NEW ORLEANS — The men’s Final Four features four blue bloods in the bayou.
Among them, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Villanova have won a combined 17 N.C.A.A. Division I men’s basketball championships.
North Carolina is playing in its 21st Final Four — the most of any men’s program — while Duke (17) and Kansas (16) are among the all-time leaders. Villanova, which has reached seven Final Fours, is shooting for its third championship since 2016 under Coach Jay Wright.
Here’s what to watch for in Saturday’s national semifinals:
Kansas vs. Villanova, 6:09 p.m. Eastern, TBS
Big things were expected of Remy Martin when he transferred to Kansas from Arizona State before the season.
The 6-foot senior guard from Burbank, Calif., was named the Big 12 preseason player of the year because he had been a three-time all-Pac 12 selection and had led the Pac 12 last season with 19.1 points per game, including an average of 21.5 points per game in conference play.
But Martin suffered a right knee injury in late December and struggled through much of the season. He did not reach double figures in scoring in 12 straight games from late December until early March. Now he is healthy again, and it has shown during the most crucial time of the season.
In Kansas’ four N.C.A.A. tournament games, Martin is averaging 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Against Providence in the round of 16, he went for 23 points and seven rebounds in a 66-61 victory.
Coach Bill Self still plans to bring Martin in off the bench, and is finding ways to incorporate him into the offense.
“Now I see and have seen what his presence can actually mean and how it can benefit a team,” Self said Thursday. “So I give him the credit. He’s been awesome.”
Villanova must compensate for the loss of Moore.
Had Villanova not lost junior guard Justin Moore to a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury in the final seconds of their 50-44 victory over Houston on March 26, the Wildcats might have been the favorites in their national semifinal against Kansas.
Heck, they might have been the favorites to win their third title since 2016.
But with Moore, who averages 14.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists, down for the season, Villanova enters as the underdog.
Wright has had a week to overhaul his game plan for Kansas, and knows he will have to give additional playing time to players like Caleb Daniels, Chris Arcidiacono and Bryan Antoine.
“I feel like we’re in a good place with replacing Justin,” Wright said Friday. “I think just watching more and more of Kansas, I’m just so impressed with their team speed, their intelligence defensively and their execution in dead-ball situations.
“Bill’s a Hall of Fame coach,” Wright said of the Kansas coach. “So it’s not a surprise, but it’s still cool to watch their execution and intelligence. And I think we’re going to have to play extremely intelligent, tough against them. And I think we’re ready to do it.”
Duke vs. North Carolina, 8:49 p.m., TBS
North Carolina spoiled Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 5 when it beat up on the Blue Devils, 94-81. The performance in front of a crowd that included 96 of Krzyzewski’s former players moved the 75-year-old coach to tell fans afterward that the result was “unacceptable.” Krzyzewski will retire at the end of the season and that was his final game in front of the home fans.
Duke and North Carolina have met 257 times, with the Tar Heels leading the series, 142-115. Yet they have never met in the N.C.A.A. tournament.
With a place in Monday’s national championship game — as well as a piece of Krzyzewski’s legacy — on the line, the Blue Devils aren’t focused on revenge for the regular season loss.
“It’s just another game for us,” said the junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. “No matter who it was, they’re in the way of us getting to Monday. That’s how we’re looking at it.”
Sophomore center Mark Williams added, “I think regardless of who we play on Saturday, we have the same mind-set. Obviously it’s a national semifinal game. You want to go out there play your best basketball, play hard, do whatever it takes to win, no matter if it’s North Carolina or whoever it may be.”
Krzyzewski wasn’t interested in talk of storybook endings.
“I didn’t do this season to have a storybook,” he said Thursday. “I did it because I wanted to coach one more year and I wanted to have a succession plan for our program.”
North Carolina’s coach, Hubert Davis, is looking to make history.
Nine men’s coaches have taken their teams to the Final Four in their first year serving as a head coach, most recently Bill Guthridge at North Carolina in 1998.
None has ever won the title, so North Carolina’s Hubert Davis Davis could become the first men’s coach to win a national championship in his first year as a head coach.
Davis, who took over when Roy Williams retired after last season, has almost willed this season’s success into existence. In September, he placed a picture of the Caesars Superdome in the locker of every North Carolina player.
“He told all the parents back then to book hotels and a flight to New Orleans, and he was like dead serious when he said it,” junior forward Armando Bacot said this week.
Added sophomore guard R.J. Davis: “Just for him to have that confidence in us and believe in us early in the year it’s actually crazy. It’s something that I’ll definitely remember forever.
“He saw the potential in the team, he saw the grit, he saw the talent we had,” Bacot continued. “It was all about putting it together.”
The Tar Heels were considered an N.C.A.A. tournament bubble team late in the season, but Davis got his players to win when it mattered most. They have won 10 of their last 11 games and 16 of their last 19.
With another victory over their most hated rival, the Tar Heels would simultaneously end Krzyzewski’s career and propel themselves into position for the program’s seventh championship.
“Why wouldn’t I stay positive,” Davis said. “I love these kids. What is there to be negative about?”
Source: NY Times