Kansas vs. Villanova
March 30, 2018
By Brian Edwards
Loyola-Chicago vs. Michigan
Two No. 1 seeds failed to survive the first weekend of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, but the other two are still ticking and one will play for the national title on Monday night. That’ll be the winner of Saturday’s second national semifinal game between Kansas and Villanova at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
As of early Friday night, most betting shops had Villanova (34-4 straight up, 26-12 against the spread) installed as a five-point favorite with a total of 154.5. KU was +200 on the money line at most spots (risk $100 to win $200).
Jay Wright’s team leads the nation in scoring with its 86.6 points-per-game average. Villanova is sixth in the country in field-goal percentage (49.9%), 19th in 3-point accuracy (40.0%) and eighth in free-throw percentage (78.0%). On the other end, they are ranked 32nd in the nation at defending the 3-point line (32.2%).
Villanova advanced to the Final Four for the second time in three seasons with wins over Radford (87-61), Alabama (81-58), West Virginia (90-78) and Texas Tech (71-59). The Wildcats have covered the spread in all four Tournament games and seven of their past eight. They’re on a nine-game winning streak since dropping an 89-83 overtime decision at Creighton on Feb. 24.
All five starters and one reserve scored in double figures in the 26-point win over Radford. Jalen Brunson, one of five finalists for the Wooden Award along with KU’s Devonte Graham, scored a game-high 16 points on 7-of-9 FGAs. Mikal Bridges added 13 points and six rebounds, draining 3-of-6 launches from 3-point territory.
Villanova led Alabama 27-25 with two minutes remaining in the first half, but it was able to extend the lead to 32-27 by halftime. Then Wright’s team played its best basketball of the Tournament to start the second half, ripping off an 18-1 run to take a 50-28 advantage by the under-16 television timeout. At that point, it was over and the Wildcats coasted to the spread cover as 11.5-point ‘chalk.’
Bridges was the catalyst with 23 points on 5-of-8 shooting from long distance. Donte DiVincenzo added 18 points and five assists compared to one turnover. The junior guard buried 5-of-11 launches from 3-point land. Brunson was also in double figures with 12 points, two steals, two rebounds and four assists without a turnover.
Waiting for ‘Nova in the East Region semifinals at TD Garden in Boston was a game West Virginia club led by senior point guard Jevon Carter, who had been sensational in WVU’s two wins in the Tournament’s first weekend. The game was tied at 60-60 with 10 minutes remaining, but Villanova started to create some separation from the Mountaineers over the next six minutes. The Wildcats took their first double-digit lead on a bucket with 3:43 left and eventually won by a 90-78 count as 5.5-point favorites.
Brunson erupted for 27 points and Omari Spellman produced 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three blocked shots and a pair of steals. Bridges added 16 points and six boards on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. Eric Paschall finished with 14 points and two steals, draining 2-of-3 treys.
Villanova faced another Big 12 foe in the East Region finals, third-seeded Texas Tech. The Red Raiders scored the game’s first seven points and didn’t relinquish the lead for nearly eight minutes. However, the Wildcats got hot late in the first half and enjoyed a 36-23 advantage at intermission. They would lead by as many as 15 points en route to a 71-59 win as 6.5-point ‘chalk.’
Brunson scored a game-high 15 points to go with six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Bridges, Paschall and DiVincenzo scored 12 points apiece, with Paschall pulling down 14 rebounds. DiVincenzo snagged eight rebounds as ‘Nova dominated the glass with a 50-28 rebounding advantage. The Wildcats had 19 offensive boards.
Brunson is averaging team-highs in scoring (19.2 PPG), assists (4.6 APG) and FG percentage (52.7%). Bridges is tops for the Wildcats in steals (1.5 SPG) and FT percentage (84.8%), and he’s second in scoring (17.8 PPG), rebounding (5.4 RPG), blocked shots (41) and 3-point shooting (43.6%). Spellman (10.8 PPG) averages team-bests in rebounding (7.8 RPG) and blocked shots (1.5 BPG).
DiVincenzo has enjoyed a breakout campaign, averaging 12.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He’s hit 47.0 percent of his FGAs and 38.5 percent of his 3-point launches. Paschall (10.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG) has 80 assists, 35 steals and 23 blocked shots. Senior guard Phil Booth (10.3 PPG) has an 89/43 assist-to-turnover ratio and has made 39.0 percent of his 3-pointers and 80.0 percent of his FTs.
Villanova has been a single-digit favorite 13 times this season, going 8-5 ATS with three outright defeats.
Since Feb. 13, Kansas (31-7 SU, 20-16 ATS) has won 12 of its 13 games while compiling an 8-5 spread record. Bill Self’s squad has been an underdog five times this year, producing a 4-1 record both SU and ATS.
