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The four teams headed to San Antonio for the Final Four aren’t the collection we expected to be left standing in the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but they are all intriguing in their own right.
When you start to break down the individual matchups of Saturday’s contests, there are must-see showdowns at every position.
No. 1 Villanova, No. 1 Kansas, No. 3 Michigan and No. 11 Loyola-Chicago have received impressive production from their star players over four March Madness games, and the same high level of quality is expected when they reach the Alamodome.
While we can’t delve into every individual matchup on the court in one sitting, we were able to take a look at a positional battle in each game that could end up deciding the final result.
No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago (Saturday, 6:09 p.m., TBS)
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 1 Kansas (8:49 p.m., TBS)
All Times ET
Matchups to Watch
Cameron Krutwig vs. Moritz Wagner
For the most part, the clash between Michigan and Loyola-Chicago is going to feature a healthy dose of guard play.
However, the production of each team’s big man could flip the contest and send the victor into the National Championship.
Loyola-Chicago freshman Cameron Krutwig is your typical wide big man, as he likes to back defenders down in the paint on his way to the rim.
In four NCAA tournament games, he has hovered around his season averages of 10.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
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Against No. 9 Kansas State, Krutwig contributed nine points and seven rebounds, as he shot 4-of-8 from the field.
The freshman is going to face his toughest test yet Saturday in the form of Michigan’s Moritz Wagner, who is one of the most versatile frontcourt players in the nation.
Wagner loves to live around the three-point line no matter if he’s on fire or missing every shot from beyond the arc, as he did against No. 9 Florida State in the Elite Eight.
The junior from Germany made three or more shots from three-point range 11 times this season, but he went cold against the Seminoles, as he shot 0-of-7 from deep.
Even if he’s missing shots, Wagner plays an important role for the Wolverines, as he forces defenders out of their comfort zone by drawing them away from the paint.
The Ramblers could switch assignments on Wagner in order to keep Krutwig in the paint so he can collect rebounds, but they don’t have anyone as tall as the freshman in their rotation.
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If Wagner succeeds in drawing Krutwig away from the rim, it could open up space for Michigan’s guards to drive following an extra pass.
When Krutwig is on offense, he needs to post up Wagner and either work his way to the hoop for points or draw trips to the free-throw line.
Wagner has shown throughout the Big Dance he is susceptible to foul trouble, as he picked up four fouls in three of his four games.
Jalen Brunson vs. Devonte’ Graham
Men’s basketball fans are already salivating at the thought of Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham dueling it out for a spot in the title game Saturday night.
Two of the most complete guards in the nation are known for their leadership and shot-making ability in clutch situations, and there’s a good chance they will guard each other for the majority of the time they are on the court.
Brunson worked his way into double digits in the points column in every game he has played this season, with his best NCAA tournament output coming against No. 5 West Virginia in the Sweet 16, as he recorded 27 points.
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Not only is Brunson a marksman from three-point range, he specializes in backing down defenders in the paint, a trait you rarely see in collegiate point guards.
With Kansas’ frontcourt play being fragile at times, don’t be shocked to see Brunson close to the rim early in the contest, as he looks to put the Jayhawks into foul trouble.
Outside of his 29-point showing against No. 16 Penn in the first round, Graham’s numbers haven’t been as impressive as they were in the regular season.
With 35 points in the last three games, Graham hasn’t featured in the role of star scorer because of how well Malik Newman, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick have played.
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Just like Brunson, Graham provides his team with a steady hand on offense that sets up most of Kansas’ offensive sets.
With his teammates stepping up of late, Graham is able to be more of a facilitator who also drops in key buckets when called upon.
There’s a chance Brunson and Graham neutralize each other’s skill sets and force their teammates to step up in key situations, but that’s not foreign territory for the Wildcats and Jayhawks.
Look for both players to knock down a few key shots and produce some terrific assists, but given who they are going up against, neither should end up as the leading scorer for their respective teams.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90
Statistics obtained from ESPN.com