Ten Questions to Consider: End of Season Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 23rd, 2018

With the season now well in the rear view mirror, it’s time to look at the long, hot summer ahead. Here are 10 questions to consider this offseason.

Arizona’s No-Show in the NCAA Tournament Capped Off a Frustrating Season in Tucson (USA Today Images)

  1. What will come of the FBI investigation? The uncertainty of what is still to come from the FBI investigation sits at the forefront of this offseason’s key storylines. The drama that unfolded at Arizona late in the season has created great uncertainty for at least one powerful program, but it is only a matter of time before the college basketball world is dealt another blow in this ongoing saga.
  2. Will the NBA change the one-and-done rule? While the FBI holds the key to one significant component of the college basketball offseason, the NBA is likely to also greatly affect the future of the sport. If the NBA rids itself of the one-and-done rule, top recruits will likely be able to make the jump — somewhere — immediately. At the same time, could college basketball adopt amateurism models similar to those of the Olympics, baseball or hockey? A change to the current system seems imminent.
  3. Which player would have the biggest impact if he pulls out of the NBA Draft? While Villanova’s exalted trio of Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo are the easy picks here, Creighton’s Khyri Thomas would ultimately have the biggest impact. The Bluejays will be without Marcus Foster’s scoring output next season, meaning that a Thomas back in Omaha can fill the role of primary scorer along with being a defensive stalwart — remember that he was the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year last season. The rising senior might be better suited to return to a featured role next season.
  4. Which coach is under the most pressure to succeed heading into next season? Planes flying around Westwood have returned as UCLA’s Steve Alford enters next season in a position where a trip to the Sweet Sixteen might not be enough success to keep his job. Recruiting victories must better translate to regular season and postseason success, beginning in a Pac-12 where the Bruins should be among the preseason favorites with Arizona facing a period of vulnerability. Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 79, #3 Michigan 62

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Five Key Takeaways.

Villanova Won Its Second National Title in Three Years (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova Won the National Title Without All-American Performances From Its All-Americans. NPOY Jalen Brunson and All-American Mikal Bridges have been outstanding all season long, but Michigan managed to give both of them trouble during the key stretches of tonight’s game — essentially, the first half. As Michigan came out swinging haymakers led by the early charge of Moritz Wagner, Brunson and Bridges’ shots that normally drop were rimming out. The pair combined for just 11 first half points on 5-of-14 shooting that included only one three-pointer in six attempts. Luckily for Villanova, a secret weapon came off Jay Wright‘s bench to pick up the slack (more on Donte DiVincenzo below). That gave the Wildcats the cushion they needed heading into the break, allowing for Bridges to join DiVincenzo’s coming-out party in the second half to the tune of 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Brunson finished with nine points and two assists on the evening, but that shows just how balanced Villanova was this year — The NPOY had a rough night and his team still won a title game by 17 points.
  2. Rather, the Michael Jordan of Delaware Stepped Up. To most of America watching tonight, the rise of Donte DiVincenzo to log 31 points and five rebounds on 10-of-15 shooting (5-of-7 3FG) must have seemed like another Grayson Allen moment, where a talented but relatively unknown bench player came out of nowhere to lead his team to the National Championship. The truth, however, is a little more nuanced this time around. Despite being an unheralded recruit out of Wilmington, Delaware (where else?), three years ago, Wright admitted after the game that DiVincenzo was plenty good enough to be his starter on the wing. The wrinkle in the redshirt sophomore coming off the bench is that he still played starter’s minutes (72.5%) this season and logged five games of 20 or more points. He was obviously a key cog all year long, and given Michigan’s defense was so keyed on stopping Brunson and Bridges, DiVincenzo had his chance to step up and he met the call with full throttle.
  3. Jay Wright Joins Select Company. Not even the most optimistic Villanova fan could have seen this coming a little over two years ago. Jay Wright had experienced so many disappointing NCAA Tournaments since his last run to the Final Four in 2009 that there were some grumblings in Philadelphia about him keeping his job. Two years forward and now Wright is one of only 15 coaches in NCAA history (and two active) to hold more than one National Championship. That he did it with two distinct teams with some overlap perhaps makes it even more impressive. Wright’s 2016 team was certainly outstanding, but it wasn’t a #1 seed nor did it win the Big East Tournament. This group won everything possible — Big East regular season; Big East Tournament; NCAA Tournament — and it did so by demolishing every team in its path during the postseason. Over nine games in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments, the Wildcats won each by an average of 17.7 points per game. Wright is a wonderful narrative in what can happen if a school gives the right coach time to find his own niche and growth curve after some early disappointments.
  4. Historical Perspective. Not many schools can lay claim to winning two National Championships in a three-year window, and most of those schools won back-to-back titles with largely the same cores. The Kentucky teams of 1996-98 won a pair of titles with vastly different teams (and head coaches). UCLA bookended its 10-in-12 years run of the 1960s and 1970s with similar 2-in-3 successes. Kentucky’s original dynasty had a similar in the early 1950s. But that’s it. What Wright has done at a school that was often considered a second-class Big East citizen behind the likes of Syracuse, UConn and Georgetown is simply phenomenal. Villanova now has more championships than the Orange and Hoyas combined, and is only one behind the Huskies. Conference realignment has hurt a lot of programs in varying ways (hey, Pitt), but perhaps the biggest basketball success story has as a result of all the league movement has occurred right on the Main Line in Philadelphia.
  5. Basketball Schools Doing Basketball Things. People can quibble about which schools are most closely defined as basketball schools or football schools (and they do), but it’s really not that hard to determine in almost every case. The key question is which sport the fan base tends to most identify with, which in part fuels support and expectations for success in that sport, working in a continuous feedback loop. Villanova defines itself by its basketball program. Michigan — while very successful in both major collegiate sports — most assuredly defines itself on the gridiron. With Villanova’s second title in the last three years tonight, basketball schools have won the last 11 championships and 22 of the last 24 titles. The lone exception during that period was Florida’s back-to-back run in 2006-07. There are plenty of reasons for this kind of run that involves resources, coaching, motivation and luck, but the fact remains that the football schools as a general rule haven’t been able to break through the plexiglass ceiling just yet.

