No need to bring a third (or fourth, if you’re wild) TV into your living room on Saturday — we’re down to the Final Four. Though we have fewer games to watch, the high quality of these games makes the Final Four electric and heartbreaking all at once, depending on your bracket.
On Saturday, April 2 we’ll see Villanova vs. Kansas at 6:09 PM EST and Duke vs. UNC at 8:49 PM EST. The winners will play in the final on Monday, April 4. While this Final Four matchup isn’t all that surprising (I landed 3/4 guesses myself), we’ll see the greatest rivalry in college sports play out again, as Coach Hubert Davis’ first year on the job takes UNC to the Final Four. Let’s take a look at the four teams.
Villanova sits in my #1 spot, so on a personal level, I’m rooting for a win against Kansas on Saturday. Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats bring a 30-7 record into the 2022 Final Four, are in the top 25 of the nation in avoiding live-ball turnovers, and rank in the top 10 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Villanova is the nation’s best free-throw shooting team — converting 83% of attempts — and has the opportunity to set a new Division 1 record for free-throw accuracy if they play up-to-par. Nonetheless, this season, Villanova is also below-average in free-throw creation rate. Collin Gillespie is an obvious standout for Nova. The Big East Player of the Year is the team’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, best 3-point shooter at 40.9%, and has the strongest player connection to the Wildcats’ last national championship as a fifth-year senior.
While offense is Villanova’s specialty, Kansas may have the upper hand in this matchup. Kansas has a fast tempo offense, is in the top 30 in shooting efficiency allowed, and ranks in the top 20 nationwide in adjusted defensive efficiency. On average, Kansas secures 72.3% of available rebounds, requiring Villanova to step up their defense if they want a win. Ochai Agbaji — the Big 12 Player of the Year, Big 12’s leading scorer, and an All-American — has been an undeniable asset in pushing Kansas’ tempo in the Big Dance. Agbaji is one of the team’s best three-point shooters, on-ball defenders, and successful lane drivers. Coupled with Remy Martin — named the Most Outstanding Player in the Midwest Regional despite coming off the bench as a sixth man — Kansas can absolutely pull off a win on Saturday.
Regarding the Duke and UNC rivalry, Coach Krzyzewski notes, “You can’t go into the Final Four just thinking rivalry, payback, or any of those things. You’ve got to go in saying ‘we want to win a championship.’ This is who we are now, whoever we would play.” He admits his team is trying to ignore all the noise and focus on the task at hand: winning the championship. With the Elite Eight win, Krzyzewski passed John Wooden for the most Final Four appearances (13) in NCAA Tournament history. All five of Duke’s national championships have come under his leadership and with the announcement of his last season, Blue Devils fans are hopeful for one final championship under Coach K. As a likely top pick for the 2022 NBA Draft, Paolo Banchero averages 18.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in tournament play, is 8-for-15 in the NCAA Tournament for three-pointers, was named ACC Freshman of the Year, and became the 33rd player in program history to earn consensus All-America status. Duke undoubtedly has the most talented rotation of any team in the Final Four.
We can’t count out UNC just yet. The Tar Heels have four players capable of scoring 20+ points on any given night. In the 2022 NCAA Tournament, we’ve seen Caleb Love and RJ Davis each score 30 points, Brady Manek score 26+ points twice, and Bacot have a double-double in every postseason game the team has played this year. The UNC offense makes them a dangerous opponent if not defended properly. The last time UNC played Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, UNC’s three-point average sat at 39.1%. While their defense has improved slightly in March, UNC will need to keep that three-point percentage high if they want to outplay Duke. And, of course, we can’t forget the second round 30-4 run by Baylor in the second half of what would eventually be an overtime win for the Tar Heels. Duke won’t be so kind to let a run like that slip.