There’s plenty of similarities between Kansas and Villanova. Two All-American point guards. Two of the best offenses in the country. Two coaches who have won national titles. A pair of 1 seeds.
With a spot in the national championship game on the line, Villanova (34-4) will play its third straight Big 12 opponent at 7:49 p.m. Saturday (TV: TBS) at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The Wildcats advanced to the Final Four with double-digit victories over West Virginia and Texas Tech.
The Wildcats have three players who played in their 2016 national title victory: Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges. Back in the Final Four, they will lean on those three players for their experience.
“To get this far, all the teams that are here, you have a laser focus, you have an ability to prepare for different opponents,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “If you don't, someone's going to catch you along the way. … This group reminds me of our group in '16 in that way.”
Villanova has won nine straight games including a Big East Tournament title.
Fun fact: The Wildcats are six 3-pointers shy of setting the NCAA single-season record for made 3s in a season. They’ve made 436 this season, only trailing VMI in 2007.
Series history: The series is tied 3-3, but Villanova has won the last two meetings. In the 2016 Elite Eight, the Wildcats won 64-59 on their way to an eventual national title. The two programs will begin a home-and-home series next year, playing Dec. 15, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.
BREAKING DOWN VILLANOVA
No. 1 — G Jalen Brunson | 6-3, 190, jr.
Named the national player of the year by the Associated Press, Brunson is near unstoppable on offense with his ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor and post up smaller guards. He’s averaging a team-best 19.2 points with 4.6 assists. From the 3-point line, he’s made 41.4 percent of his shots.
Brunson, from Lincolnshire, Ill., has scored in double figures in every game this season. According to hoop-math.com, Brunson shoots 71 percent around the rim, a very high mark for a guard, and 52 percent on mid-range jumpers. His dad, Rick, played basketball at Temple and spent nine seasons in the NBA, while his mom played volleyball at Temple.
In the NCAA Tournament: Averaging 17.5 points on 49 percent shooting (8 of 19 from 3) with 4.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds and only nine turnovers in four games.
- "He's a machine. His work ethic is crazy,” teammate Eric Paschall said. “This is when I knew Jalen was like a robot: It was earlier this year. We had a lift. We had a tough practice. We already shot. It was like 9 o'clock at night. I was tired. And he was like, 'OK, I'm going to go shoot again.' Seeing that inspires all of us."
No. 25 — G/F Mikal Bridges | 6-7, 210, r-jr.
The top NBA Draft prospect in the Final Four, Bridges is averaging 17.8 points and 5.4 rebounds. He leads the Wildcats in steals (58) and free-throw percentage (84.8), while ranking second in blocks (41). With a 7-foot wingspan, Bridges shoots 43.6 percent from the 3-point arc.
Bridges, a first-team all-Big East selection, redshirted during his freshman season, adding 25 pounds and becoming more explosive. He’s scored 20 or more points in seven of the team’s last 12 games.
In the NCAA Tournament: In four games, he’s totaled 64 points on 19 of 44 shooting with 20 rebounds and three blocks.
No. 14 — F Omari Spellman | 6-9, 245, r-fr.
A unique center because of his ability to shoot 3s, Spellman has connected on a team-high 44.6 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. Averaging 10.8 points and a team-best 7.8 rebounds, Spellman was named the Big East’s freshman of the year.
Spellman dropped about 45 pounds since he arrived on campus, refocusing on his eating habits. He sat out all of last season as an academic redshirt. According to hoop-math.com, he only takes 29 percent of his shots at the rim, using his ability to shoot to pull opposing centers out of the lane.
In the NCAA Tournament: Shooting 9 of 19 from the 3-point line, Spellman is averaging 11.5 points, 7.3 rebounds.
No. 10 — G Donte DiVincenzo | 6-5, 205, r-so.
Playing off of the bench but earning starter’s minutes, DiVincenzo brings immediate energy to the floor. He ranks third on the team in scoring with 12.9 points per game, shooting 38.5 percent from the 3-point line. The Wildcats’ backup point guard, he ranks second in steals (42) and second in assists (133).