Player of the Game. Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova. DiVincenzo produced one of the best championship game performances in modern college basketball history tonight, dropping 31 points, five rebounds and three assists on 10-of-15 shooting. He also nailed five back-breaking threes (in seven attempts), two of which came in succession when Villanova earned the lead for good and wrested control of the game away from Michigan. Per the NCAA, DiVincenzo’s effort represented just the sixth time in the last 40 years when a player in the title game has topped the 30-point barrier. That he did so from the bench makes it even more impressive.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 95, #1 Kansas 79

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Advances to the Title Game for the Second Time in Three Years (USA Today Images)

  1. Three-llanova. It was 9-2 before most people had even started their mid-session hot dog. 14-4 by the first TV timeout. 22-4 seven minutes into the game. And everyone in the building, including Kansas head coach Bill Self, knew it was over. Villanova was simply too good to blow an 18-point lead, even if 80 percent of the game was still to come. At that point in the game, Villanova had already nailed six threes, but the Wildcats were far from done. Over the course of the next 13 minutes, Villanova dropped another seven threes, totaling a Final Four record-tying 13 in the first half alone. The Wildcats did so on 26 attempts (50%), effectively eschewing its patented drive game in favor of a number of long-range heat checks that dropped. Furthermore, Villanova only attempted seven two-point field goals for the half and took zero foul shots. All of this goes to show that Jay Wright‘s team was absolutely scorching, feeling it and playing to their hot hands. It was a first half performance for the ages and Kansas never really had a chance after the opening few minutes. Going into the break down 15 points, the Jayhawks never saw a single-figure deficit again.
  2. Villanova is on the Cusp of Greatness. Win a single National Championship at any school in America and you drink for free in the area for the rest of your life. But the truth is that there have been a number of one-hit wonder championship teams that are generally forgotten beyond their localities. If Villanova cuts down the nets on Monday night in San Antonio, however, Wright’s program will ascend to greatness. Three-year runs that include a trio of 30-win seasons and two banners don’t exactly grow on trees. In fact, only Kentucky from 1996-98 can make that claim in the modern era. For a program that doesn’t pile up all of the elite recruits but rather cultivates and grows the ones it gets, this run is nothing short of astonishing. There is still another game to be played, of course, and Michigan is a worthy and capable opponent, but all signs point to Villanova achieving something that perhaps only Wright and his closest supporters saw coming three years ago.
  3. Kansas Did Its Job For America. Bill Self alluded to this after the game, but given the number of issues that Kansas has faced this season — from losing Billy Preston to running a four-guard set — the Jayhawks have nothing of which to be ashamed. Beating a loaded Duke team in overtime of the Elite Eight is what this team will be remembered for, and even though the Kansas program plays for banners, it will be a very nice memory for the Jayhawks and the rest of America for years to come. We made light of Self having his “least impressive team” ever — which is still hogwash, but it certainly had more weaknesses than most of his teams over the last decade in Lawrence. That said, Kansas will continue to recruit great players; Self will continue to coach ’em up; and Kansas will continue to get to Final Fours. Eventually he’s going to win another one of these tournaments.

