The 2021-22 men’s college basketball season should go down as a pretty good one, as these things go. Although it didn’t produce many elite teams, the depth of quality squads meant you could find competitive, well-played contests almost every night. (Again, by college basketball standards.) Now it’s ending with a high-wattage Final Four.
At this point, no one is going to tell you anything you haven’t heard already about four of the sport’s most celebrated programs. We’ll just lay out how we see the games playing out.
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 1 Kansas
Two stories have loomed over this weekend’s de facto undercard.
First, the Jayhawks just played arguably their best basketball of the season in the second half of their beatdown of Miami. KU turned a horrible shooting performance in the final 20 minutes by the Hurricanes into a bevy of transition opportunities, as Miami’s six-point lead at halftime morphed into a 26-point victory for the Jayhawks.
If you’ve watched KU throughout the season, you know this team isn’t the machine that whipsawed The U on Sunday. Bill Self has assembled his typical group of talented players from positions one through five. It appears as though watching Remy Martin go to work has turned into this squad’s identity in the postseason. That’s different from what we saw during the regular season, and it’s not necessarily a good thing at this point in the tournament.
Second, what will the Wildcats do without guard Justin Moore? Although he’s not the most efficient offensive player, Moore is a classic Villanova guard:
- Shoots well off the dribble behind the three point arc;
- Strong enough to back down other wings and operate in the post;
- Doesn’t turn the ball over; and
- Deadly at the free throw line.
As an added bonus, Moore rebounds the ball exceedingly well for a guard. That’s what Nova won’t have at its disposal this weekend.
Caleb Daniels can replicate much of what Moore brings to the table – the Tulane transfer is a sixth starter for all intents and purposes. If Jay Wright has to work deeper into his bench, however, his team will start to feel the pinch.
With a week to prepare, Wright can probably cook up a game plan to offset the loss of Moore. The ability of the Wildcats’ to control tempo and the flow of the game also plays in their favor in this kind of setting. Think of it as winning by force of will.
The pick: Villanova in an upset.
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 8 North Carolina
The Blue Devils have played well in this tournament, but it feels as though the allure of the Mike Krzyzewski fairy tale is influencing perceptions of just how well Duke is playing. Keep in mind that this team was down five to a pedestrian Michigan State squad with five minutes remaining in the round of 32. The. Blue Devils also had to engineer a comeback in the second half against Texas Tech – a physically and mentally tough team, but one that showed its fair share of flaws on the offensive end during the season.
And that raises a key question about the run Coach K’s team is on. The adjusted offensive efficiency rankings of Duke’s four opponents in order (Cal State-Fullerton, Michigan State, Texas Tech, Arkansas) in the NCAA Tournament, per kenpom.com: 152, 31, 42 and 53. Rankings by three-point percentage: 191, 16, 254 and 316.
Duke has beaten three teams with pedestrian-to-bad offenses and downright horrid outside shooting in the last four games. Sparty is a notable exception, and the Blue Devils didn’t exactly clamp down on MSU in an 85-76 win. They won’t see that type of opponent this weekend.
It would make for a nice story if getting worked by UNC a few weeks ago on their home floor marked some kind of turning point in the season for the Blue Devils. Sometimes, though, winning streaks have more to do with who you’re playing than how.
The pick: Tar Heels ruin all the fun.
Championship: North Carolina over Villanova
The Wildcats will have a hard time with UNC’s length and athleticism, especially if Wright is using a shortened bench in Moore’s absence. UNC will hit the boards hard on both ends and wear Nova down in the second half.
Once-maligned Hubert Davis will capture a national title in his first season as head coach, with Oklahoma transfer forward Brady Manek taking home MVP honors.