Final Four Preview: How every team left standing can sit atop the college basketball throne
As the NCAA Tournament reaches its final weekend, the anticipation in San Antonio is at an all-time high. Three powerhouse programs will look to add to their legacy, while one Cinderella story is on pace to create their own.
At this point, anything Loyola University - Chicago is able to achieve is icing on their March Madness cake as they have already become only the fourth 11 seed to reach the Final Four in NCAA history. Upsetting teams all the way to the Final Four in the South Region, no one wants to face one of the hottest teams in tournament.
Going against the unknown is a scary proposition for any team, and the Ramblers were not on many teams’ radars heading in to March. However, 32 wins into their most prolific season, look out for the Ramblers.
As for the three teams that everyone thought might make it to San Antonio this season, Kansas, Villanova and Michigan have all won NCAA Championships. Adding another one is the only thing on their mind at this stage of the tournament.
Villanova won an epic final against North Carolina in 2016. Kansas and Bill Self have struggled in the tourney since their 2008 overtime win in the National Championship against Memphis, but they are back in a big way. Finally, Michigan was on the doorstep of a title in 2013, but faltered when it went up against Louisville. The Wolverines will be hunting for their first title since 1989.
There is no question all four teams deserve to be here, but here’s how they can win two more games and cut down the nets at the Final Four.
Loyola Chicago Ramblers – All hail Sister Jean. The 98-year old chaplain of the university has become the star of the show during the Ramblers’ wild ride to the Final Four. In her wheelchair, she takes in every game rooting for her favorite team in the stands.
As for the players, Loyola-Chicago’s execution on offense will get them over the top. In their first four games every shot seemed to be an uncontested three or a wide-open lay-up. The team’s ability to use screens and cuts at an elite level allows the team to get any shot it wants on any possession. College basketball has transitioned to one-on-one and isolation play so Loyola uses a different tactic to make up for the gap in talent.
Two more things that are in Loyola’s favor are that they have upperclassmen leadership and have been clutch late in games. Three different players have hit daggers that have sealed huge victories. Two were decisive shots with under five seconds on the clock. An opposing team can’t zero in on who will take the final shot for Loyola, and that is rarity.
Michigan Wolverines – As for Loyola’s opponent, Michigan has been on fire since the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan fans are loving the versatile style of play the Wolverines have displayed so far in this tournament. They have won a 58-54 defensive battle against Florida State and couldn’t miss a shot in the Sweet 16 when they defeated Texas A&M 99-72.
Michigan’s ability to adapt from game to game makes them a hard team to game plan for. Just when you think you have them figured out they can play your style, and play it better than you. They can also make you throw out your game plan in the first five minutes if they come out on fire from the floor.
Coach John Beilien is one of the best coaches in the college game, and he has Final Four experience that should come in handy. The last thing Michigan has is the X-factor Moritz Wagner. The seven footer from Germany is the most skilled big man left in the tournament, and could be the most coveted pro prospect. He can hit the deep ball with consistency as well as go to work in the low post. Michigan came in to the tourney as the popular pick to win it all and they are holding up their end of the bargain.
Kansas Jayhawks – After a thrilling overtime victory against Duke in the Elite 8, Kansas has finally returned to the pinnacle of college basketball. Led by senior guard Devonte’ Graham, the Jayhawks are in good hands at all times when he has the ball. He is a sharpshooter from three, along with many other athletic wings that can stroke it from deep as well. Kansas could be the best shooting team left in the field, maybe only outmatched by their opponent in the Final Four, Villanova.
Kansas plays at a perfect pace, and relies on their three point shot and offensive rebounding. Graham can find Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick on the wing or in the corners for spot up threes. All four players shoot at least 38% from deep, with Graham, Newman and Mykhailiuk shooting over 40%, an extremely efficient rate at the college level.
If the outside shot isn’t falling, Udoka Azubuike is a match up nightmare in the low post. He can clean up the glass or post up for a bucket when Kansas needs it most. The seven-footer weighs 280 pounds so no one is pushing him around in the paint.
However, if Kansas wants to win it all, the long ball has to be falling for them. At least 12 three-pointers a game should be a recipe for success.
Villanova Wildcats – Saving the best for last. Best odds, that is. Amongst the four remaining teams, everyone is jumping on the Villanova bandwagon. Coached by the savvy Jay Wright, Villanova’s strength is that it doesn’t have a weakness. They check off every box, and their key to winning it all is to not beat themselves.
If they stick to their gameplan they have the tools to win it all. Good coaching? Check. Pro-style offense with future NBA players? Check. More than one option on offense? Check. Athletic wings that play defense? Check. Final Four experience? Check.
Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth and Omari Spellman are high caliber players that excel at Villanova. They have bought in to Jay Wright’s system are the well-oiled machine that every team in college basketball fears.
Not to mention, have you seen Jay Wright’s suit game? Best Dressed at the Final Four will undoubtedly go to him.
All jokes aside, Villanova is a serious threat to start a college basketball dynasty. Their second championship in three years has to happen first, but with their experience and talent, Villanova just needs to be Villanova for two more games this season and they should walk away with the title. Having felt the nerves and tension that goes along with the Final Four, the Wildcats will start the weekend with a leg up on the competition.