Player of the Game. Eric Paschall, Villanova. Take your pick on the Villanova roster for this award, but it’s yours when you drop 24 points in 29 minutes with only one missed shot on the entire evening. Paschall is one of the lesser-known players among the Wildcats’ regulars but he was All-American level tonight, draining a couple of threes for eight points in the first half and effectively ensuring Kansas would not make a run with 16 more points in the second stanza.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan 69, #11 Loyola (Chicago) 57

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan Heads to the National Championship Game for the Second Time in John Beilein’s Career (USA Today Images)

  1. Loyola’s First Half Was a Microcosm of Its Run. Neither team came out of the gates hot, but Michigan at least was able to get a few things going well enough to jump out to an early 12-4 lead. It was fool’s gold. The Wolverines were being baited into three-pointers from the wrong players (e.g., Zavier Simpson) and they were depending too much on Moe Wagner to bail them out with offensive putbacks (typically not a strength of his). Needless to say, it didn’t last. Loyola started chipping away at the lead and eventually found its groove to make a 25-10 run throughout the rest of the first half, building a seven-point lead that the Ramblers took with them into the break. John Beilein noted after the game that it was the Ramblers’ defense — keyed by ball-screen switching and interesting looks — that really bothered the Wolverines in the first half. Just like the previous four teams that Loyola had vanquished.
  2. Michigan Eventually Responded in Kind. When Loyola hit a layup with 12 minutes remaining to go back up by nine points while Michigan continued to look flummoxed on the other end, it seemed as if this actually might happen. Then a pair of threes sandwiching a layup led to an 8-2 run for the Wolverines, but that was only the precursor to the much larger tidal wave 24-10 run that was coming. By the time Loyola recovered from a Michigan barrage fueled by tired legs, turnovers and even more putbacks (led by Wagner), Sister Jean’s Easter goose was cooked. The Wolverines have won several different ways through this tournament — three-point shooting, defense, offensive rebounding, turnovers — but the point is that they keep on winning. John Beilein is probably the most underrated coach in college basketball, and he has his team poised to win a championship that nobody saw coming a month ago.
  3. What a Run It Was. A #11 seed that beat an ACC team, an SEC team, the Mountain West regular season champion and a Big 12 team in succession doesn’t come around very often. Throwing in a certifiable national sensation like Sister Jean and her uplifting messages (and fandom!) couldn’t have made for a better story in these otherwise trying times. Porter Moser has had a middling career to this point but sometimes all it takes is a special team to lift a coach up and give him the opportunity he deserves. And while Loyola may have to regroup for another 50 years before its next trip to the sports final weekend, college basketball remains better for the chance it provides schools like the urban Jesuit school from Chicago to achieve its own One Shining Moment.

