ELITE 8 PREVIEW: What to expect from Kansas vs. Villanova

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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WHEN: Saturday, March 26th, 8:49 p.m.

WHERE: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Ky.

MAJOR STORYLINES: Villanova shed the label of March chokers with their win over No. 3 Miami in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats put together the single-most dominating offensive performance that we’ve seen all season long, They scored 92 points on 59 possessions, a ridiculous 1.559 points-per-possession. To put that into context, the last time that we saw a high-major team give up that high of a PPP to another high-major team was in December when Indiana put together the worst defensive performance we’ve ever seen against Duke. Before that? It was when Wisconsin let Ohio State hit a record 14 straight threes.

So no, Villanova cannot be called choke artists anymore, not after that. But will they be able to finish off the run and get to Jay Wright’s first Final Four since 2009? And, if they do, will the criticism of Bill Self as a March coach get louder? He’s won 12 straight Big 12 regular season titles, but he’s only been to a pair of Final Four and lost in the first weekend of the tournament five different times. There’s no shame in losing to Villanova if they play the way they did against Miami, but at some point, failing to get to the final weekend of the season as the No. 1 overall seed is not a good look.

KEY MATCHUP: Perry Ellis. Here’s the thing about this Villanova team right now: Josh Hart is their best player, but with the way that Kris Jenkins has been playing over the course of the last month, he may be their most dangerous. But both of those guys are combo-forwards more than anything, trending more towards being a three than a four. Ellis, on the other hand, has been arguably the best Kansas player through three games in this tournament, and while he’s at his best in a face-up role, he’s still a guy that can score with his back to the basket. Can Villanova slow him down? And, conversely, can the Wildcats take advantage of him on the other end of the floor?

X-FACTOR: We talked about how much of a matchup problem Perry Ellis will be, but the same can be said for Wayne Selden, who essentially plays the three for the Jayhawks. Selden can be inconsistent at times, but when he’s playing well, he can take over a game as well as anyone. It would make sense to put Josh Hart on him and let Jenkins try and guard Perry Ellis, but those matchups may force Villanova into a zone.

POINT SPREAD: Kansas -2

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. The back court battle: Figuring out how Jenkins and Hart will deal with Selden and Ellis, and vice versa, is the most intriguing part of this matchup. But arguably as important will be the battle between a pair of back courts that start two point guards. Ryan Arcidiacono may be the MVP of the tournament to date, and Jalen Brunson has played well for the last two weeks, but they’ll be dealing with a tough, quick and defensive-minded duo in Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham.
  2. How many threes will Villanova shoot?: The Wildcats are shooting 53.2 percent from three in the tournament, which is much better than they shot it all season long. The difference? The shots they’re taking. Less than 30 percent of their field goal attempts were threes when they hit 10-for-15 against Miami on Thursday, and during the tournament, only 38.2 percent of their field goal attempts are three. That’s down from nearly 45 percent during the regular season. The Wildcats rely heavily on the three-ball, but they make those threes when they take good threes.
  3. Landen Lucas: Has anyone had a more surprising rise to relevance that Landen Lucas? He had 14 points and 11 boards against Maryland and has suddenly turned into the defensive anchor we’ve been waiting for Bill Self to have since Joel Embiid got hurt in 2014.

CBT PREDICTION: Kansas rolls to the Final Four