University of Kansas

Quick scout: The hope for KU against Villanova in the Final Four

Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.

Saturday's game: No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 1 seed Villanova, 7:49 p.m., Alamodome, San Antonio

TV: TBS

Opponent’s record: 34-4

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 1

Point spread: Villanova by 5.

All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.

3 Strengths

Shooting ... everywhere: Villanova ranks 15th nationally in three-point percentage (while attempting a high volume of shots there), third in two-point percentage and ninth in free-throw percentage.

Ball security: The Wildcats get good shots while also avoiding mistakes, ranking 14th in offensive turnover percentage.

Three-point defense: Villanova was the second-best team in Big East play when it came to limiting three-point shots.

3 Weaknesses

Creating contact: Villanova doesn't put much emphasis on drawing fouls, ranking 281st in offensive free-throw rate.

Rebounding: Though the team's season-long numbers are respectable, Villanova ranked in the Big East's bottom three in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages.

Transition defense? The Wildcats allow the 14th-highest number of transition opportunities to opponents, but they've been able to limit the damage, ranking 39th in shooting percentage against on fast breaks.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-2 guard Jalen Brunson (No. 1)

Brunson.jpeg
Villanova's Jalen Brunson

Plus: AP national player of the year

Plus: Go-to guy offensively with outstanding efficiency

Plus: Strong outside shooter

Plus: Great finisher at the rim for his size

Plus: Team's best passer

Minus: Synergy's logs show he sometimes struggles defensively when isolated

6-foot-7 guard/forward Mikal Bridges (No. 25)

Bridges.jpeg
Villanova's Mikal Bridges

Plus: Ranks sixth in KenPom's player of the year ranking

Plus: High-volume, accurate three-point shooter

Plus: Does great job creating and finishing shots at rim

Plus: Rarely turns it over

Plus: Synergy lists him as "excellent" overall defender

Minus: Creates more scoring opportunities for himself than teammates

6-foot-8 forward Omari Spellman (No. 14)

Omari Spellman
Villanova's Omari Spellman

Plus: Stretch 5 who has made 45 percent of his threes this season

Plus: Strong rebounder, both ends

Plus: Good shot-blocker

Plus: Typically avoids fouls well

Minus: Below-average finisher on close shots

Minus: Rarely gets to free-throw line

Prediction

This Villanova offense is scoring at a historic level.

Ken Pomeroy's database goes back 17 seasons, and out of those more than 5,000 teams, the 2017-18 Wildcats are second in adjusted offensive efficiency, ranking only behind 2014-15 Wisconsin.

In other words, KU has a huge defensive challenge ahead.

The good news, if KU fans are looking for it, is that the Jayhawks don't have to be better than the Wildcats over 40 games; instead, they just need to be better for 40 minutes, which is a difficult but less-daunting task.

KU can best make up that difference with good shooting. Both teams are accurate from the perimeter, but the Jayhawks are likely to have less pressure on them, playing the role of the underdog for the second straight game this tournament.

It still won't be easy. KU should have issues holding down Villanova's scoring, which means it'll likely have to lean heavily on efficient offense if it hopes to advance to the national championship game.

I don't see it happening this time. Villanova is the best team left in the tourney, and for much of the season, it was the top team in the nation as well.

The Jayhawks, in the end, can't be counted out if they shoot above their three-point average against a good perimeter defense.

That could happen ... but it's not something I'm prepared to predict.

Villanova 84, Kansas 75

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Villanova

Hawk to Rock

It seems logical that KU's coaches will emphasize throwing it to Udoka Azubuike inside, hoping he can overpower Spellman while trying to get him in foul trouble. If Azubuike can avoid whistles himself — and also keep his focus on what should be an emotional day with his mother traveling from Nigeria to see the game — he should be in line for a big statistical night.

Last game prediction: Kansas 85, Duke 81 (Actual: KU 85-81)

2017-18 record vs. spread: 18-19

Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 76-62-3

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