Player of the Game. Moe Wagner, Michigan. The German import had the game of his life on the sport’s biggest stage, going for 24 points and 15 rebounds in a diverse floor game that often propped up the Wolverines when they needed something to go in the basket. His production in the Final Four has only been equaled by Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon.

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What a National Championship Would Mean For Each Final Four Team…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 31st, 2018

With the Final Four set to begin this evening in San Antonio, the college basketball world is getting close to crowning its 2018 National Champion. With the ultimate goal of standing atop a Werner ladder cutting down the nets now in sight, the question becomes what would a title mean for each of the remaining four programs. Let’s examine each in more detail.

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

A National Championship for Kansas would… be the program’s fourth NCAA title overall, putting the Jayhawks in the same company as Connecticut, Duke, Florida and North Carolina as programs with multiple championships since 2000. A second ring would make Bill Self the 14th head coach with multiple titles and just the third active coach with at least two. It would also further erase the memory of first round exits at the hands of Bradley and Bucknell early in Self’s tenure at Kansas, as well as the no-shows against VCU, Northern Iowa and Oregon in recent years.

A win would also further elevate Devonte’ Graham in Jayhawks’ lore. The Big 12 Player of the Year, a consensus All-American, a four-year player, and the possibility of a National Championship could combine to getting Graham’s jersey lifted into the Allen Fieldhouse rafters some day.

A National Championship for Loyola would… be historic for the “little guy.” While a pair of wins in San Antonio would produce the program’s second National Championship, the shift of the college basketball landscape over the last several decades has put all but a few mid-major programs like Loyola in a large and difficult hole. The annual margin of error is minuscule come conference tournament time and NCAA Tournament paths are rarely advantageous as a result. A win by a mid-major program would remind everyone that these teams deserve not only inclusion in the tournament, but they help make the tournament as great as it is.

By cutting down the nets on Monday night, Porter Moser would become the immediate “it” coach at any number of interested programs. While leaving Loyola immediately after a National Championship might be unlikely, a new contract at Loyola is a certainty. If Moser is able to guide Loyola to a championship this year followed by another strong season in 2018-19, he will have plenty of opportunities to vault himself into a power conference coaching position as soon as he likes.

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2017-18 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 29th, 2018

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the regular season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relative unknowns who unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams in November; nobody could have guessed that only six of the 15 players chosen would live up to their hype: Villanova’s Jalen Brunson; Duke’s Marvin Bagley III; Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham; Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett; West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges.