In the NCAA Tournament: In 100 minutes, DiVincenzo has recorded 44 points, 16 assists and 20 rebounds on 9 of 21 shooting from the 3-point line.
No. 4 — F Eric Paschall | 6-9, 225, r-jr.
A threat to shoot from the 3-point line or slash to the rim, Paschall is averaging 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He’s a talented defender, helping slow down Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans on ball screens in the Elite Eight. He played his freshman season at Fordham, earning 2015 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors.
In the NCAA Tournament: Averaging 11 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1 steal through four games.
No. 5 — G Phil Booth | 6-3, 190, r-jr.
Known as the team’s top perimeter defender, Booth has matched up with West Virginia’s Jevon Carter and Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans in the last two games. A 39 percent shooter from the 3-point line, he’s averaging 10.3 points. He fractured a bone in his right hand earlier this season, missing seven games. The Wildcats lost games to St. John’s and Providence without him. His dad played college basketball at Coppin State and his mom played at Bowie State.
In the NCAA Tournament: Shooting 7 of 21 from the field, Booth has posted 25 points, 19 rebounds and 13 assists in 116 minutes.
ONE THING VILLANOVA DOES WELL
The best offense in the country, according to most metrics, Villanova is extremely efficient. With patience and strong execution, the Wildcats shoot 40 percent from the 3-point line and 49.9 percent from the floor. They have three players shooting 41 percent or better from deep, reaching 80 or more points in six of their last eight games.
ONE AREA VILLANOVA STRUGGLES
With limited depth, the key is to force the Wildcats into foul trouble. It’s nitpicking with a team that has four losses, but in each loss they’ve had at least one starter foul out. Outside of how the officials whistle the game, the Wildcats usually don’t force a ton of turnovers because they play with a seven-man rotation. During the NCAA Tournament, opposing teams are averaging 12.2 turnovers.
MEET THE COACH
In the Final Four for the second time in the last three years, Jay Wright has turned Villanova into one of the programs in the country. In his 17th season with Villanova, Wright has guided his team to four straight 30-win seasons with a national championship in 2016.
Prior to his time at Villanova, Wright coached at Hofstra for seven seasons. He won back-to-back American East titles in his final two years, exiting in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Villanova by 5. The Jayhawks will face a team that plays a lot like they do, which probably makes them as tough of a matchup as they’ve had all season. But the Jayhawks didn’t matchup well against Duke and they found a way to crush a much taller and athletic team on the glass. The key will be finding a third player to step up alongside Malik Newman and Devonte’ Graham. Nova will score its points but can KU keep up? I usually wouldn’t think so, but the Jayhawks have proven me wrong several times this year.
My prediction: Kansas 78, Villanova 77. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 16-16.
Kansas vs. Villanova matchups
- Graham vs. Brunson: All-American point guard battle matches speed vs. power
- Newman vs. Booth: How resiliency shaped both KU’s red-hot guard and Villanova’s lockdown defender
- Vick vs. Bridges: From biding their time to prime time
- Mykhailiuk vs. Paschall: A matchup that will travel inside the arc and out
- Azubuike vs. Spellman: A different defensive challenge for Udoka
San Antonio — When Charles Barkley looks around college basketball, one of the most impressive feats that stands out to him is the Kansas basketball program’s streak of 14 straight Big 12 titles.
Considering the one-and-done era, all of the transfers and just the challenge of staying consistent, Barkley believes coach Bill Self deserves more credit than he’s received across the country.
It’s not that Self hasn’t been recognized for his achievements. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in September. But Barkley, never one to shy away from sharing his opinion, respects the way he coaches and is amazed at all of his success.
“As great of a coach as (Kentucky’s John) Calipari is, he’s not as consistent as Self has been,” Barkley said. “What he’s accomplished is incredible. They’re both great coaches, but I just don’t think (Self) gets the credit he deserves.”
