By Hocine LOUKKAF on 3/30/2022

Forget the cinderellas, big colleges run this Final Four with four of the most iconic programs, Villanova, Kansas and an incredible matchup introducing colleges’s biggest rivalry, Duke against UNC to close or extend for one more game Coach K’s incredible career.

UNC (28-9) vs Duke (32-6)

Could there be a better matchup than UNC-Duke for their first matchup in a Final Four and Coach K’ last season ?

Despite their loss in the ACC championship game, the Blue Devils bounced back pretty well as, after ousting #15 seed Cal State Fullerton, they played three tough-minded defensive teams, Michigan State, Texas Tech and Arkansas, games during which Duke’s mix of young talent and experience never panicked despite being trailed against Texas Tech and MSU. Indeed, Duke’s depth has been hard to swallow for its opponents as behind the traditional leading scorers Banchero (18.5pts 7rbds 3.8as during the Tournament) and Moore (13.5pts), Roach (12.8pts) and Williams (14.5pts 8.8rbds 4bl) have dramatically improved their stats. Freshman AJ Griffin had his ups and downs during the first three games ( 9.3pts on 40% FG) but was at his best against Arkansas (18pts on 7/9 FG) and has gained some much needed confidence before the UNC game.

Ironically, UNC’s victory for Coach K’s last game at Cameron Stadium may have helped them secure their Tournament spot, which they used pretty well as they destroyed Marquette before beating painfully two of last year’s Final Four participants, UCLA and last champion Baylor, and then put an end to St Peter’s cinderella journey. UNC can count on a strong quartet made of two big men and two guards. Bacot has been a monster with 16.5pts and 15.7rbds (sic) over the past four games while his paint partner Manek may have turned his Tournament into a draft pick, averaging 21.5pts 8rbds and shooting a combined 16/34 from three. Caleb Love and RJ Davis handle the backourt but may also be the weak links as they have been very incosistent offensively  (5pts 6tos on 1/6 FG for Love vs Baylor but 30pts 4as 1to vs UCLA, 9pts on 2/11 Fg vs St Peter’s but 30pts 6as vs Baylor for Davis).

Prediction : Duke. UNC already beat Duke and the rivalry is so big between them that anything can happen. Duke may have a slight edge because they have found more offensive weapons recently and Williams may limit Bacot’s impact. Now, if UNC’s quartet is hot on  the same day like it has been the case during last matchup (20pt or more for each of them), Duke will only have his eyes to cry.

Villanova (30-7) vs Kansas (32-6)

Two very resembling teams led by upperclassmen, Kansas and Villanova will both try to reach the championship game and have a chance to grab a fourth title as both colleges are ranked 7th for most national championships with three.

Villanova may not have the prospects they used to run like Bridges, Brunson or Paschall but this team has talent though, starting with big man Jermaine Samuels who had at least 15pts 7rbds and 55% FG in each of the last four games. We can’t forget Gillespie who, despite his bad game against Houston, averaged 15.3pts 3.3as for 1to during the Tournament’s first three games. Yet, Villaonva will miss Justin Moore and his almost 15pts per game as he tore his Achilles against Houston, which willl give more responsability to high-rebounding guard Caleb Daniels. More than Gillespie, Samuels or Daniels, Villanova’s heart and soul is its defense as the Wildcats has limited its opponents to 61pts, including Michigan to 55pts and Houston to 44pts (sic).

Kansas’ road to the Final Four was more quiet despite tough games against Creighton and Providence during which Remy Martin excelled from the bench (20pts 7rbds 4as 1to vs Creighton, 23pts 7rbds 3as vs Providence). Like Martin, Wilson has stepped up his game as he had double-digit rebounding numbers over  the last three games but needs to improve his offensive efficiency. Same can be said about Agbaji, who shot under 36% FG in the first three games before proving why he was a potential first round pick  against Miami (18pts 5rbds 4as 4st). Braun,Harris and McCormack complete this experienced and talented roster.

Prediction : Kansas. Moore will be deeply missed by Villanova but it can give even more motivation to his teammates. Kansas has the size and talent to overcome Villanova’s defense if every player puts his best game on the table.

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