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Villanova Rightly Favored to be NCAA...

Villanova Rightly Favored to be NCAA... Villanova Rightly Favored to be NCAA Champion
Villanova is now in its second Final Four in three years, third in the last decade and the Wildcats are favored to win it all. They opened as a 5.5 point favorite against fellow No. 1 seed Kansas in what many are considering the title game.

That is no disrespect to the other two semifinalists, Loyola-Chicago and Michigan, just simple fact.

Two years ago, enroute to winning the 2016 national championship, Villanova beat Kansas, 64-59, in the South Regional final at Louisville, Kentucky.

This year’s game could be just as close.

Kansas is the third straight Big 12 team that Villanova will play in this tournament and the first two played the Wildcats in tough, physical encounters.

First there was a 90-79 win over a West Virginia team that had a relentless press that the Wildcats were able to withstand. Then came Sundays 71-59 win over Texas Tech in a game the defenses dominated.

Kansas (31-7) is led by senior point guard Devonte’ Graham, the Big 12 player of the year. Graham, however has been not performing up to par in the postseason.

After scoring 29 points in an opening 76-60 win over Penn, Graham is averaging just 11.3 points in his last three game.

The person who has picked up the Kansas offense has been 6-3 redshirt sophomore Malik Newman, in his first year with the Jayhawks after transferring from Mississippi State.

Newman had 32 points during the classic 85-81 overtime win over Duke in the Midwest Final. He is averaging 21.7 points in the Jayhawks four postseason wins.

What Villanova has shown in the last two victories is that the Wildcats can win playing any style. Villanova thrives by shooting the three-pointer, but was just 4 of 24 against Texas Tech.

Yet the Wildcats were able to impose their will in the rebounding department, with a 51-33 advantage, including 20-11 on the offensive glass.

Eric Paschall, Villanova’s 6-9 redshirt junior forward, had 14 rebounds, six on the offensive end. The Wildcats even survived an off-shooting game from all-American point guard Jalen Brunson, who shot just 4 of 14.

The matchup between the 6-3 Brunson and 6-2 Graham should be a classic.

In addition, Mikal Bridges, the Wildcats 6-7 redshirt junior, who is expected to be an NBA lottery pick, should see time on Newman.

Villanova (34-4) has been in so many big games, as has Kansas. The difference is that until this year, Kansas has struggled to get to the Final Four in recent seasons.

The expectations are so high at Kansas, that reaching the regional final in each of the past two years, was seen as a disappointment.

Kansas last played in the Final Four in 2012, losing to Kentucky, 67-59 in the championship game. The Jayhawks have more than enough firepower and veteran savvy to beat Villanova, but the Wildcats have come through in the biggest of games. Brunson was a starter on the 2016 championship team and Bridges was a key contributor and redshirt junior guard Phil Booth scored 20 points off the bench in the 77-74 championship win over North Carolina.

So it should be a great game on Saturday, beginning approximately 8:49 p.m. Coach Jay Wright’s team won’t be burdened by being the favorite. The expectations have been high all season and Villanova has done a great living up to the hype so far.

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Author: Marc Narducci

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