Recently, The Villanovan sports editors had the opportunity to talk with Michael Swain, Sports Editor of The University Daily Kansan, leading up to the Final Four matchup between the ‘Cats and Jayhawks. The Q&A segment provided insight from editors of both schools, as they prepare for Saturday’s contest.
Questions for The Villanovan
The University Daily Kansan: What makes Villanova’s offense so efficient and hard to guard?
The Villanovan: It really comes down to just how many shooters this team has. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman all shoot over 40% from three and Phil Booth and Donte DiVincenzo aren’t far behind (39% and 38.5% respectively). Even Eric Paschall, who was 1-25 from deep to start the season, has come around to shoot 33.3% from beyond the arc. It is extremely difficult for a defense to stop a team that has five players on the court that can hit the three, especially when they also have to worry about players like Brunson and Bridges driving to the basket.
The University Daily Kansan: Does Villanova have any deficiencies or weaknesses?
The Villanovan: If you had asked this question about a month ago there would have been an easy answer, defense and rebounding. However, these areas have vastly improved over the course of post-season play. ‘Nova is now up to 13th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating, and is coming off a game where they outrebounded Texas Tech 51-33. It would be a lie to say there are not still some concerns that these weaknesses could reemerge, but fans are certainly feeling a lot better now about the team’s ability to defend and rebound.
The University Daily Kansan: Is there a bench player or role player who Kansas’s fans won’t know but should get familiar with?
The Villanovan: Donte DiVincenzo is technically a “bench player”, but the consensus all year has been that he is the team’s “sixth starter” given that he plays the fourth most minutes. Looking a little further down the bench there is freshman, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. While he is slightly undersized down low and will definitely be looking to put on some weight this off-season, Cosby-Roundtree has proven a capable backup throughout the season. He is a decent defender and seems to always be in the right place on offense to make an impact. In the Elite Eight game against Texas Tech, Cosby Roundtree racked up four points and seven rebounds, including five on the offensive end. If you are looking for a player who could impact the game despite limited playing time, DCR could be your guy.
The University Daily Kansan: Villanova lost four games in Big East play. What were some of the things that went wrong in those losses?
The Villanovan: Shhh we don’t talk about those games. In all seriousness, what was common in all of our losses was poor three-point shooting and an inability to execute down the stretch. When the defense was struggling throughout much of the regular season, Villanova would frequently beat teams by simply torching them from deep. While the Wildcats shot 40% on the year from three overall, the team shot just 26% from beyond the arc in their four losses. Additionally, in each of these games, one can point to several late game mistakes, such as crucial turnovers or poor game management, that ultimately were too much to overcome.
The University Daily Kansan: What makes Spellman different from Azubuike?
The Villanovan: The matchup down low should be an interesting one, as these players are very different. Azubuike is a seven-footer who has three inches and 35 pounds on Spellman. In the post, Azubuike’s superior size should give him a bit of an advantage, while Spellman should thrive out on the perimeter. Spellman has the ability to knock down the three-ball and drive to the rim, two things Azubuike does not possess.
The University Daily Kansan: Is Jalen Brunson the best player on Villanova? Watching some games, it feels like Mikal Bridges is the better player.
The Villanovan: They are both really good, and while Mikal Bridges is certainly the better NBA prospect, Jalen Brunson is the superior college player. Brunson simply does it all for this team. He can score, pass, take a charge, whatever the moment calls for. He is an extremely smart player who plays well beyond his years. While Bridges is a bit of a streaky player, who gets hot but then disappears for stretches of the game, Brunson is as consistent as they come, having scored in double figures in every game this season. When it comes down to crunch time, Wildcat fans want the ball in Brunson’s hands.
The University Daily Kansan: Jalen Brunson, Devonte’ Graham, Marvin Bagley or DeAndre Ayton for POY?
The Villanovan: Brunson Brunson Brunson!!! Okay, I may be a little bit bias but seriously this guy is unbelievable. He scores, passes, defends and leaves it all on the floor each and every game. He is the most important player on a team that has gone 34-4 and reached the Final Four.
The University Daily Kansan: Does Kansas deserve a No.1 seed?
The Villanovan: Of course! If there was any doubt about this coming into the tournament, the Jayhawks have erased it by reaching the Final Four. Consecutive wins against Seton Hall, Clemson and Duke is pretty impressive, and I have no doubt that Kansas is one of the best four teams in the country this year.
Questions for The University Daily Kansan
The Villanovan: That Duke game was pretty crazy, who stood out to you most in that win? Any unsung heroes?
The University Daily Kansan: Malik Newman was balling – he scored every point in overtime and is the main reason Kansas is still dancing. I think Svi Mykhailiuk’s defense on Bagley is the unsung performance. Svi perfectly guarded Bagley and really forced him into some tough shots and into some uncomfortable positions.
The Villanovan: In one word, how would you describe this Kansas team?
The University Daily Kansan: Determined. All season people (including myself) doubted this team and what their ceiling was. They have continued to prove people wrong. They won the Big 12 tournament without our starting center who can score at will. This team is special because they have one of the highest huddles I’ve seen. When they set their mind to something, they accomplish it.
The Villanovan: Do you close your eyes when Udoka Azubuike shoots free throws?
The University Daily Kansan: Hahaha I used to. Now I watch in anticipation of him making one. Since he missed a bunch of free throws down the stretch at Oklahoma he has improved a lot. He has hit nothing but net a few times. But when he misses, he misses bad and you have to look away.
The Villanovan: What are your thoughts on the highly anticipated point guard matchup between Jalen Brunson and Devonte' Graham?
The University Daily Kansan: I’m very excited for it. Brunson is very much a slow it up point guard who can also effectively post up. Graham is more of a push the pace and shoot a ton of threes or get to the rim type of point guard. Despite the contrast in offensive styles, both are pretty good defenders and it should be a really fun matchup to watch.
The Villanovan: What is the feel on campus like leading up to the Final Four? Are students scrambling for tickets?
The University Daily Kansan: Everyone on campus is beyond excited. It’s been a rough past few years for fans with the Elite 8 losses. I wouldn’t say fans are scrambling for tickets though. Most that I have talked to had a plan going into the Duke game if we did win. The tickets were also really easy to get so it made that aspect easy.
The Villanovan: These two teams are 3-3 all time against each other, but we've won the last 2 including the 2016 win in the Elite Eight...is this a revenge game for the Jayhawks?
The University Daily Kansan: I wouldn’t say it is a revenge game for Kansas. Only Svi and Devonte’ played in that game and when I talked to them about it Tuesday, both of them seemed like they had let it go and are going into this game with a clean slate mentally.
The Villanovan: What will be the key in your eyes in deciding this matchup?
The University Daily Kansan: I think it is going to come down to defense. Whoever can defend the three better and not turn the ball over will win. If Kansas can refrain from turning the ball over while shooting the three well the Jayhawks will win. But if Villanova can force Kansas into a lot of turnovers while shooting the ball well the Wildcats will be playing Monday.
The Villanovan: We are scheduled to play you in a home and home over the next two seasons. We're pretty excited for these non-conference match-ups, how are Kansas fans reacting to this opportunity?
The University Daily Kansan: When it was announced earlier this season people were super excited. It will be two great games and I know I can’t wait.
The Villanovan: Prediction for Saturday?
The University Daily Kansan: I’ve bet against Kansas a lot this year (surprisingly not against Duke) and I don’t think I can again. Lagerald Vick is Kansas glue guy and he has been playing incredibly well as of late and when he performs well Kansas usually does too. I think Kansas wins 84-79.