March Madness: Villanova's Brunson, Kansas' Graham meet in Final Four

By Andy Jasner, The Sports Xchange  |  March 29, 2018 at 7:04 PM
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The second Final Four matchup on Saturday will feature a pair of No. 1 seeds when Villanova battles Kansas in San Antonio.

The winner will meet the Michigan-Loyola-Chicago winner in the national championship game Monday night.

Villanova (34-4) defeated Texas Tech 71-59 in the East region of the Elite Eight while Kansas (31-7) ousted Duke 85-81 in an overtime thriller in the Midwest.

It's the sixth Final Four appearance for the Wildcats and the second in the last three years. They captured the national title in 2016 for the program's second championship. One more victory would tie the 35 wins accomplished by the 2016 team.

This will be the third meeting between the schools in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova defeated the Jayhawks in the 2016 South Regional Final in Louisville while Kansas was victorious in the 2008 NCAA regional semifinal in Detroit.

The Wildcats began this Final Four run by knocking down a bevy of 3-pointers. But they're hardly defined by just shooting because they hit just 4 of 24 threes against the Red Raiders yet managed to win.

Still, Villanova has drained 436 3-pointers and enter the Final Four just six shy of the NCAA single-season record for made 3-pointers set by VMI in 2007.

"If you're going to advance in this tournament you can't be one-dimensional," Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said. "You have to be able to adjust and the fact that we have had experience doing that is important. It's something we have talked about as a team, that we've played some of the best teams in the Big 12 and now we're getting the best team in the Big 12 so you know it's going to be tougher.

"Kansas is different from the other two teams we have played so we have to be ready to adjust when we get in the game on Saturday."

Villanova junior guard Jalen Brunson, a National Player of the Year candidate, was named the Most Outstanding Player at the East Regional. Brunson averaged 21.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in Boston.

Brunson was part of Villanova's national championship team two years ago.

The gritty win over Texas Tech in the Elite Eight proved to Brunson how tough this current group of Wildcats has become.

"It was big because there's times you're not going to be able to make shots," Brunson said. "You can't dwell at all on not making shots. We do a pretty good job of making sure that our focus is on playing defense and rebounding. We don't care if we're making shots or not, we just try to focus on playing for each other and knowing that we are going to get a stop. We are very talented offensively and have a lot of guys who can really score the ball and make plays for others, but when we're playing defense together that's what makes us really special."

Kansas advanced to its 15th Final Four -- and its third under head coach Bill Self -- with its win against Duke.

The Jayhawks last advanced to the Final Four in 2012 when they fell in the title game to Kentucky.

Senior guard Devonte' Graham, the Big 12 Player of the Year, is the only Division I player averaging more than 17.0 points, 7.0 assists and 1.6 steals while committing fewer than 3.0 turnovers per game.

Sophomore guard Malik Newman was named Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player after averaging a team-high 21.8 points in its first four NCAA Tournament wins. He scored a career-high 32 points in the Elite Eight win against Duke.

The Jayhawks are far from satisfied after reaching the Final Four.

"We've got a ton of work [to do]," Self said. "Even though you say you're so close, we're still light years away from doing what we want to do. And, you know, who we've got to go through to do that [Villanova] is what makes it most difficult. But I do think it enhances it. I think for the short term there's no question about it being life-changing; but long term, I think you've got to cut down the [national championship] nets."

Kansas and Villanova have few weaknesses. It's going to come down to execution in this national semifinal.

"So we're different. They can stretch it from five spots; we can only stretch it from four," Self said. "You know, we play through a big with his back to the basket; they don't. But you talk about how they are going to guard man-to-man; they are going to play four guards the vast majority of the time.

"I don't think the differences are that great. I don't know if that's an advantage for being in this game or that game. I don't know. You can make a case probably for both of them."

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