Here are the 2017-18 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Trae Young, Freshman, Oklahoma (consensus) (27.4 PPG, 8.7 APG, 3.9 RPG). No player dominated the national conversation this season more than Young. The freshman point guard exploded on the scene in remarkable fashion, scoring 43 points in just his fifth collegiate game (a 90-80 win over Oregon) and was both the country’s leading scorer and assist man far into the year. While Oklahoma faltered as a team, Young’s lone season in Norman was so impressive that, after the Sooners lost to Rhode Island in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, head coach Dan Hurley noted, “I made the mistake of watching some of their early games first. I didn’t sleep for a day.” Considering how quickly and easily the point guard jolted onto the college basketball scene, it is not exactly clear if Hurley was being facetious or not.
  • Jalen Brunson, Junior, Villanova (consensus) (19.2 PPG, 4.6 APG, 52.7% FG, 41.4% 3FG). Entering the season, Brunson had already developed a well-deserved reputation for being one of the steadiest players in college basketball. He took that perception to another level this season, acting as the face of an extremely even-keeled Villanova team that is headed to another Final Four. There has been a great deal of national discussion regarding how methodical and systematic Brunson appears during the course of a game that even Xavier coach Chris Mack offered his thoughts on the matter. Following his Musketeers losing by 24 at Villanova in early January, Mack implied that Brunson is a robot, stating, “You peel his face off, he’d probably have wires coming out of it.” It is currently unknown whether robots are good at basketball, but it is well-established that the junior point guard is one of the best players in the country.
  • Marvin Bagley III, Freshman, Duke (consensus) (21.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 61.4% FG). Every so often there is a much-ballyhooed recruit that meets and even exceeds the exorbitant hype that accompanies his arrival to the sport. That was the case for Bagley, as he ensured his only season in Durham was a memorable one. The phenomenally athletic freshman put his stamp on Duke basketball lore, as he became the first Blue Devil since the great Christian Laettner to record a 30+ point and 15+ rebound performance — and he did it four times. Despite missing five games with a knee injury, Bagley still became the school’s all-time freshman scoring leader following a 22-point effort in Duke’s Sweet Sixteen victory over Syracuse. While Duke’s season ended in a disappointing Elite Eight loss to Kansas where the precocious freshman somehow only managed nine field goal attempts, it is impossible to view his sole college season as anything other than a resounding success.
  • DeAndre Ayton, Freshman, Arizona (20.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 61.2% FG). Ayton was another much-ballyhooed recruit that delivered on years of promise. The Arizona big man’s dominance was expected, but that did not make it any less awe-inspiring to watch the athletic forward overpower his opposition throughout the season. Ayton is considered among the top prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft because of his incredible size — he has an ideal NBA frame and athleticism — but he is far from just an antiquated back-to-the-basket big man. It truly is a shame Ayton’s sensational freshman season will likely be best remembered for both Arizona’s First Round NCAA Tournament flameout against Buffalo and the unsubstantiated ESPN report that he was the prospect being discussed on an FBI wiretap involving an alleged pay-for-play conversation between Arizona coach Sean Miller and former ASM Sports runner Christian Dawkins.
  • Devonte’ Graham, Senior, Kansas (17.2 PPG, 7.3 APG, 40.3% 3FG). You know the senior floor general has had a substantial impact on the Final Four-bound Jayhawks when Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski noted after Kansas bested his Blue Devils in the Elite Eight: “In Graham, you have really one of the great leaders, not just players, in the country. Look, he’s one of the top five players in America, and it’s not just because he scores, but it’s how he leads. When he’s on the court, everybody is better. […] That’s why they’re as good as they are.” The Big 12 Player of the Year has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Jayhawks all season long. He has made big play after big play, and if Kansas hopes to cut down the nets this weekend in San Antonio, it is going to need Graham to play at an elite level.

Second Team All-America

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Michigan Wolverines

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 29th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, #3 Michigan,  from the West Region.

How Michigan Got Here

John Beilein is Headed to His Second Final Four (USA Today Images)

West Region Champions. It’s been something of a mixed bag for the Wolverines in the NCAA Tournament to date. Their Sweet Sixteen win over Texas A&M was a sight to behold, a truly impressive performance that balanced explosive and beautiful offense with tight, frustrating defense. But wrapped around that performance have been three other wins highlighted mostly by their defense, with more misses than makes on the offensive end. But really, Michigan’s run to the Final Four began following an ugly 61-52 loss at Northwestern on February 6. Since that night, the Wolverines have reeled off 14 straight victories, including a romp through the Big Ten Tournament in Madison Square Garden. Their run through this tournament began with a tough win over Montana in which they held the Grizzlies to just two points in the first 10 minutes of the second half to break open a tight contest. In the Round of 32, their goose was more or less cooked, down 63-61 to Houston with just 3.6 seconds remaining — at which point they had a 3.4 percent chance of winning the game. But a buzzer-beating miracle by freshman Jordan Poole gave them the single extra point they needed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. After doing a number to the Aggies in the regional semifinal, they withstood a gritty performance from Florida State last Saturday to advance to the program’s eighth Final Four in its history.

The Coach

John Beilein. John Beilein graduated from Wheeling College in 1975. Since then, he has never spent a basketball season as anything other than a head coach — he’s never been an assistant, nor has he taken a year away from the game. He worked his way through Newfane High School to Erie Community College to Division III Nazareth College to Divison II Le Moyne before finally getting a crack at a Division I job in 1992 with Canisius. He spent five years there, winning a regular season and tournament title to earn a crack at the Richmond job. In eastern Virginia, he again won a regular season and tournament title once each in five years, earning another upgrade to the job at West Virginia. He again spent five seasons there, making the NCAA Tournament twice including two runs to the Sweet Sixteen and an excruciating Elite Eight loss in overtime to Louisville in 2005. In 2007, Michigan hired Beilein to replace Tommy Amaker, and since then the well-traveled head coach has won two Big Ten regular season titles, consecutive Big Ten tournament titles, logged eight NCAA Tournament appearances in 11 years, advanced to four Sweet Sixteens and is now attending his second Final Four as a participant on the floor. By any measure, Beilein is considered one of the best coaches in all of college basketball.

