The 2022 men’s Final Four gets underway Saturday night in New Orleans and concludes two nights later with the national championship game.
Let’s take a look at the four teams still alive in The Big Easy and one reason why each of them will and will not be the squad that cuts down the nets when all is said and done.
Why they will win it all: They have the most natural talent
If you pull up virtually any mock NBA draft on the internet right now, you’re likely to see at least three Duke players before you get to a player on one of the other three teams that will play in New Orleans this weekend.
Paolo Banchero is a near-lock to be a top three pick in the draft and could go No. 1 overall, A.J. Griffin can likely lock up a top 10 spot with a strong performance or a pair of strong performances inside the Superdome, and Mark Williams and Wendell Moore Jr. also seem like safe bets to be taken in the first round.
Simply put: There’s not really a debate over which of the last four teams standing has the highest level of pure talent on its roster.
Of course pure talent doesn’t always overcome great culture or great game-planning or simply an off night from that talent, and Duke can attest to this firsthand. The Blue Devils were embarrassed in both their regular season finale loss to North Carolina (84-71) and ACC tournament championship game loss to Virginia Tech (82-67), but the team appears to have really hit its stride over the last two weeks.
The Blue Devils were nearly perfect in the closing minutes of tight wins over Michigan State and Texas Tech, and then were firing on all cylinders as they controlled the action from start to finish against Arkansas in the Elite Eight. A big part of that has been the play of Jeremy Roach, who is sort of doing for this talent-laden team what Quinn Cook did for the 2014-15 national championship squad that was headlined by Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones.
Why they won’t win it all: Lack of experience and maturity
As good as this Duke team can be when everything is clicking, they haven’t exactly always risen to the occasion during Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell season.
With the entire world watching Coach K’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils allowed hated North Carolina — the same team they had beaten by 20 in Chapel Hill a month earlier — to waltz out of Durham with a 94-81 victory. A week later, looking to send Krzyzewski out with one final ACC tournament championship, the young Duke team again appeared unready for the moment, and was dominated by 7th-seeded Virginia Tech, 82-67.
The way that Duke responded to adversity in its second and third round wins over Michigan State and Texas Tech was certainly encouraging, but now the biggest stage and the brightest lights of all are coming. If the gravity of the moment swallowed this team up the last time it faced North Carolina, there has to be at least some fear of that happening again in New Orleans on Saturday night.
Why they will win it all: Experience
No roster still standing would seem to be built for this moment more than Bill Self’s.
Kansas’ primary seven-man rotation features four seniors, a junior and two sophomores, and each one of them had NCAA tournament experience before this year’s run. You’ve also got a team with a few holdovers from the group that made the Final Four in 2019 and which was poised to be the No. 1 overall seed for the ill-fated 2020 Big Dance.
The Jayhawks are the only team in New Orleans this weekend that doesn’t have at least one former five-star recruit on its roster. What it does have is a whole heap of terrific, experienced college players who aren’t going to be moved by the glitz or the glamour of Final Four weekend.
Why they won’t win it all: A Remy Martin regression
Throughout his career, Remy Martin has been viewed as one of college basketball’s ultimate feast or famine talents. When he’s on, he’s as good as anybody in the country. When he’s not, he can almost single-handedly torpedo his team’s chances of winning.
Predictably, Martin’s first and only season with Kansas — after spending four years at Arizona State — has been a bit up and down.
Martin is averaging a career-low in points (8.6 ppg), has been coming off the bench for the first time since his freshman year, had to battle back from a knee injury in February, and was rumored to be at odds with the rest of the program in the middle of the season (Bill Self dismissed those rumors in mid-January, but they persisted).
These last three weeks, however, Martin has looked like a completely different player. Despite coming off the bench, he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional after averaging 16.8 points and 3.3 assists in Kansas’ first four wins. Perhaps just as importantly, he only committed four total turnovers during the regional.
Kanas probably doesn’t make it to New Orleans if Martin isn’t as spectacular as he was. History, however, shows that relying on Martin to be just as solid this weekend in New Orleans is ... risky.
