Kansas +5 vs Villanova: All the signs point to Villanova on paper, but Kansas just beat a team with more talent than them in a spot where most people were very confident than Duke would send them home. Villanova is definitely tough to bet against and you can definitely argue that they just shot 4/24 and still won by double digits, but Kansas has a much better offense than Texas Tech and is peaking at the right time with 4 guys who all have made big plays on offense when it counted the most in this tournament. Malik Newman was on fire at the end of the Duke game and he wasn’t alone – Svi Mykhailiuk hit the game-tying 3 that sent it into overtime. Lagerald Vick is 10/21 from 3 point range for Kansas this tournament, has 7 straight games of 10+ points, and made some big shots at the end of the Duke game. Graham was heady as usual with 6 assists to 2 turnovers, 11 points, and 6 rebounds.
Villanova can shoot you out of the gym but Kansas has stepped up their defensive play in big ways lately and it was obvious vs Duke – Grayson Allen was held to 2/9 on 3 pointers and Gary Trent Jr. was 2/10. A lot of those shots didn’t fall simply because guys like Newman, Graham, and Vick upped their intensity just playing straight up man to man. It’s going to be even harder to stop Brunson, Bridges and Spellman, but Villanova had bad shooting nights in their 4 losses this year and Providence gave them a tough game twice this year with physical defense. I’m obviously concerned about how Azubuike will guard Spellman and Paschall by the top of the key in pick & rolls, but I think Silvio De Sousa is the guy who will end up with more minutes in this game – he’s quicker than Azuibuike, stays out of foul trouble, and is a better defender. He had 10 rebounds against Duke and played valuable minutes in OT vs Duke when Azubuike fouled out. De Sousa also had a huge Big 12 tournament when Azubuike went down with a knee injury, so he’s gained experience fast.
Villavova will shoot better than 4/24 from 3 tonight, but even 32-34% for Nova could open the door for Kansas. If Villanova is a little cold from 3, I also think Bill Self could possibly go small for at least a 3-4 minute spurt with Mykhailiuk playing the 5. Phil Booth is just 4/17 from 3 for Nova the last 3 games and is only averaging 5 ppg when he averages 10 regularly. Kansas can go small if they want to try a spurt where they beat Spellman and Paschall with speed and beat them with pressure on D when they have the ball at the top of the key. Self already showed he’s not opposed to throwing a wrinkle in his defense by doubling Bagley in the post last week and I think if Spellman or Paschall were to go down low you could potentially see Self do the same and sag off Booth or anybody else who may not be hot (Bagley had just 9 shot attempts last week). It may not even play out that way, but Self could have that stored in his back pocket to throw Villanova off a bit if he’s confident in how the game is flowing.
Bottom line, Self has taken this team from being “soft” (his own words early this season) to getting guys like Malik Newman on NBA scout’s radars and guys like Mykhailiuk taking the big three at the end of games. Kansas will try to win this game by just being a little bit tougher on defense than Nova because they know they have to make Nova uncomfortable to even have a shot. This moment is obviously big for both teams, but Kansas and Bill Self have gotten over the hump that they “can’t make the Final 4” and it reminds me of when Nova and Jay Wright got over the hump in 2016. Villanova played their best game of the season that year in the Final 4 and I think you’ll get a very good performance out of Kansas tonight. Bill Self is now 12-5 ATS as an underdog since 2014 and I think tonight they’ll have a shot at the outright.
*I’m playing Kansas +5 for more than Under 155.
*I’ll also be looking for lives in the 2nd half once I see the foul situation and what Self’s gameplan is. If I feel Kansas is trending in the right direction I may try to grab them at a better number when Villanova has a lead. I’ll tweet any lives out.
*For Loyola vs Michigan: this is a tough number to play. I don’t want to fade either team and laying 5 with Michigan is tough when they’re not a great FT shooting team. I want to see how effective Krutwig can be on defense and how Michigan opens up shooting. I may grab a good Loyola # live if I like the flow of the game.