and fell to Kentucky in late January. Beyond those games, Kansas’ non-conference was a parade of sub-100 cupcakes.

Unsurprisingly, Kansas is a great team on both ends of the floor. The Jayhawks rank 7th in AdjO and #18 in AdjD. The Jayhawks like to push the pace on offense (61st in tempo) and rank top-40 in average possession-length. They are a skilled 3-point shooting team (69th in 3P%) but deep shooting has not been a staple of their offense (ranking 287th in 3PA/FGA -for reference, Villanova ranks 20th). The Jayhawks are incredibly efficient in the paint and excel on the offensive glass - something the ‘Cats will have to disrupt. Villanova should also be able to generate turnovers against a Jayhawks team that has struggled with ball security. While the thought of sending Kansas to the line gives me the shakes given that it implies our 5 man rotation is accumulating fouls, the Jayhawks are a middle-of-the-road foul shooting team.

On the other end of the floor, the Jayhawks are a very stout defensive unit, ranking 27th in eFG%. Most notably for Villanova, the Jayhawks have a strong perimeter defense and quickly close out on shooters. The Jayhawks will try to funnel Villanova inside or bait the ‘Cats into playing a mid-range game. However, despite Houston’s vaunted perimeter defense, the ‘Cats were able to generate some good looks - of course, without Justin Moore, the ‘Cats won’t be able to withstand the shutdown of Collin Gillespie, as was the case for most of the Houston game.

The Jayhawks are a veteran team - with four seniors, a junior, and two sophomores in their seven-man rotation. Let’s start with Ochai Agbaji, a 6’5 senior guard and the Big 12 Player of the Year. Agbaji is a dynamic shooting guard who can punish you from anywhere on the floor. He’s presently averaging 18.9 points a game and shooting 39.8% from deep. There is really only one solution here for Villanova - stick to him. Ogbaji is the type of player that will immediately take advantage of a defender helping or going under a ball-screen. While Villanova can switch on him, the ‘Cats will need to be in his grill from tip to whistle. Villanova will have to limit his catches on the perimeter and off of screens.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional - Miami vs Kansas Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Moving on to David McCormack, the 6’10 senior forward. McCormack is averaging 10 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. McCormack’s bread and butter is the deep entry pass to the post - once he gets that, he will go to work on a defender under the rim. The key to disrupting McCormack’s game is to obviously push him off the block - something that will likely fall to some combination of Dixon and Samuels. McCormack has been prone to turnovers this year - especially when he faces pressure inside.

Christian Braun, the 6’6 junior guard, is a strong shooter that will take advantage of a closeout or just catch-and-shoot the three. Villanova will need to be quick to the perimeter but not fall for his shot fake. Villanova will also need to watch him off-ball as he loves cutting to the basket behind the defense. As noted above, Kansas loves to play fast and in transition - Braun is a major part of the Jayhawks’ ability to quickly get up the floor.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional - Miami vs Kansas David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The story of the tournament for Kansas has arguably been the emergence of transfer guard Remy Martin. Martin, a 6’0 senior transfer from Arizona State, came off the bench to drop 20 points against Creighton and 23 points against Providence. While he only tallied 9 against Miami, he is a dangerous scorer that can get hot quickly. He is also arguably one of Kansas’ best playmakers and will dish it off if he’s doubled.

I feel like I should now move on to previewing the Villanova squad given that there are just as many questions surrounding how we will approach this game. There are a lot of unknowns about the degree to which Bryan Antoine and Chris Arcidiacono will be able to essentially fill in for Caleb Daniels - who is filling in for Justin Moore. That being said, this Kansas team has flaws. Like Villanova, they are prone to scoring droughts and have a nasty habit of letting teams get out in front. If Villanova can slow this one down and make it ugly - something we do better than anyone - the ‘Cats can come away with this one.

The game tips off Saturday at 6:09pm on TBS.