Four programs are ready, set, go. Their logos have been cemented into Final Four lore.
Now that a week long fiesta in San Antonio, TX has tipped-off the celebration of this colossal sporting event, the 2018 Men’s Final Four inches closer to becoming just a few palpable heartbeats away.
Let’s face it. Everyone’s bracket has been busted to some extent since March Madness breathed new life into the great month of March. On Saturday, four teams will close the month with either resounding jubilation or tears of utter sadness. These young men will have the opportunity of a lifetime, playing college basketball on the world’s biggest stage inside of the Alamodome in the Alamo City.
Big-time upsets (and one that was the biggest ever — No. 16-seeded UMBC absolutely destroying No. 1-overall seed Virginia), buzzer beaters, clutch shots, extraordinary defense, and true grit have paved the Road to the Final Four.
On the right side of the NCAA Tournament bracket, this matchup doesn’t come as a big surprise. Both the No. 1-seeded Villanova Wildcats and Kansas Jayhawks took care of business leading up to this highly anticipated national semifinal. In a piece a few weeks back, I alluded to the strength and character of both programs. Head coaches Jay “Armani” Wright of Villanova and Bill Self of Kansas are the definition of leadership and class in collegiate athletics. That being said, neither squad will back down with pride and a potential championship within reach. Ah, yes. The beauty of sports, ladies and gentlemen. Competitive drive.
Since I’ve been a fan of Coach Wright and Villanova for many years now and they happen to be my pick to win the whole enchilada, I’ll break down their keys to victory versus Rock Chalk, Jayhawk.
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
If the Wildcats advance to the National Final, these are their keys:
- Point guard and probable national player of the year, Jalen Brunson, must continue to play his brand of basketball. He must control the tempo for Nova with his tremendous orange roundball IQ. Avoiding costly turnovers, penetrating the lane when the opportunities present themselves, and using his great mind to take quality shots from the field.
- Being able to drill shots from the land of plenty at somewhere around 50 percent throughout the contest. Guards Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, and Mr. Brunson will be Coach Wright’s main contributors from beyond the arc.
- Forwards Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman must control the painted area. In Villanova’s Elite Eight game against Texas Tech on Sunday, Paschall dropped home 12 points and gobbled-up 14 rebounds. If he can produce the same on Saturday, Nova Nation will be cheering on their guys in the title game.
- Solid perimeter defense, avoiding foul trouble, and forcing Kansas to foul with greater frequency. Foul trouble for the Jayhawks late means that one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country can simply ice the game.
If Kansas can’t prevent Nova from doing these things, the Wildcats will be playing for their second national championship in three seasons. The only other title for the program was back in 1985 when Head Coach Rollie Massimino led his No. 8-seed Villanova team to a monumental upset over the heavily favored, Georgetown Hoyas.
On the left side of the Tourney bracket, things look a little different and a lot more interesting. Most people didn’t expect the No. 3-seeded Michigan Wolverines to reach the Final Four, but it can’t be a huge shock to anyone that followed how well they played down the stretch. At the end of the regular-season and throughout the Big Ten postseason tournament, Head Coach John Beilein’s group of young pups was rolling. It has definitely carried over in their NCAA Tourney march.
Michigan will be matched against the improbable Cinderella — the No. 11-seeded Loyola University Chicago Ramblers. If it wasn’t destiny for LUC, it was divinity. The Ramblers have 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, and it seems that you can’t beat this divine guardian. Sister Jean serves as the team’s chaplain, and she just so happens to be their biggest fan.
But if you look at things in terms of hoops talent, the Ramblers certainly don’t have a lack. After all, this is a mid-major program from the Missouri Valley Conference with a 32-5 record. They can play, folks. During their Dance to the Final Four, LUC won their first three games by a total of just four points. However, in their Elite Eight matchup against Kansas State, they opened up a can en route to a dominating 78-62 victory. Head Coach Porter Moser has his kids playing with passionate flare.
For the Ramblers to pull off yet another upset — this time facing Michigan — they must figure out a way to handle the Wolverines’ size advantage. Not only that, they’ll have to navigate through Maze and Blue’s suffocating defense. Additionally, they must limit Michigan’s ability to splash down shots from the land of plenty on offense.
Did I mention that all four of these teams won their conferences postseason tournament championship? No. Well, they did. When it comes to the Tourney and how far programs typically advance, playing great orange roundball late in the season is vital. It certainly helped propel Villanova, Kansas, Michigan, and Loyola-Chicago all the way to the Final Four.
Come Saturday, college hoops will consume the gorgeous River City of San Antonio. I can’t wait.
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