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On Saturday, Loyola-Chicago and Michigan stamped their Final Four tickets in the 2018 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament with wins over Kansas State and Florida State, respectively. The Ramblers and Wolverines will meet next Saturday for a national championship berth.
The final two Final Four teams will be determined this Sunday. Villanova will meet Texas Tech, while Kansas and Duke square off. It should be a fun duo of games, leading to a fascinating Final Four.
Here’s a look at the latest bracket, odds (via OddsShark), picks and analysis for Sunday’s Final Four matchups.
Villanova (-6.5) over Texas Tech
Texas Tech’s tough defense (the Red Raiders’ 64.6 points allowed per game ranks 15th in Division I) could certainly pose a challenge for the Villanova Wildcats. However, Villanova has the best offense in the nation, with a Division I-leading 87.0 points per game. Six players score 10 or more points on average, led by junior guards Jalen Brunson (19.3) and Mikal Bridges (18.0).
That attack hasn’t slowed down in the tournament, as the Wildcats dropped 87 against Radford, 81 vs. Alabama and 90 in the Sweet 16 matchup with West Virginia. It’s hard to bet against them right now, especially when they are adept at scoring efficiently from long range (40.5 percent, 10th in Division I) and everywhere else on the court (50.3 percent overall, fifth in Division I).
The key will be whether Texas Tech is able to play the game at a slower pace. The Red Raiders’ adjusted tempo is 247th in Division I (compared to 159th for the Wildcats), per Pomeroy. If they are able to play tight defense, force some bad shots, control the tempo on offense and shoot efficiently, then they have a good chance.
The Red Raiders could also pull off the upset if senior guard Keenan Evans has one of his patented games where he simply takes over and leads his team to victory. He’s done that on a few occasions this year, most notably with 32 points in an overtime win vs. Nevada and another 38 in an additional OT victory against Texas.
However, it’s hard to bet against the Wildcats’ offense right now, which has been scorching hot all season. Look for Villanova to make its second Final Four appearance in three years.
Duke (-3) over Kansas
Minus Duke’s shooting disparity against Syracuse in the Sweet 16 (39.3 percent from the field for the Blue Devils and 49.0 percent for the Orange), the Blue Devils have fared quite well in three tournament matchups.
Their games against Iona and Rhode Island in the tournament’s first weekend weren’t much in question after halftime. Duke needed to hold on against No. 11-seeded Syracuse in a 69-65 win, although the Blue Devils’ victory was impressive considering they shot almost 10 percent worse from the field. That was in part due to the turnover battle (Syracuse had 16, while Duke only committed seven).
Minus a couple tough losses to non-tournament teams (Boston College and St. John’s), Duke’s fared well all season. The Blue Devils are the only Division I men’s basketball team (out of 351 in the nation) ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings.
The Blue Devils’ well-rounded starting lineup also contains four players in the top 28 of Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report’s big board.
Kansas is certainly a talented team, but it’s been a bit inconsistent this year. Notably, the Jayhawks lost three home games at Allen Fieldhouse, a court of horrors where KU once won 54 straight games and hadn’t lost three in a season since 1998-99. KU also lost 16- and 18-point road matchups against Baylor and Oklahoma State, respectively.
That inconsistency has stretched into the tournament.
In the first round, the Jayhawks fell behind 21-11 to the No. 16-seeded Penn Quakers before roaring back and winning by 16. In the second round, the Jayhawks held on as they beat Seton Hall 83-79 despite the Pirates’ 53 second-half points.
Then, in the Sweet 16, Kansas led by 15 against Clemson with under five minutes left before a Tigers’ comeback cut the lead to four at the end of regulation.
The problem is that Duke is a superior team to Penn, Seton Hall or Clemson, and KU might be in trouble if it starts (or ends) poorly or has issues on the defensive end.
Ultimately, Duke is the pick here given its stellar tournament play and fantastic talent.