Final Four Preview: Villanova Prepares for Kansas


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

The Villanova Wildcats will play the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday, April 2nd.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

After five months of college basketball filled with endless ebbs and flows, only four teams are left standing — four of the most historically significant teams at that. The quartet of Blue Bloods featuring Villanova, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas makes up the first ever Final Four where each program has multiple National Titles on its resume. 

While the championship in New Orleans will lack Cinderellas and first-time winners, it will no-doubt produce some all-time classics. From Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski closing out his retirement tour while facing rival North Carolina, to Kansas looking to defend its No. 1 seeding against a Villanova team seeking its third championship since 2016, the stage is set for one of the most highly anticipated Final Fours in recent history. 

After a solid first weekend, dominating Delaware and holding off a tough Ohio State team, No. 2 Villanova faced two challenging matchups in No. 11 Michigan and No. 5 Houston in San Antonio. The Wildcats overcame a significant size disadvantage against the Wolverines before outplaying the gritty Cougars in a defensive slugfest to secure their spot in the Final Four for the third time in the last six tournaments. What happened in the last two appearances? Two National Championships. 

Going in as the underdog, especially after losing their second leading scorer in Justin Moore, the Wildcats will have an uphill battle to add a trophy to their resume. Moore suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the final minute of Villanova’s Elite Eight game on Saturday night. Without the junior guard, who averages 14.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, Jay Wright’s squad will have to make some adjustments. 

“I think he [Moore] is underrated in terms of his value to this team and what he’s done this year,” Wright said on Monday. “I think he’s truly one of the most complete players in the country. If you look at his ability to do everything for this team, and be a leader at the same time, play the most minutes, everything…But, other guys can step up and we can be a good team without him.” 

‘Nova will rely heavily on its veteran leaders, namely graduates Jermaine Samuels and Collin Gillespie, who have carried the team thus far. Samuels was named the South Region’s most outstanding player after averaging 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in the first four games of the tournament. Gillespie led the team in scoring this season and has averaged 13 points per game in the tournament thus far. 

The three other starters for the ‘Cats include redshirt senior guard Caleb Daniels, senior wing Brandon Slater and redshirt sophomore forward Eric Dixon, who have all had their standout moments this season. Daniels and Dixon have carried this momentum into the Tournament, playing solid minutes in all four wins. Slater on the other hand, has scored just five points in the Wildcats’ last four games. If Villanova is going to make up for Moore’s missing scoring, Slater will likely have to find the confidence he had while averaging double digits for the first half of the season.

Off the bench, the Wildcats will adopt a next-man-up mentality, and their already slight seven-man rotation will now include junior Bryan Antoine, who has appeared in just 19 games and averaged 9.5 minutes in the contests. Fellow junior, guard Chris Arcidiacono, who averaged 9.7 minutes in 34 appearances, is also expected to see more minutes this weekend. Arcidiacono was in a similar position last year where he stepped into a starting role after Gillespie went down with a torn MCL just before the postseason. The junior duo will be asked to step up and fill the hole left in Moore’s absence, and while many may now count the Wildcats out of championship contention, Wright remains confident in his reserves. 

“These other guys, they’re not playing not because they’re not good enough, they’re not playing because the other guys are just so good,” Wright said of his bench. “This is just their opportunity, and I think that’s what we’re going to take from this and how we’re going to approach it.” 

Kansas, coming off of an impressive Elite Eight win over Miami, will present a challenge in terms of size and pace of the game. The Jayhawks are led by their two star guards in senior Ochai Agbaji and junior Christian Braun, who average 18.9 and 14.3 points per game, respectively. The guard talent is backed up by the frontcourt duo of Jalen Wilson and David McCormack, who stand at 6’8” and 6’10”, respectively. Dixon (6’8”) and Samuels (6’7”) will be at a slight disadvantage, but this is nothing new for the Villanova forwards who have found success while being consistently undersized all season. Wilson and McCormack average 11 and 10.1 points, and 7.4 and 6.8 rebounds per game, respectively. 

Playing undersized and a man down, the Wildcats will need some stand-out performances from their veterans to be the last of the powerhouses standing. But in the eyes of Wright and his Wildcats, it’s not Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina standing in the way, it’s just two games. Just 80 more minutes of “Villanova Basketball.”