There are no dark horses in this Final Four matchup.
The East Region's No. 1 seed, Villanova, meets the Midwest Region's No. 1 seed, Kansas, in a game that pits two perimeter-oriented teams at the top of their game against each other.
While Michigan vs. Loyola offers plenty of intrigue on the other side of the bracket, this showdown very much so has a championship feel to it, starting with the face of each team — Villanova's national player of the year, Jalen Brunson, and Kansas' Big 12 player of the year, Devonte' Graham.
While it's easy to say whichever hot-shooting team is knocking down its shots will prevail, another side of the quick game analysis is that whichever team defends long-range shots and does the little things will reach the title game in San Antonio.
Villanova's path to the Final Four: Villanova drubbed No. 16 seed Radford in the first round, and pulled away from No. 9 Alabama in the second round. In the Sweet 16, the Wildcats fought off a physical, pressing No. 5 West Virginia team before escaping another gritty Big 12 team, No. 3 Texas Tech, in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
Kansas' path to the Final Four: The Jayhawks handled Penn in the first round before edging Seton Hall in the second. In the Sweet 16, KU got hot early and held on to take down Clemson before going down-to-the-wire in a thrilling overtime victory over Duke in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
► How Villanova has the edge: Statistically, no team is better than these Wildcats offensively, leading the nation in scoring with 87 points a game and shooting 50% from the floor while making around 12 three-pointers a game. They also rebound well and are highly efficient — ranking fourth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio. All of that, unequivocally, starts with Brunson, a leader who is arguably the best Jay Wright's ever had at floor general.
But 'Nova won Sunday's game against Texas Tech with its defense, and can use a similar formula to beat Kansas. While other teams have impacted the flow of this team's dominant offense, the Wildcats proved in a game against WVU that they can find another gear, using an 11-0 run to put that game away. That gear was a product of the unexpected boost from big man Omari Spellman. It will be the role players — big men Spellman and Eric Paschall, and guards Donte DiVincenzo and Phil Booth — who could turn the tide in a close game against KU.
► How Kansas has the edge: Kansas' overtime battle with Duke might as well have been a national championship game with how good those teams were playing, so the fact that the Jayhawks came out of that game on top — in perhaps the most impressive victory of any Final Four team all tournament — speaks volumes to KU's likelihood of prevailing two more times this coming weekend. The backcourt threesome of Graham, Malik Newman and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk needs to have at least two of those three connecting from long range for this ball pick-heavy offense to cause headaches.
Coach Bill Self, much like Villanova's Jay Wright, has been forced to play small ball more frequently than usual this season due to a lack of frontcourt depth, and it's Kansas 7-footer Udoka Azubuike who could be the ultimate X-Factor in that small vs. big lineup chess match that Self and Wright duel in. If Azubuike can hold his own against 'Nova's front line similarly to how he did against Duke's star-studded frontcourt, and KU can get another big lift from freshman Silvio De Sousa on the glass, then this team's chances of winning go up big time.
Also, it's worth factoring Kansas' journey to get here. The Midwest Region was tougher than any region and the Big 12 Conference — which KU won for a 14th consecutive time — was more grueling than any league this season. If being battle-tested is a strongsuit, consider that advantage to be in Kansas' favor as well.
► Key player for Wildcats: Mikal Bridges. Brunson has been a consistent sparkplug and is the team's best player, but Bridges, a multidimensional scorer and projected NBA lottery pick as a 6-6 two-way guard, will need to step his game up for the Wildcats to advance to the championship. He went 0-for-5 from three-point range against Texas Tech. A big performance would be ideal from him, to take the load off Brunson and counter all of Kansas' perimeter weaponry.
► Key player for Jayhawks: Newman. While Graham was the alpha dog during the regular season, it's been Newman who's carried this team in the tournament — both from a production standpoint and coming-up-clutch perspective. His 32 points against the Blue Devils (including 13 in overtime) and 28 points vs. Seton Hall were huge, and he's this team's best ice-in-his-veins free-throw shooter in crunch time. That extra dimension will have to continue for Kansas to advance.
Which team reaches the title game? Kansas. The Jayhawks finally bulldozed that Final Four wall down that was standing in front of it for two seasons before this one, and that will be a huge weight lifted off the shoulders of a determined, veteran-laden team. Now, expect a freer, hot-shooting team to really come into its own even more. Villanova might be the better seed and overall team on paper, but Kansas has the championship swagger that often derails predestined teams like the Wildcats.