Barkley said he doesn’t know Self well, but he’s a fan of the way he talks to players without sugarcoating anything. Self called the Jayhawks “soft” after a couple of losses this season.
Blaming a “corrupt AAU” system for hyping up players, Barkley says it’s a reason there are so many transfers across college basketball.
“Nobody wants to compete anymore, ‘Well if I’m not playing, I’m transferring,’ ” Barkley said. “It’s a different culture now.”
Said Self in an earlier press conference Friday: “You know, I guess our society has changed a little bit. Stating the obvious, I don't think, is really calling anybody out, because to be honest with you everybody could see what I saw.”
Barkley, who is predicting a Villanova win over Kansas in Saturday’s semifinal, is intrigued by the battle between All-American point guards Devonte’ Graham and Jalen Brunson.
The NBA on TNT analyst doesn’t believe the two point guards will guard each other. In his eyes, Brunson is too strong when he posts up and Graham is too quick for Brunson in the open court.
Grant Hill, the former Duke star, was a color analyst alongside Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery for KU’s games against Clemson and Duke in Omaha. After watching Graham play for a couple of games, he’s confident that Graham will find a way to impact the game whether it’s scoring, passing or just his leadership.
"He may not have put up the gaudy numbers but he has an impact," Hill said of Graham. "He’s felt when he’s out there."
Watching Malik Newman explode for 32 points in the Elite Eight, scoring all of the team’s 13 points in overtime, Hill said it was “one of the great performances that I’ve seen.”
Matching up against Villanova, Hill believes the Jayhawks need one player to step up offensively alongside Newman and Graham, highlighting Svi Mykhailiuk or Lagerald Vick.
“Villanova is a tough team and they are well disciplined,” Hill said. “They’ve been here on this stage, their core guys. But Kansas is more than capable and I think it’s going to be a great matchup.”
The Jayhawks are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2012 and Barkley believes that Self’s coaching record speaks for itself, no matter how the rest of the weekend ends up.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, he’s only won one national championship.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, a lot of coaches never won a championship,’ ” Barkley said. “Winning that many (conference) championships in a row is incredible, I mean flat out incredible.”
Playing as well as anybody in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas sophomore Malik Newman said there was one moment when he felt like he arrived in a big way.
No, it wasn’t the 32-point performance against Duke. It wasn’t any of the big shots he hit earlier in the tournament.
Newman’s welcome-to-the-big-time moment was a message from the official Twitter account of Little Debbie, the manufacturer of some of his favorite snacks. The account messaged him on March 16 saying it was “very sad to hear about your Donut Stick plight,” referring to a story he told the media in the preseason about roommates eating his beloved donut sticks.
“I went to the page and saw the blue check,” said Newman, referring to the checkmark which verifies it’s an official account. “I’m like, ‘Yo, this is Little Debbie for real?’ So I had to tweet her back, ‘I love you guys. We need to sit down and talk and make a Malik Newman donut stick or something.’ I was excited. I felt like I had made it.”
Sharing his latest story about Little Debbie snacks on Tuesday, Newman was ecstatic when he saw the official account followed him on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.
When the Little Debbie Twitter account first started interacting with him, he thought it was a prank from one of his teammates.
“For real, all jokes aside, I thought it was fake at first,” Newman said. “I was like people are playing.”
Lighthearted in tone but serious in the message, Newman is proud of his social media accounts. He just wishes he had the blue checkmark to verify his Twitter and Instagram accounts like some of his teammates.
Featuring more than 53,000 followers on Twitter, Newman was confused why Mitch Lighfoot’s Twitter (about 11,000 followers) was verified and his was not.
“My Twitter, Mitch’s Twitter, it’s like, it’s not that debatable,” Newman said. “I think my Twitter is by far the best Twitter on the team.”
The person running the Little Debbie social media account messaged him on Wednesday, “Good luck on the court this weekend! Oh, and hope you get verified soon by Twitter. Not sure what’s taking them so long.”
