The Final Four nightcap is probably the best game, on paper, that we have left in this tournament.
No. 1-seed Villanova, the best program of the last five years, taking on No. 1-seed Kansas, the most successful program in the last decade-and-a-half.
We have two all-american point guards. We have two centers that can change a game. We have all the guards. All of them. We have shooters on shooters on shooters. Buckle up.
Here is everything you need to know about the Final Four’s second game:
THREE KEY MATCHUPS
1. JALEN BRUNSON VS. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: These are the two best point guards in American.
And they will be going head-to-head on Saturday night.
Brunson’s game is different than Graham’s. He’s incredibly savvy. He understands how to use shot-fakes and change-of-pace to his advantage. He posts people up. He’s an unbelievable passer. Perhaps his best attribute is his ability to feel a game out. He can take over when he needs to take over. When his teammates are cooking, he gets them the ball in spots that they can cook.
Where he does struggle a bit is on the defensive end of the floor, which is not going to be ideal when facing off with Graham, who has struggled during this tournament. He’s an explosive scorer and a willing and capable passer that is at his best when he can get to his jumpshot, and it is going to be thrilling to see him go up against Brunson.
2. OMARI SPELLMAN VS. UDOKA AZUBUIKE: While the best matchup is at the point, the matchup that could end up determining the winner of this game will be in the paint.
Azubuike and Spellman are both terrific players, and couldn’t play the five any more differently. Azubuike is a hoss in every sense of the word. He’s huge — 6-foot-10, 280 pounds — and far more athletic than someone that size should be. He has long arms and finishes everything around the rim with a dunk that looks like it is going to tear down the back board. He can score with his back-to-the-basket, but he is at his best when he can stay around five-feet from the rim.
He might actually be Villanova’s best shooter. He spaces the floor for the Wildcats. He can also attack a close-out, which puts Azubuike in a nightmare spot. How in the world is he going to deal with someone that wants to run around on the perimeter?
For my money, this game is going to be won by whoever wins that battle, which likely means it is going to be won by whoever can get the other big man in foul trouble first.
3. WHO GUARDS MALIK NEWMAN?: There has not been a hotter player in the NCAA tournament than Malik Newman, who is averaging 22.7 points in seven games in March. He had 32 points the last time that Kansas took the floor, scoring all 13 of their points in an overtime win over Duke.
Villanova has a number of really good perimeter defenders, and I fully expect the Wildcats to do plenty of switching throughout Saturday night’s game. That means that everyone — Brunson, and Mikal Bridges, and Phil Booth, and Donte DiVincenzo, even someone like Eric Paschall — will get a crack at him.
And slowing Newman down may actually be the secret to ending this Kansas run.
THE BEST STORY LINE
There are quite a few here to talk about. Jay Wright is one of the founders of small-ball in the college ranks. Bill Self is one of the last people in the sport to truly embrace going away from two big men, but he’s been forced to do it because of roster limitations the last two years. There is a lack of bigs everywhere. In an era of one-and-done players, this game is defined by a pair of point Gods, one a senior and the other that’s felt like a senior in each of his three seasons.
But for my money, the best story line here is going to be Udoka Azubuike and his mom. Azubuike came to America when he was 13 years old, and as documented in a story on Bleacher Report this week, his life growing up in Nigeria was incomprehensibly difficult. Azubuike’s mother is coming to San Antonio to see him play for the first time.
That’s the best part of Saturday night.
You’ll never convince me otherwise.
AND THE WINNER WILL BE …
Villanova. They are just too good and too difficult to matchup with. I think Spellman, in the end will get the best of Azubuike.