WE have reached the final few games of the college basketball season. Only four squads remain in the battle for the National Championship, which will take place in San Antonio over the weekend. Villanova, Kansas, Michigan and everyone’s favourite underdog Loyola-Chicago make up quite a unique Final Four and each team has their own special story on how they got to this point. With the national championship so close they can almost touch it I’m going to break down the narrative behind each remaining team.
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Villanova – The Favourite
NOVA is the best team in America and it’s not surprising they are still kicking in the tournament. The school doesn’t qualify as a blueblood in the eyes of some, but their recent record suggests otherwise. Led by one of the best coaches in college Jay Wright, the Villanova Wildcats have gone 163-21 in the last five seasons which includes a national title win in 2016 over the Tar Heels.
THE Wildcats might remain in the second-tier of college basketball elites, below the likes of Duke, North Carolina and their opponents on Saturday Kansas, but in most people’s opinion, they have the best chance of the last four teams to win it all.Wright has some stars at his disposal like junior point guard Jalen Brunson and future NBA talent Mikal Bridges. Brunson was named the Associated Press player of the Year earlier today after averaging 19.2 points as he helped steer the Wildcats to a Big East Conference tournament title and a 34-4 record.
A matchup with Kansas will be a real test for Villanova and they can’t afford to have another poor night shooting the ball from three. Against Texas Tech in the Elite 8 Nova went just 4-24 and it nearly cost them a win. We should all expect this well drilled and poised outfit to respond strongly and with Jay Wright and Brunson steering the ship, it’s hard to see them being stopped.
Kansas – The True Blueblood
AFTER back-to-back seasons of falling in the Elite 8, Kansas and Bill Self finally broke through in 2018. Fresh off another conference championship in the Big 12 the Jayhawks took down formidable foes in Seton Hall, Clemson and Duke to make their way to San Antonio. I have voiced my opinion about Kansas being pretenders all year. Devonte’ Graham had some really cold streaks, the health of their big men was questionable and they even went through that whole Billy Preston drama. But boy are they proving me wrong.
Image from thebasketballnetwork.com
THREE straight four-point wins have the Jayhawks well situated to finish the season as national champs for just the fourth time in school history. Malik Newman has become a hero for the team in the tourney, but Devontae’ Graham is the real hero. Another contender for National Player of the Year trophies, Graham has had a stellar senior season putting up 17 and 7 on a nightly basis.
THEY have taken down some pretty solid teams en route to the Final Four and they deserve to be fighting for a spot in the title game. Villanova will be another tough opponent, but don’t expect Kansas to go down without a fight. This driven squad has dug deep and is slowly knocking teams off one by one.
Michigan – The ‘Hot’ Team
TECHNICALLY speaking all of these teams are hot right now, with Kansas (7 straight wins), Villanova (9 straight) and Loyola-Chicago (14 straight) boasting winning streaks similar to Michigan’s 13 straight W’s. What makes the Wolverines one special though is where they have come from. Seemingly down and out after a sloppy loss to Northwestern on February 6th, they were sitting at 19-7 and were ranked No. 20 in the nation.
FROM that point on though, John Beilein has Michigan looking like a defensive juggernaut and a real threat in the Final Four. Having not lost in 45 days, the Wolverines stormed to a Big Ten championship and through Montana, Houston, Texas A&M and Florida State with ease. Some may argue that their inferior region helped pave the way but make no mistake this team is peaking at the perfect time.
MICHIGAN will need to bring that defensive intensity when they clash with Loyola-Chicago if they want to keep their streak alive though. By no means are the Ramblers here by accident and if the Wolverines struggles on offense things will be tough. It would be quite fitting if Michigan won the title the same year that Louisville was stripped of the 2013 championship banner they earnt from beating the Wolverines.
Loyola Chicago – The Cinderella
MAKE no mistake, Loyola-Chicago’s appearance in the Final Four isn’t a fluke. The Ramblers have a legitimate chance to win the 2018 national championship if they can keep playing in the same manner. The disciplined unit coached by Porter Moser is unified and all in on taking out the collegiate crown. While they lack a real elite talent they personify the label of a ‘team’ and by never give up easy buckets or make a ton of mistakes.
WITH their 98-year old mascot Sister Jean leading the charge everyone is getting behind the 11th seed’s historic run. Loyola-Chicago became the fourth ever No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four after they claimed the South region over Kansas State. Their place among the final teams left in the tournament is well-earned and there is still something special around this term with the term destiny floating around quite a bit.
Image from sportingnews.com
EVERYONE loves cheering for the fairytale story and the nation has fallen in love with the Ramblers during their run. They will need to be at their best against the Wolverines and then either Kansas or Nova if they want another historic championship win similar to 1963. If anyone can do it then Loyola-Chicago can though.
THE 2018 edition of the Final Four paints two very different matchups. On one side the Ramblers and Wolverines emerged from all the chaos around them to earn their shot at winning it all. No. 1’s Villanova and Kansas have avoided similar carnage in their portion of the bracket and are proving their seeding wasn’t a mistake.
ALL year Villanova hasn’t put a foot wrong and I think they can emerge as the winners from their battle with the Jayhawks. It would be a huge win for Wright and his program and give them a shot at their second national title in three seasons. Unlucky Kansas fans. In the earlier matchup, I’m buying into Loyola-Chicago as a team who will win the spot in the national championship game. Michigan is great defensively, but this is where their woes on offense halt the run.
Loyola-Chicago defeats Michigan 68-65
Villanova defeats Kansas 71-59
Image from washingtonpost.com
THAT leaves Nova vs LC for the ultimate prize. While I am in on destiny being a part of the Ramblers run I think the moment will catch up with them. The Wildcats, on the other hand, are a weathered team and were built for big games like this. As Jalen Brunson continues to rack up awards I think Mikal Bridges will be the one who walks away with the Most Oustanding Player award from the Final Four. It was fun while it lasted, but Loyola-Chicago will fall agonisingly close.
Villanova over Loyola-Chicago 77-61