(1) Villanova vs. (1) Kansas
Time: 7:45 PM CT, Saturday (3/31)
Spread: VIL -5
Odds c/o 5dimes
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Villanova at this point has to be considered the favorites for the 2018 NCAA title. The Wildcats are 34-4 and have knocked off Radford in round 1, Alabama in Round 2, West Virginia in Round 3, and then finally Texas Tech to advance to the Final Four. It now encounters the other No. 1 seed from its side of the bracket, but Villanova is 5-point favorites over Kansas in NCAA Final Four action Saturday night at 7:45 PM (CT).
Villanova is a high-scoring team led by two of the best scorers in the NCAA in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Brunson is averaging 19.2 points per game this season, while Bridges is good for another 17.8. Nova averages 87 points per game as a team, and it shoots nearly 50 percent from the field as a team, as well. It is a team that has few offensive weaknesses, and that is a driving force behind its successful run this March.
Brunson is a 6’3” junior guard who has stepped it up even more from a fine season a year ago. This season he is shooting 41.4 percent from three-point range on 5.4 attempts per game, and he has done well in March Madness. He is averaging 17.5 points per game in the tournament, and had his best performance when he scored 27 points on 8 of 15 shooting in the 90-78 win over West Virginia. The Wildcats will need a similar showing from him Saturday night against Kansas, and they will need him to be assertive. There are outings where he seems all but invisible on the court (as in his 3 of 7 shooting game against Alabama on Mar 17), but Nova does have other talents on their team when Brunson seems to fade the most. Even so, this is the big stage, and he is the best player on the tournament’s best team. It is also a chance to improve his NBA draft stock, so expect Brunson to come out firing. His shooting could be the difference between Nova advancing to the title game or heading home a week early as losers to Kansas in this one.
Kansas defeated No. 16 Penn, No. 8 Seton Hall, No. 5 Clemson and No. 2 Duke to advance to the Final Four. All of those games were close, save the victory over Penn in the opening around. The Jayhawks have been executing well late in games, and are 31-7 on the season overall.
Kansas is led by Devonte’ Graham. Graham averages 17 points, four rebounds and seven assists per game, and is the next in a great line of Kansas guards to hail from the university. He had only 11 points against Duke, and he has not shot the ball well all tournament, though. He was 9 of 24 against Penn, 1 of 7 against Seton Hall, 4 of 12 against Clemson and 4 of 10 against Duke. Indeed, Graham shot under 40 percent on the season, so maybe this should not really be a surprise, but he is going to need his shots to fall against a high-powered offense like Villanova’s. Overall, while Graham is a sensational scorer, his lack of efficiency and not coming through in crucial games really might hurt his draft stock—for whatever that is worth.
Beyond Graham, the Jayhawks rely on Malik Newman and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk heavily as well. Both average 14 points per game and Mykhailiukhad a nice game against Seton Hall when he shot 7 of 16 for 16 points. He has connected on just 8 of his last 19 shots, though, and is just 4 of 13 from three-point range over the Jayhawks’ last two games. With several cold shooters on the roster, we do like Villanova to prevail as favored in this game.