As everyone reading this is already aware, the Kansas Jayhawks have advanced to the Final Four and will face the Villanova Wildcats Saturday night after the early matchup. This is the second team from the Big East that KU has faced in the NCAA tournament, and we once again talk with Big East Coast Bias, the SB Nation site dedicated to the Big East Conference. Robert O’Neill was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
RCT: Villanova has spent a good portion of the season being considered by many as the best team in the nation (or at least right behind Virginia). What has been the secret to this team’s success?
BECB: More than anything, the offense has been one of the best (most efficient, at least) in NCAA history. It starts with Jalen Brunson’s superior point guard play, but it’s really amazing to see the offense running at peak efficiency with everyone having a defined role. Mikal Bridges is another important piece, but I think the biggest asset over last year’s team is having a dominant big man in Omari Spellman, who has already had his fair share of memorable NCAA Tournament moments. It also helps that pretty much everyone on the roster can hit threes. Nova’s top seven players in usage on KenPom each hit at least 25 threes this year.
RCT: Jalen Brunson is one of the frontrunners for the player of the year, but Mikal Bridges has been nearly as dominant. Have there been any difficulties trying to balance both of these stars?
BECB: Not really. They have pretty different skillsets and understand they need to be parts of the whole. They’re both great scorers in crunch time, and Brunson, being a point guard, is generally looking to distribute instead of score, though he can drive the lane and score if necessary. Brunson and Bridges are two of Villanova’s three players (Phil Booth) that were on the roster the last time these teams met in the NCAA Tournament, but they’ve both matured so much that anything Bill Self did to try and contain them last time likely won’t work again.
RCT: Since Villanova isn’t undefeated, there has to be a weakness somewhere. What is the best way to attack this Wildcat team?
BECB: It’s funny. Before the Texas Tech game I was asked this question and my answer was, “hope Villanova misses three pointers”. Then they had their worst three-point shooting performance of the season against the Red Raiders and still won by 12. ‘Nova grabbed 20 offensive rebounds in that game, though. Despite the fact that they didn’t rack up a ton of second chance points, they extended possessions and wore Tech out. So, Kansas has to hope Nova misses threes *and* keep the Wildcats off the offensive glass. Or try and hang with them in a shootout, but like I said, best offense in the nation. That’s a tough task.
RCT: What is your main concern with how this team matches up with Kansas?
BECB: Bill Self has does an excellent job utilizing his big men during this tournament, and I think the biggest test for Villanova is going to be how Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall handle the likes of Udoka Azubiuke and Silvio De Souza down low. I’m not as worried about Brunson and Bridges likely being matched up with Malik Newman and Devonte Graham, but if Kansas can feed the post and get it going, it could be trouble for Nova.
RCT: What’s the most important matchup in this game?
BECB: I think it comes down to Azubiuke and Spellman on both ends. Like I said above, if the Jayhawks can get it going down low, they’ll likely keep feeding it and have an advantage, however, if Spellman can get going down low on the other end, it’s another facet of Nova’s offense Kansas has to try and stop defensively. These teams are a lot more even than most people think, in my opinion. Prediction Time! How do you see this one shaking out? Which team do you expect the winner to face in the championship, and who takes home the title?
At the beginning of the tournament, I had Villanova over Michigan in the title game, so I have to stick with that. In a year that most brackets got ruined early, mine is still intact. While I think Kansas presents a tough test for Villanova, it’s hard for me to see the offense getting slowed down enough to fall. The Wildcats have four double-digit wins in four NCAA Tournament games. I think this is gonna be a great game, though.
RCT: BONUS - What is/was your favorite video game of all-time (any platform)?
BECB: This question took me more time than any of the other ones. I’ve played video games for a solid 20 years, so there are a ton of choices, but I think I have to go with NCAA Football 14. The only reason I still have my Xbox 360 is so I can pull it out and play that game a few times a year. I hope they make another one (and a college basketball game) at some point.
A big thanks to Robert for helping us out today. And don’t forget to check out the questions I answered for him as well, which should drop sometime between now and the start of the game.