Kansas entered its Final Four matchup with Villanova as the underdog, needing a repeat of last weekend’s performance against Duke to stand a chance at winning. Head coach Bill Self’s squad hoped that it could to keep draining 3-pointers at its season rate of around 40 percent and that guard Malik Newman could replicate his star-making statline from the Midwest regional final. Still, the Jayhawks came to San Antonio knowing that they needed the Wildcats’ offense—which entered Saturday night just five 3-pointers shy of the single-season NCAA record—to falter.
Newman dropped 21 points—good, but nothing like his 32-point showing in the prior round—and Kansas fell short of its 3-point shooting goal, going just 33.3 percent from deep. The Jayhawks fell behind 22-7 and then …
Down 15, Kansas scored on five straight possessions, which put them down 17.— Mike Jensen (@jensenoffcampus) April 1, 2018
Oh God. But maybe they—
This is insane - Villanova is winning by 20 and has not attempted a single free throw while Kansas has attempted 14 pic.twitter.com/oGBDGH2f2B— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 1, 2018
Nope. Well at least maybe their former players rallied around them?
Man am I high or these dudes are so hot from 3? Come on— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) April 1, 2018
I, for one, welcome our Wildcat overlords.
Villanova routed the Jayhawks 95-79, a contest in which it completely dominated from the opening tip. The Wildcats led by 10 four minutes into the first half. They were up 17 entering the under-eight timeout, doubling Kansas’s point total. Self famously remade his offense into a deep-shooting machine this season to account for personnel issues that left him without an interior presence for the first time in recent memory. It didn’t make an impact in San Antonio; compared to Villanova, the Jayhawks looked like mediocre high schoolers. Head coach Jay Wright’s squad went 36-of-65 from the field and 18-of-40 from beyond the arc.
The Wildcats scoring big is the safest bet in college basketball. Nova has the second most efficient offense since 2002, according to KenPom, and there’s a case to be made that it has one of the most dynamic offenses in the history of the sport. The Wildcats are led by AP national player of the year Jalen Brunson and projected NBA lottery pick Mikal Bridges, both of whom went for double figures on Saturday. But what makes Villanova so devastating is its depth, the closest thing March Madness has to the Death Star. Freshman big man Omari Spellman is the most heralded recruit Wright has landed in years; he tallied 15 points and 13 rebounds. Guards Donte DiVincenzo and Phil Booth are deadly when they’re clicking; they combined for 25 points on 53 percent shooting. And Eric Paschall, a junior forward who started each of the 37 games he played this season, was nearly perfect, shooting 10-of-11 from the field for a game-high 24 points. And during Passover, no less.
My prediction is that Eric Paschall goes off tonight pic.twitter.com/Cr1DoZhg68— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) April 1, 2018
Villanova didn’t attempt a free throw until just 8:48 remained in the second half. It didn’t need to. In the NBA, a trip to the stripe is worth an average of about 1.5 points. The Wildcats, a college basketball team, finished a Final Four game collecting 1.35 points every time they attempted a 3. Wright’s offense was Bill Gates walking past spare change on the sidewalk because it wasn’t worth his time to pick it up. Why waste precious energy going for one point when you’re shooting 45 percent from 3-point land?
If Villanova’s thrashing of a Big 12 foe in the national semifinal looked familiar, that’s because it was. Two years ago, the Wildcats entered their Final Four matchup with Oklahoma as 2.5-point favorites. They won by 44. Wright decided to take it a bit easier on the Jayhawks this year, turning a 4.5-point spread into a comfortable 16-point win. Now, just 40 minutes of basketball stand between the Wildcats and their second title in three years. To hoist another trophy, they’ll have to go through Michigan and Moritz Wagner.
Over the next 48 hours, the Wolverines will draw up game plans centered on the idea that if Wagner plays well and their glacial defense rises to the occasion, they might just be able to slow Nova down. For much of Texas Tech’s Elite Eight game against the Wildcats, that strategy seemed to pay off. With the right amount of luck, the improbable could happen.
But it’s telling that Michigan’s hopes rely mainly on March Madness’s most indestructible force suddenly and inexplicably malfunctioning. If Villanova shoots the way it did against Kansas, or even just continues to play like it has for most of the 2017-18 season, Monday’s national championship game could be over long before the final horn sounds.