No. 2 Villanova, Jay Wright return to the Final Four with win over No. 1 Kansas

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The concern with Villanova was that, eventually, the Wildcats were going to regress back to the mean.

There’s no way that they would be able to hit 11 threes a game throughout the tournament, right? It wasn’t possible for them to shoot 53.2 percent from beyond the arc for three more games, was it?

As it turns out, our suspicions were correct.

No. 2 seed Villanova shot just 40.4 percent from the floor and 4-for-18 from three, and it didn’t matter. The Wildcats beat No. 1 seed Kansas — the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament — 64-59 to advance to their first Final Four since 2009.

The Wildcats advanced on the strength of their defensive effort, forcing 16 turnovers and holding Perry Ellis, who was averaging 23.0 points in the tournament, to just 1-for-5 shooting on Saturday night. Much of the credit for that defensive effort falls on the shoulders of Kris Jenkins. Jenkins is a guy that is known for his ability on the offensive end of the floor. Entering Saturday night, he had hit at least two threes in his last 11 games, scored at least 15 points in 10 of those 11 and went for 20+ in six of those 10. He wasn’t, however, a noted defender.

But he was the guy tasked with slowing down Ellis, and he did just that. Ellis had no points, two fouls and four turnovers at halftime while Jenkins led the Wildcats with nine points and three assists. Jenkins finished with 13 points, as did Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono, but none of them played all that well. Arcidiacono was more or less taken away by Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham while Hart missed four straight shots in the final four minutes.

What may be more fascinating is that part of me feels like Kansas gave this one away. Wayne Selden wasn’t ready to play. He airballed two threes in the first half and had another hit the opposite side of the back board early in the second half. He scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half, but he was 0-for-6 from three and missed a pair of threes in the final minute that could have changed the outcome of the game.

And that’s before you factor in Devonte’ Graham’s critical turnover (foul?) with less than a minute left.

It begs the question: At what point are we allowed to criticize Bill Self for his lack of tournament success?

The man has won 12 straight Big 12 titles. There’s no question that he’s one of the best coaches in the college game today. If he retired this second, he’d be in the Hall of Fame and no one would even question it.

But he’s only been to the Final Four twice in his career — winning the 2008 national title — the same number of times that he’s failed to get to the Final Four as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, as his Jayhawks were this season.

(For comparison’s sake, in seven of the 12 years since the No. 1 seeds were ranked the No. 1 overall seed has reached the Final Four. Three times — 2007 Florida, 2012 Kentucky and 2013 Louisville — the No. 1 overall seed won the national title. Kansas is the only program to twice fail to get to the Final Four as the No. 1 overall seed.)

And then there’s the five NCAA tournaments in his time at Kansas where Self has failed to get out of the first weekend or the six Elite 8 games that he’s lost.

So while it’s impossible to argue with his credentials, there is some wiggle room here, and this year’s team may be the perfect example. Look, there are no future first round picks that play for the Jayhawks this season. Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden will probably be second round picks. Maybe Frank Mason, too. But overall, there’s a real lack of NBA talent on this roster, which is part of what made Self a trendy pick for National Coach of the Year.

He won the toughest conference in college basketball, one that plays a true Round Robin schedule, by two full games with these guys? That’s damned impressive.

But he got picked off in the dance by a lower-seeded team on a night where his guys either A) had an off-night or B) choked.

It’s fascinating, really.

That said, it’s really not about Bill Self tonight.

The story is about Jay Wright, who is headed back to the Final Four after a seven-year hiatus, one where a lot of people began to question whether or not he really had what it takes to be an elite coach at this level.

Three times in six years between this Final Four and his last Final Four, Jay Wright lost in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament as a top two seed.

I’d say that monkey is officially of his back.