Why they will win it all: Championship pedigree
In 2015, top-seeded Villanova was upset by NC State in the second round, Crying Piccolo Girl was a nation-wide sensation, and consensus from the American sports public was that Jay Wright simply couldn’t get the job done in March. Since the 2015 dance, the Wildcats are 20-3 in the NCAA tournament — the best March Madness winning percentage of any team in college basketball over that span — and are now two wins away from their third national title in six tournaments.
Wright’s group this year doesn’t have quite the offensive firepower of his 2016 squad or the handful of future NBA talent that he had in 2018, but it has the same championship mentality of those squads.
This year’s Villanova team, which plays at one of the slowest paces in the country, simply does not beat itself. The Wildcats don’t turn the ball over, they rarely take bad shots, they defend well, and they’re on pace to be the best free-throw shooting team in the history of college basketball.
‘Nova can’t match the natural talent of the other three teams still standing, but if Kansas is even a little bit off its game on Saturday night, the Wildcats will pounce. They don’t flinch in these situations, and sometimes that alone can be the difference between winning a championship and not.
Why they won’t win it all: Justin Moore’s injury
As previously stated, this Villanova team doesn’t have the absurd offensive firepower that its last two championship teams possessed. The firepower that it does have took a significant hit when second leading scorer Justin Moore (14.8 ppg) tore his Achilles tendon in ‘Nova’s regional final win over Houston.
Villanova will have to game plan for Kansas differently than they would have with a healthy Moore, and someone from the group of Chris Arcidiacono, Bryan Antoine and Trey Patterson is going to need to step up significantly in order for the Wildcats to advance.
The silver lining? Villanova has already been in this situation for a big game once this season, and answered the bell accordingly. With Moore sidelined by a sprained ankle against UConn, Arcidiacono stepped up to play 26 minutes in an 85-74 Wildcat victory.
Why they will win it all: They’re the most versatile team left
Stylistically, not much has changed in the immediate aftermath of Roy Williams passing the torch to Hubert Davis. North Carolina still plays fast, wants to score off the secondary break, and dominates its opponents on the glass more times than not.
What separates this group from the other three in New Orleans is that it can get by if one of its core stars has an off night, because someone else in Carolina Blue is liable to pick up the slack. Both Caleb Love and R.J. Davis has had 30-point performances in the tournament already. Brady Manek had 26 points against Baylor before he was ejected with more than 10 minutes still to play. Armando Bacot has produced a double-double in every postseason game (ACC tournament and NCAA tournament) that the Heels have played thus far.
If Paolo Bancher is awful for Duke, the Blue Devils are likely in for a rough night. Same for Kansas with Ochai Agbaji and Villanova with either Jermaine Samuels or Collin Gillespie.
If Love has an atrocious night for UNC, Davis, Manek and Bacot are all good enough to make that single performance not be the difference between advancing and going home. Even though they’re the worst-seeded team of the four left, the versatility of those four stars might make them the most difficult of the four to game plan for.
Why they won’t win it all: Overly reliant on the three
North Carolina’s run to the Final Four has been fueled primarily by one area: Red-hot three-point shooting.
During the regular season, the Tar Heels took about 38 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. In their upset wins over Baylor and UCLA, that number jumped to 44 percent and 47 percent, respectively. That’s all well and good when Love, Manek and Davis are tickling the twine with regularity, bit if the shots from deep aren’t falling inside the Superdome — something which has a tendency to happen on this stage — where do the Heels turn?
Carolina isn’t the worst defensive team in college basketball, but as the case with most UNC teams, their primary strength doesn’t reside on that end of the floor. And while Manek does well in post-up situations against the right defender, this is also a Tar Heel team with only one truly effective post presence, and that’s Bacot.
Putting all their eggs in the beyond the arc basket has gotten them this far, but against Duke and then (potentially) Kansas or Villanova, that feels like a dangerous game for UNC to play.