Style

Beilein’s history at the Division I level has always been based around scoring. Since the beginning of the KenPom era in his final season at Richmond, his defensive efficiency has ranked higher than his offensive efficiency only five times. And his style has typically been associated with high utilization of the three-point shot. Only once in his 11 years at Michigan have the Wolverines attempted fewer than 40 percent of their field goals from three-point range, and this year is no exception. But, while this Michigan team attempts 43.1 percent of its shots from deep, they’re not quite as effective as some of Beilein’s other groups at just 36.1 percent. As always, however, Beilein is capable of adjusting. Over the past two seasons, Michigan has ranked among the top 10 teams nationally in taking away their opponents’ threes, holding them to fewer than 30 percent of their shots from distance. This year, under the assistance of defensive-minded assistant coach Luke Yaklich, the Wolverines have ramped up their defensive pressure, limiting opponents to a 47.6% eFG (35th in the nation) while also placing a priority on cleaning the defensive glass (24.7% offensive rebounding rate, 31st in the nation). While Michigan still runs many of the same offensive sets you’ve seen throughout Beilein’s career in Ann Arbor, it is an improved defense that sets this squad apart and gives it some necessary breathing room on nights that the shots aren’t falling.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Walker Carey on March 28th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, #1 Kansas,  from the South Region.

How Kansas Got Here

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Midwest Region Champions. Kansas became the region’s NCAA Tournament representative following an epic 85-81 overtime win over #2 Duke in Sunday’s instant classic regional final. The Jayhawks began their run to San Antonio with a somewhat close 16-point victory over #16 Penn before experiencing some pressure in both its Second Round triumph over #8 Seton Hall and Sweet Sixteen win over #5 Clemson. Kansas’ win over the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight was arguably the game of the NCAA Tournament and further illustrated Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player Malik Newman‘s March star turn. The redshirt sophomore swingman finished with a career-high 32 points and scored all 13 of Kansas’ points during the extra period.

The Coach

Bill Self. The Hall of Fame coach should have all the nonsensical “he cannot win the big game” talk regarding his recent career put to bed for at least a year, as Self has taken what many view as one of his least talented Kansas teams back to the Final Four. This will be Self’s third Final Four appearance. His was in San Antonio in 2008 when his Jayhawks beat North Carolina and Memphis to take home the school’s third national title. Self also took Kansas to the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans where it beat Ohio State in the national semifinals before falling to Kentucky in the championship game. With the Final Four again in San Antonio, expect there to be a lot of national discussion revolving around whether Self will once again be able to capture the San Antonio magic.

Style

Bill Self’s Kansas teams have normally run their offenses through a traditional back-to-the-basket big man. While sophomore center Udoka Azubuike is a more than capable offensive weapon, these Jayhawks have been heavily dominated by their guard play. Guards Newman, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick all start and are the team’s leaders in minutes played. The guard-heavy lineup has worked all season, as Kansas is ranked fifth nationally in offensive efficiency and averages a healthy 81.4 points per game. The Jayhawks also shoot 40.3 percent from the three-point line, so perimeter shooting is a definite strength. To beat Kansas, you have to slow down its guards — and considering the talent in its backcourt — an exceptionally difficult task for any team.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next up is #1 Villanova from the East Region.

