Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 31, 2018 at 12:57 PM
NCAA TOURNAMENT FINAL FOUR - HERE'S LOYOLA VS. MICHIGAN, VILLANOVA VS. KANSAS PREVIEWS
The Villanova Wildcats have that been-there/done-that feeling: Just two years ago Jay Wright's club won it all thanks to a near half-court heave at the buzzer to beat North Carolina and now - with a team that sat in the #1 spot in the polls for some 14 weeks of this 2017-18 college basketball season - we've seen the 'Cats priced at a minus 205 betting favorite to win it all and so the good folks believe this is Villanova's tourney to win. Right? We'll get to the Saturday night Villanova versus Kansas battle in the nightcap of the Final Four in just a moment but first this quick reminder:
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Loyola-Chicago vs. Michigan (-5) and Kansas vs. Villanova (-5)
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#11 LOYOLA-CHICAGO (32-5) vs. #3 MICHIGAN (32-7) - 6:09 p.m. ET, TBS
First things first: The Loyola kids have won all of its games in outright upset fashion during this year's "Big Dance" and the Ramblers enter this weekend's Final Four riding a fabulous 14-game SU (straight-up) winning streak; Michigan, on the other hand, has split its four pointspread verdicts in this man's tourney but the maize-and-blue ride a 13-game SU winning streak into this clash and so we're talking two teams that are hot, hot, hot!
No question that we've seen other #11 seeds (and other long-shots) get embarrassed once they get to this big stage of the Final Four but Loyola's time-tested team has shown no signs of "stage fright" and head coach Porter Moser's crew has remained cool and calm while playing a share-the-ball offense that features guards Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson - each of whom has taken turns playing the star role in this tourney - and star-on-the-rise C Cameron Krutwig. Still, if the 5-point underdog Ramblers are gonna pull the upset here, then Donte Ingram and Marques Townes must hit some wing jumpers and make the Michigan defense work extra hard.
If John Beilein's Wolverines are gonna march in to Monday night's NCAA Championship Game, then frosh G Jordan Poole - he of the 30-foot game-winner at the buzzer against Houston in Round II - must take on more of a scoring role, especially when considering G Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (just 9 points scored in last weekend's Elite 8 non-cover win against Florida State) has been truly inconsistent on offense this tourney. Can big man Mo Wagner nail some treys early and get the Wolverines all juiced up ... or is this merely Loyola's "year" as Sister Jean's favorite team looks to stay comfy in a game where 65 points likely wins it.
Here's the NCAA Tournament path to the Final Four for both Loyola-Chicago and Michigan:
#1 VILLANOVA (34-4) vs. #1 KANSAS (31-7) - approximately 8:49 p.m. ET, TBS
As it all turned out, the "right side" of the NCAA Tournament bracket held up pretty good with a pair of #1 seeds making it all the way to the Lone Star State but better believe that Villanova's been the more impressive squad while winning its tourney games by 26, 23, 12 and 12 points (a per-game average winning margin of 18.3 points) while Kansas has won each of its last three tournament games by 4 points apiece including that overtime thriller against Duke in last Sunday's Elite 8 classic. Okay, so will "margin of victory" stuff matter here?
After all, Kansas - a 5-point underdog for this prime-time tilt - has plenty of experience on its side though head coach Bill Self really needs PG Devonte Graham (17.2 ppg and 7.3 rebounds per game) to take charge of this game with more aggressive moves to the hoop - he disappeared for times in that win against the Blue Devils. Meanwhile, not likely Kansas C Udoka Azubuike plays more than 20-to-22 minutes here as he continues to get back into shape so odds are Elite 8 hero G Malik Newman (32 points against Duke) must nail a handful of trifectas.
If Villanova stays the course - that means Player of the Year front-runner PG Jalen Brunson (21 ppg average in last weekend's wins against West Virginia / Texas Tech) makes all the correct decisions and hits some treys - than this heady bunch will be tough to top but the real wild card here is swingman Eric Paschall who snagged 14 rebounds against T-Tech (including six offensive boards).
Here's the NCAA Tournament path to the Final Four for both Villanova and Kansas:
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