The men’s Final Four gets underway from New Orleans Saturday night at 6:09 p.m. ET when top-seeded Kansas takes on second-seeded Villanova in a rematch of a national semifinal from 2018. ‘Nova ran away with that one, 95-79, and went on to thump Michigan in the national title game two days later.
There are plenty of reasons to believe that Saturday’s showdown will be much closer, and also much lower scoring. Before the action inside the Superdome gets going, here are three things you need to know about Saturday’s first Final Four matchup.
Kansas is chasing the championship it feels it would have had two years ago
The Jayhawks have played down the “retribution” angle all week, but it’s not lost on anyone that Kansas is two wins away from the national championship it appeared it might have been on the verge of landing before the 2020 NCAA tournament was canceled due to COVID.
Before the world stopped, that Kansas team was 28-3, had won 16 consecutive games, and was almost certainly on the verge of being named the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack and Christian Braun were all primary contributors on that team, although none of them were playing quite as large a role as they are this season.
Interestingly enough, it’s been a player with an extremely limited amount of NCAA tournament experience who has fueled the Jayhawks’ run up to this point.
Remy Martin played four seasons at Arizona State before coming to Lawrence to wrap up his college career. His only experience with March Madness as a Sun Devil was a pair of First Four games in Dayton and a blowout loss to Buffalo in the first round in 2019.
Martin, who came to Kansas with a reputation for being a feast or famine type player, has predictably had something of an up-and-down campaign. He 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).
In March, however, Martin 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.
Martin wasn’t around for the disappointment felt throughout The Sunflower State two years ago, but he could play a major role in helping to patch up that wound.
Villanova will be without its second-leading scorer
This topic has been addressed by approximately 15,000 people at this point, but it’s impossible to preview this game without addressing it.
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. Moore also second on the team in assists (2.3 ppg) and third in rebounds (4.8).
Perhaps more important than all the offensive numbers is the fact that Moore has been widely viewed to be Villanova’s top defender all season. His defensive prowess has been on full display throughout this tournament, where the Wildcats haven’t allowed a single opponent to score more than 61 points, and advanced to the Final Four with a 50-44 win over Houston where the Cougars were held to just 1-of-20 shooting from three.
Jay Wright has used a short bench throughout the postseason. Only six Villanova players had seen the floor in the game against Houston before Moore went down. In the Wildcats’ Sweet 16 win over Michigan, Wright played eight players, but only six of them were on the court for more than three minutes.
The bench will almost certainly play a larger role against Kansas, but the question is where those minutes are going to go. Adding to the problem is the fact that freshman Jordan Longino, a player who would have been in line for more minutes with Moore out, tore his meniscus during a March practice and is also unavailable.
Without Moore, someone from the group of Chris Arcidiacono, Bryan Antoine and Trey Patterson will need to step up significantly. The most likely candidate is Arcidiacono, if only because there’s some precedent there. The younger brother of ‘Nova legend Ryan Arcidiacono played 26 big minutes in an 85-74 win over UConn on Feb. 5 where Moore was sidelined by a sprained ankle. Arcidiacono has scored just two points in the NCAA tournament up to this point, but he takes care of the ball and defends well enough to likely be Wright’s best option against Kansas.
Villanova’s free-throw shooting could be the difference in a close game
If Saturday night’s game comes down to the wire and the final minute or minutes end up turning into a free-throw shooting contest, Villanova is the safe bet.
Not only are the Wildcats the best free-throw shooting team in the country, they are currently the best free-throw shooting team in the history of college basketball. ‘Nova is currently shooting 83.0 percent from the charity stripe. Unless that drops significantly this weekend in New Orleans, the Wildcats will break the 1983-84 Harvard Crimson’s all-time record of 82.2 percent.
At 75.0 percent, Moore was actually the worst free-throw shooter of Villanova’s core group of contributors. Collin Gillespie (90.5%), Jordan Slater (87.8%), Caleb Daniels (85.1%), Eric Dixon (82.5%) and Jermaine Samuels (77.5%), all shoot an absurdly high percentage from the stripe and have been lights out from the line in late-game situations.
How to watch Kansas vs. Villanova in men’s 2022 Final Four
You can watch Kansas vs. Villanova in the men’s Final Four on Saturday, April 2 on TBS.
Game: No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 1 Kansas
Time: 6:09 p.m. ET