For Newman, it’s just another person who believes in his social media accounts.
“A lot of people think that I should be verified,” Newman said Tuesday. “I think I should be verified. So Twitter, we need to make that happen. Instagram, too, because coach (Jerrance) Howard is verified on Instagram and I’ve got more followers than coach Howard. We need to sit down and have a meeting.”
When the brackets were unveiled on Selection Sunday, everybody saw the opportunity for Kansas and Duke to meet in the Elite Eight. Both teams took care of business in the first three rounds and set up the mega matchup between blue bloods.
With a trip to San Antonio and the Final Four on the line, the two storied programs will be the last game to tip off this weekend (4:05 p.m., TV: CBS). Both teams feature talented senior guards, but Duke is filled with likely one-and-done players while Kansas has the old-school lineup, in this era at least, with some more experience.
“It's two blue bloods; two great, historic programs; and two Hall of Fame coaches,” Devonte’ Graham said. “And it's a pride thing. And you want to do it. And the fans to have something to brag about. And, of course, getting to the Final Four is on all of our minds. Duke-Kansas is a huge matchup.”
The second-seeded Blue Devils (29-7) finished second in the ACC this season. After losing three of four games at the start of February, they switched to a zone defense. Since then, they’ve posted a 10-2 record, losing to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament and at Virginia Tech.
“We found out that zone was the best defense for this team,” Grayson Allen said. “It's still the intensity and everything of Duke defense is still there. And it's obviously not the man defense that you've seen for 20-plus years. But the intensity is still there.”
Fun fact: The Blue Devils have a 2-6 record in games decided by five points or less this season, which includes their four-point win over Syracuse in the Sweet 16.
Series history: Duke leads 7-4. The Blue Devils have won three of the five meetings in the NCAA Tournament, including the 1991 national championship.
BREAKING DOWN DUKE
No. 35 — F Marvin Bagley III | 6-11, 234, fr.
Named the ACC’s Player of the Year, Bagley is one of the most efficient big men in the country. He’s averaging 21.2 points and 11.1 rebounds, shooting 61.5 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from the 3-point line. He is on pace to become the 13th player in ACC history to lead the conference in points and rebounds.
Projected to be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Bagley reclassified after committing to Duke in August. He’s registered 21 double-doubles, grabbing an average of four offensive boards per game with his unbelievably quick second jump.
In the NCAA Tournament: Averaging 22 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting 26 of 36 from the floor (12 of 17 at the free-throw line) and recording only four turnovers.
- “The things that I’ve even seen in practice, that you guys can’t even see, is crazy,” teammate Gary Trent Jr. said. “The things that he does, jumping ability, playmaking ability, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
No. 3 — G Grayson Allen | 6-5, 205, sr.
Boasting a 12-2 record in NCAA Tournament games, Allen provides most of the experience for a young Duke lineup. He went through a shooting slump during the middle of the year but is still averaging 15.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. He leads the Blue Devils with 60 steals.
Allen, who has drawn criticism for a few tripping incidents over his career, is shooting 37.5 percent from the 3-point line. Helping Duke to a national title in 2015, he is 16 points away from becoming the program’s 12th 2,000-point scorer. He was a third-team all-ACC selection.
In the NCAA Tournament: Totaled 41 points on 13-for-35 shooting (10 of 28 from 3), adding 20 assists, five steals and five rebounds.
No. 34 — F Wendell Carter Jr. | 6-10, 259, fr.
A second-team all-ACC pick, Carter doesn’t attract as much attention as Bagley but he’s likely another NBA lottery pick. With 16 double-doubles this year, Carter is averaging 13.6 points and 9.3 rebounds, leading the Blue Devils with 75 blocks in the middle of their zone. He’s a 44.2 percent shooter from the 3-point line in 43 attempts.
Carter is a former AAU teammate of Udoka Azubuike, winning the prestigious Peach Jam together. Like Bagley, he’s another relentless offensive rebounder, averaging 3.03 per game. He’s a 74 percent free-throw shooter.
