Kansas takes on one of the more unique teams in major college basketball in Villanova tonight. I am tempted to make this the shortest preview of my life and simply say if Villanova shoots well from three they will win and if they don't Kansas will win, because while it is rarely that simple in college sports, it pretty much is tonight.
Villanova attempts 43.3 percent of their shots from three, and while they shoot just over 35 percent as a team, they have lit it up so far in the NCAA tournament and that is why you've seen them blowing out their first three opponents. Also, while it's easy to say shooting just over 35 percent from three isn't very good (and it isn't), it is when you consider shooting 33.3 percent adds up to shooting 50 percent from two, and Kansas is used to holding teams below that mark. Villanova is no slouch inside the arc either, shooting 57 percent. They don't get fouled a lot, don't rebound a lot, and don't turn it over a lot, so they need to make a lot of shots to win. Sadly, they definitely appear capable.
A couple bits of good news though: first, their strength (making shots) lines up well with Kansas's strength (not letting you make shots), so it will be a good matchup of strength on strength. Secondly, Villanova's style of play is shockingly similar to Oklahoma's. The Sooners also have a team of guys who shoot a bunch of threes with one big man in the middle, and like Villanova the Sooners have one guy who takes a bunch of threes. The Sooners also have the best player out of those two teams and the more athletic team, so it does give me some hope that Kansas can maybe prevent some good looks and force some misses which will turn into transition opportunities.
Defensively, Villanova allows quite a few threes themselves. They allow opponents to shoot just 44 percent but with Daniel Ochefu, their big man in the middle, struggling a bit with an injury, Kansas should be able to go inside relatively well. If Kris Jenkins, who has taken 241 threes this year, is guarding Perry Ellis, Kansas needs to go to Ellis repeatedly in an attempt to tire him out and get some fouls on him. I am sure Bill Self will tell Kansas they don't want to get into a shooting competition with Villanova, but the good news is Kansas shouldn't need to, as their size and athleticism should allow them to get some easy shots at the basket and should allow them to get a lot of free throws.
Players to Watch
Kris Kenkins has attempted 241 threes this year and has made 38.6 percent of them. He also has lit it up in the tournament, so no doubt Self will want to face guard him as much as possible and keep him from even catching the ball, much less being able to get a good shot off.
Ryan Arcidiacono hit the big shot to beat Kansas in the Bahamas at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, and has kept hitting big shots for his entire career. He is shooting 38 percent from deep on 183 threes, so unlike Melo Trimble on Thursday, Kansas won't be content to sit under him and let him shoot. Any screen is going to have to result in a quick hedge and/or the guard fighting through to keep him from shooting a three.
Jalen Brunson is Villanova's best athlete. He shoots 38.5 percent from deep and 51 percent from two. The 6-2 freshman guard might be Villanova's only athletic advantage over Kansas, but as a freshman he also has a tendency to turn it over quite a bit, and Kansas will need to force as many as they can.
I honestly don't know. If I had a time machine to see only Villanova's 3-point percentage I would be able to make this call a lot easier. I don't know if Kansas will be able to prevent a lot of attempts, but playing Oklahoma twice gives me some hope. Villanova has also tossed some press out there in the tournament, but it doesn't look like anything too worrying for the KU guards. I also don't know about the health of Devonte Graham and Frank Mason. If both are sick and/or hurt it is going to be really tough for them to win. But I think the familiarity aspect of playing Oklahoma twice this year, the fact that this Villanova team is similar to the one Kansas played 2 years ago (especially in playing style, which Self can draw on) will give Kansas the slightest of edges and I like them to win it 80-77.