KU’s last two teams have gone down in the Elite Eight, including a 64-59 loss to Villanova in the 2016 South Region finals in Louisville. The Wildcats, who eventually won the national title on Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the finals against North Carolina, won outright as two-point underdogs. They still have three players that played major minutes in that game.
Brunson scored seven points in 22 minutes of action vs. KU, while Bridges contributed six points, five steals three rebounds and one assists in 26 minutes of playing time. Booth went scoreless in 12 minutes. Devonte’ Graham hit 5-of-9 attempts from 3-point territory and scored a game-high 17 points for KU. He also had seven rebounds in the losing effort.
Kansas and Villanova also squared off in the 2008 Midwest Region semifinals at Ford Field in Detroit. KU won a 72-57 decision over the Wildcats and covered as a 12-point favorite. The Jayhawks would beat Steph Curry’s Davidson team by one point two days later before winning the national title in San Antonio the following weekend. They got a Mario Chalmers’ 3-pointer to force overtime in a thrilling win over John Calipari’s Memphis team in the finals.
KU advanced to the national semifinals by beating Duke 85-81 in overtime as a 3.5-point underdog last Sunday night. With the Jayhawks trailing by three points with 25 ticks left in regulation, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk buried a clutch trey to tie the score. At the other end, Duke senior guard Grayson Allen saw his potential game-winning bucket bounce in and out at the buzzer, forcing the extra session.
Malik Newman was the star and his crucial 3-pointer in OT proved to be pivotal. The transfer from Mississippi St. produced 32 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists for the Jayhawks. Graham, the senior guard who has been a program stalwart throughout his four-year career, had 11 points, six rebounds and six assists compared to just two turnovers. Lagerald Vick contributed 14 points and Mykhailiuk had 11 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
KU covered the spread in its 76-60 win over Penn in the first round as a 13.5-point favorite. The Quakers darted out to a double-digit lead early in the first half, but the Jayhawks responded with a 22-5 run to take a 33-26 lead into intermission. Graham stole the show with 29 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Kansas made the Sweet 16 with an 83-79 win over Seton Hall, but its backers took a brutal beat when the Pirates hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give them a backdoor cover as 4.5-point underdogs. Newman scored 28 points for the (outright) winners on 4-of-8 shooting from downtown.
Gamblers on Kansas took another bad beat in its Sweet 16 win over Clemson. Self’s team closed the first half on a 20-8 surge to lead the Tigers 40-27 at halftime. KU would extend its lead to 20 points when it started the second half on a 9-2 run. The Jayhawks, who closed as five-point favorites, seemed to be on their way to an easy spread cover with a 72-57 advantage with 4:40 remaining. However, Clemson closed the game on an improbable 19-8 roll to cover the number in an 80-76 loss.
KU made just 14-of-22 FTAs, including several costly misses in the final minute. Newman scored a team-high 17 points, while Graham produced 16 points, five rebounds and four assists. Udoka Azubuike, the 7-foot sophomore center who missed the Big Tournament injured and played only three minutes vs. Penn, came back to life with 14 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. Vick contributed 13 points, eight boards and two blocked shots vs. Clemson.
KU utilizes a four-guard attack with Azubuike (13.1 PPG) serving as its rim protector. He paces the Jayhawks in rebounding (7.1 RPG), FG percentage (77.2%) and blocked shots (1.7 BPG).
Graham leads Kansas in scoring (17.2 PPG), assists (7.3 APG) and steals (1.6 SPG). He has a 279/106 assist-to-turnover ratio and has buried 40.3 percent of his 3-pointers and 83.0 percent of his FTs. Mykhailiuk (14.7 PPG) has 104 assistrs, 45 steals and 12 blocked shots. He’s made a team-best 44.7 percent of his shots from 3-point range.
Newman averages 14.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He has hit 41.5 percent of his treys and 83.2 percent of his FTs.
The ‘over’ has been a monster maker in Villanova games, cashing at a 25-13 overall clip. However, the ‘under’ has cashed in three of the Wildcats’ past five games. This will be the highest total they’ve seen since a 94-70 win over Marquette at the Big East Tournament on March 8. That game saw the 164 combined points inch ‘over’ the 160-point total.
KU has seen the ‘over’ hit in three straight games and go 5-1-1 in its past six outings. The ‘over’ is 19-17-1 overall for the Jayhawks, who are ranked 11th in the nation in both FG percentage (49.3%) and 3-point accuracy (40.3%).
Tip-off on TBS will be approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of Loyola-Chicago vs. Michigan.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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