Here is everything you need to know about the Kansas Jayhawks and the Villanova Wildcats in our Kansas vs. Villanova NCAA Tournament men’s basketball preview.
Final Four — National Semifinal
No. 1 Kansas (32-6) vs. No. 2 Villanova (30-7) Saturday, April 2, Time TBA CT, TBS, Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, La.
How They Got Here: Kansas won the Big 12 Conference tournament. Villanova won the Big East Conference Tournament.
Seeds: Kansas was the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. Villanova was the No. 2 seed in the South Region.
NCAA Tournament results: Kansas: def. Texas Southern, 83-56 (first round); def. Creighton, 79-72 (second round); def. Providence, 66-61 (Sweet 16), def. Miami (FL), 76-50 (Elite Eight). Villanova: def. Delaware, 80-60 (first round), def. Ohio State, 71-61 (second round), def. Michigan, 63-55 (Sweet 16), def. Houston, 50-44 (Elite Eight).
Winner gets: A berth in the national championship game on Monday, April 4.
Projected starting lineups
Kansas: G Christian Braun, G Dajuan Harris Jr., F Jalen Wilson, G Ochai Agbaji, F David McCormack.
Villanova: G Collin Gillespie, F Brandon Slater, G Caleb Daniels, F Jermaine Samuels, F Eric Dixon.
Players to watch
Kansas G Ochai Agbaji: Did Agbaji finally unlock ‘national player of the year candidate’ mode in the victory over Miami? Entering that game he was scoring a little more than 10 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, nine points less than his regular-season average. He had almost taken a back seat to the rise of Remy Martin in the first three games. And, in the first half against Miami, it kind of looked that way, too. But, in the second half, Agbaji scored 12 of his 18 points, drove with aggression to the basket and finally connected consistently from distance with two baseline 3-pointers. This is the Agbaji that Kansas needs to win a championship. And, by the way, Martin finished with nine points. So it’s not like these two players can’t co-exist. In fact, in November and December, when both were healthy and in the starting lineup, they did exactly that.
Villanova G Collin Gillespie: If you follow college basketball you know his story. Gillespie was the Big EAST Player of the Year last season and suffered an injury in the Big East Tournament that ended his season. So, he returned for a final season and has led the Wildcats to the Final Four, which is where his Villanova career started — as a freshman that was part of the Wildcats’ 2018 national championship. This season he was the Big EAST Player of the Year again, and runs Jay Wright’s offense to perfection. He’s averaging nearly 16 points per game, has nearly 130 assists for the season and is Villanova’s most dogged perimeter defender. He has saved his best season for last for the Wildcats.
Kansas: It’s the Jayhawks’ ‘Sweet 16’ in the Final Four, as in the program’s 16th Final Four appearance. Kansas is looking for its sixth national championship and its second under head coach Bill Self, who is making his fourth Final Four appearance and his first since the 2018 tournament. Kansas has looked great at times and has looked sluggish at times. But, in the second half against Miami, Kansas put it all together. The Jayhawks outscored 47-15 in the second half, started the half on an 18-5 run and held Miami to 34 percent shooting for the game (right at the Jayhawks’ tournament average). Agbaji had a great game. But so did guard Christian Braun and forward David McCormack. In fact, McCormack played less than five minutes in the second half. But he scored eight points and set the tone for Kansas’ best half of basketball in the tournament.
Villanova: Remember in December when a healthy Baylor team absolutely owned Villanova in the Big 12-Big EAST Battle, 57-36? At the time, one could argue that there were worries about Villanova, especially after the Wildcats lost their Big EAST opener against Creighton a few days later. But, since then the Wildcats have lost three games, won the Big EAST Tournament with relative ease and run through the NCAA Tournament to reach the Final Four for the fourth time under head coach Jay Wright and for the third time since 2016. The last two times the Wildcats were here they won the whole thing. This has turned into one of Wright’s better coaching jobs. His bench isn’t deep, and the leg injury to Justin Moore likely robs the Wildcats of a starter in the Final Four. That puts more pressure on Jermaine Samuels (16 points vs. Houston) and Caleb Daniels (12 points). Daniels, who played 32 minutes off the bench, probably slides into the starting lineup for Moore — who averaged 14.8 points — unless a miracle happens.
Villanova is 5-4 all-time against Kansas. Villanova won the last meeting, 56-55, on Dec. 21, 2019, when Kansas was the nation’s No. 1 team. Four of their meetings have occurred in postseason play. In 2018, Villanova defeated Kansas, 95-79, in the NCAA national semifinals en route to a national championship. In 2016, Villanova beat Kansas, 64-59, in the NCAA regional finals, as the Wildcats went on to win the national championship. In 2008, Kansas beat Villanova, 72-57, in the NCAA regional semifinals, as the Jayhawks went on to win the national title. In 1968, Kansas beat Villanova, 55-48, in the NIT quarterfinals. Kansas ended up losing to Dayton in the title game. That’s the only time the winner of a postseason Kansas-Villanova matchup didn’t win a title later that postseason.
Kansas 71, Villanova 65. Villanova is a hard-nosed team but losing your second-leading scorer this late in the tournament really hurts. Can Daniels — who averages 10.2 points per game — pick up that slack? Perhaps some of it. But realistically the Wildcats have one, perhaps two players, they can use off the bench. Kansas is deep and healthy and finally clicking at the right time. If Agbaji truly is unlocked, it’s hard to see the Wildcats beating the Jayhawks. But, this game will be close because the Wildcats are committed to defense and Wright isn’t afraid to try new things to stay in the game.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.