How Villanova Got Here

Villanova is headed back in the Final Four. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

East Region Champions. In a March defined by massive upsets, close games, and wild finishes, Villanova cruised to San Antonio without too much trouble. On opening weekend, the Wildcats beat #16 Radford by 27 points before hammering #9 Alabama, 81-58, two days later. In its Sweet Sixteen tilt with West Virginia, Jay Wright’s group used a 22-6 second half run to overcome a two-possession deficit and beat the Mountaineers by 12 points. On Sunday, Villanova put forth one of its best defensive efforts of the season, limiting Texas Tech to 0.89 points per possession in another 12-point win. The Wildcats now head to their second Final Four in three seasons, this time as the odds-on favorites to win it all.

The Coach

Jay Wright. The sharply dressed 56-year-old is working his way on to the Mount Rushmore of active head basketball coaches, and its hard to argue otherwise. Wright became the winningest coach in school history earlier this month and is currently in the midst of his fourth-straight 30-win season, which gives him as many such campaigns (five) as Syracuse’s Jim Boehiem and one more than Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (four). In fact, he has gone a remarkable 163-21 over the past five seasons, never once losing more than five games during that span. Now with three Final Four appearances under his belt, Wright is tied with Kansas’ Bill Self and Mississippi State’s Ben Howland for sixth-most among active coaches, and has a chance to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams as the only active head coaches with multiple National Championships.

Style

Villanova runs a four-out, one-in motion offense that relies on floor spacing, crisp ball movement, dribble-penetration and great perimeter shooting. The Wildcats, in fact, take 47.1 percent of their shots from behind the arc, which is substantially more than even the three-point reliant Jayhawks (41.4%) or Wolverines (43.1%). And there’s nothing excessive about it. Since every player on the floor is capable of penetrating, all it takes is one help defender to free up an open man somewhere on the court. And considering how well Villanova moves the ball — perhaps no team makes the “extra pass” as often as the Wildcats — that open man often finds the ball in his hands. The result is college basketball’s most efficient offense since 2015. Defensively, Villanova mixes defenses, sometimes running a zone press that’s proved effective throughout Wright’s career. The Wildcats also guard the perimeter aggressively, one reason they rank 29th nationally in three-point defense (32.2% 3FG).

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 26th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. First, #11 Loyola-Chicago, from the South Region.

How Loyola-Chicago Got Here

Seriously: #11 Loyola-Chicago is in the Final Four. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

South Region Champions. In arguably the most chaotic region ever, the Missouri Valley Champion emerged as this NCAA Tournament’s team of destiny. The Ramblers began their unexpected run with a buzzer-beating victory over #6 Miami (FL), followed by an equally dramatic takedown of #3 Tennessee in the Round of 32. After edging #7 Nevada by a single point in the Sweet Sixteen — its third straight win by two points or fewer — Loyola shot 50 percent from behind the arc en route to a lopsided win over #9 Kansas State on Saturday. The Ramblers now join LSU (1986), George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011) as the only #11 seeds to reach the Final Four in NCAA Tournament history, a remarkable feat for a program that went 7-23 in the Horizon League just six seasons ago.

The Coach

Porter Moser. After middling coaching stints with Arkansas-Little Rock (2000-03) and Illinois State (2003-07), Moser took over a Loyola program in 2011 with just one 20-win season on its record since 1985. In a matter of just four years — including a 7-23 campaign and a move from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley — the former Rick Majerus assistant led the Ramblers to the College Basketball Invitational title in 2014-15, their first postseason appearance in 30 years. Three seasons later, Moser has taken the program to its greatest heights since winning the National Championship in 1963.

Style

As a Majerus disciple, Moser stresses hard-nosed, meticulous team defense that’s enabled Loyola to rank among the top 20 nationally in efficiency for the first time in the KenPom era. The Ramblers do a masterful job of switching and hedging ball screens, closing out on shooters, and providing help defense near the rim, which has forced opponents into an 18.3 second average possession length this season — the longest of any remaining NCAA Tournament team. Offensively, Loyola runs a four-out, one-in system predicated on quick ball-movement, good floor spacing and versatile personnel. In Moser’s system, all four perimeter players should be able to dribble-drive and knock down perimeter shots, while the lone paint presence — often Cameron Krutwig — is expected to be a capable post passer. Among the slower-paced offenses in the country, Loyola works patiently to find the best possible shot on each trip.

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