Final Four preview
A look at the four teams left trying to cut down the nets this season
An exciting NCAA basketball season is less than a week away from wrapping up. The Final Four will take place in San Antonio, Texas this weekend to determine the national champion. One matchup will see two No. 1 seeds face each other when the Kansas Jayhawks and Villanova Wildcats meet-up at 8:49 p.m. on Saturday. But Saturday’s first matchup will be between the No. 3 seed Michigan Wolverines and the Cinderella story of the tournament, the No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago at 6:09 p.m.
Check out a rundown of the four teams that compete on Saturday.
Villanova Wildcats (34-4, 14-4 Big East)
This team can run up the scoreboard quick. The Wildcats currently lead the nation in scoring, averaging 86.6 points per game and are top 10 in shooting percentage. They have been killing teams with their three-point shot and have made more threes than any other team in college basketball while shooting 40 percent from deep. The lowest three-point shooting percentage of any starter is 33 percent.
They entered the tournament second in the nation in the polls and currently have three players in ESPN’s top 50 prospects for the upcoming draft. Six different Wildcats are averaging double-digit scoring per game. No tournament team has been able to keep up with them yet, and they have outscored their opponents with an average of 18.3 points per game.
The Jayhawks will be the biggest test for the Wildcats since their mid-February matchup with fellow No. 1 seed Xavier. The Wildcats won that game by 16 points.
Kansas Jayhawks (31-7, 13-5 Big 12)
The Jayhawks are coming off one of the most competitive games in the tournament this year, when they beat the Duke Blue Devils 85-81 in the only No. 1 seed against No. 2 seed matchup in the Elite Eight.
Despite having a history with top-level recruits coming in for one-and-done careers, this year the Jayhawks are led by two seniors and a sophomore. A Kansas team that is coming in with experience should be a scary thought for any opponent. Their three-shooting should cause issues for opponents too. They have the best percentage from behind the arc of any Final Four team, hitting 40.3 percent.
The Duke game could hurt these players if they come in on too much of an emotional high, but if they can lock in to the way they finished out that game, any team they face could be in trouble.
Michigan Wolverines (32-7, 13-5 Big 10)
The Wolverines have been fortunate in the way the tournament has panned out. The best team they have had to face this tournament was the No. 6 seed Houston Cougars, and they pulled that game out with some late heroics by freshman guard Jordan Poole. Michigan gets another low-seed matchup when it meets the No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago Ramblers.
On paper, Michigan should beat the Ramblers –– but games aren’t played on paper. The Wolverines need to lock in on their quality defense that ranks top 10 in the nation in points allowed. Loyola-Chicago can bring it defensively, but it doesn’t face the opponents that the Wolverines do.
Their scoring will be their biggest issue. They don’t even rank in the top-150 teams in the nation in points per game. If they can’t score well, they might be the next stepping-stone for the Ramblers’ Cinderella run.
Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (32-5, 15-3 Missouri Valley Conference)
The Ramblers have been the beneficiaries of one of the craziest regions in the NCAA. People expected Virginia to run through the tournament with ease, but instead the team became the first No. 1 seed to be knocked off by a No. 16 seed.
Buffalo helped open the door for Loyola when it took out the No. 4 seed Arizona Wildcats in the first round. The No. 2 and No. 5 seed also got knocked off before the Ramblers had to meet up with them.
But make no mistake, this team will still be a tough matchup for anybody. They are fifth in the nation in scoring defense. They are top-20 in three-point shooting percentage as well. Defense and the three-ball are the classic recipe for an upset, and if the Wolverines take the Ramblers lightly, the Wolverines will suffer the same fate of the four teams the Ramblers have already knocked out. The Ramblers were also battle tested this tournament. Their first three tournament game were decided by just four points.
Loyola-Chicago is the long shot, but it has proved it belongs in the Final Four.