In the NCAA Tournament: Recorded 36 points, 26 rebounds and 5 assists through three games, shooting 13-for-21 from the floor.
No. 1 — PG Trevon Duval | 6-3, 186, fr.
An extremely quick point guard, Duval has struggled with his shot for most of the season. Shooting 28.7 percent from the 3-point line, Duval is averaging 10.0 points and 5.6 assists per game. According to hoop-math.com, he takes 47 percent of his shots at the rim. A former IMG Academy teammate of Silvio De Sousa, he picked Duke over Kansas in his recruitment.
In the NCAA Tournament: Scored 32 points on 11-for-28 shooting (5 of 12 from 3) while dishing 19 assists and committing eight turnovers.
No. 2 — G Gary Trent Jr. | 6-6, 209, fr.
Duke’s best shooter at the free-throw line and 3-point arc, Trent is averaging 14.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Originally from Apple Valley, Minn., Trent shoots 41.1 percent from 3 and 87.5 percent at the charity stripe, knocking down the clinching free throws in Duke’s Sweet 16 win over Syracuse.
In the NCAA Tournament: Shooting 10 of 26 from the 3-point line, Trent is averaging 16 points and 5.3 rebounds. He’s 6 of 6 at the free-throw line.
ONE THING DUKE DOES WELL
Turning to a zone defense after a midseason losing streak, Duke boasts one of the better defenses in the country despite playing a long list of freshmen. One of the tallest teams in the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils have only allowed an opponent to reach 70 points twice in the last 12 games (after switching to zone full time). Opponents are shooting 39 percent from the field and 26.5 percent from 3.
ONE AREA DUKE STRUGGLES
Playing in the zone defense has allowed the Blue Devils to force opponents into tougher shots but they don’t force many turnovers. In their last five games, opponents have turned the ball over 12 times or less in four of them.
MEET THE COACH
In a matchup between Hall of Fame coaches, Mike Krzyzewski is in his 38th year at Duke. He’s attempting to reach his 13th Final Four after winning a national title in 2015. He’s the all-time winningest coach in Division I men’s basketball history.
Duke by 3.5. The Jayhawks have played with a smaller margin for error all season, but I think they will need many things to go their way to reach the Final Four. They’ll have to hit 3s over Duke’s zone. Udoka Azubuike will have to stay out of foul trouble. They’ll have to rebound as well as they have all year. As much focus as the Jayhawks will place on Bagley, I think it allows Allen to take advantage with shots from the outside.
My prediction: Duke 75, Kansas 69. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 16-15.
Omaha, Neb. — As the final minutes ticked off the clock in the Kansas basketball team’s 80-76 victory over Clemson in the Sweet 16 on Friday, Duke players stood in a tunnel waiting for their chance to take the floor in the following game.
The Blue Devils were behind a curtain so they couldn’t see the court or much of the video board. They heard the cheers and groans as the Jayhawks saw their 20-point lead drop into single digits, but really only knew the final result.
Focused on Syracuse, before their eventual 69-65 win at CenturyLink Center, Duke players said they needed to watch film in their hotel before they could give much of a scouting report of Kansas. But they are plenty familiar with their Elite Eight opponent.
Many of them were recruited by both schools. They’ve played against each other in AAU. Duke freshman point guard Trevon Duval took one of his official visits to Allen Fieldhouse. Plus, they saw each other earlier this season at the Champions Classic despite playing different teams.
“Great shooting team. Very feisty and very hungry,” said Duke freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. “They are going to come out here and play great defense. And they run the floor. That’s really all I know about them.”
Duval, who had two points and four assists vs. Syracuse, considered playing alongside Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman during his recruitment. He met most of KU’s players during his visit and he played with KU freshman Silvio De Sousa at IMG Academy in Florida last year.
Now he has a chance to line up against them for a spot in the Final Four.
“Devonte’, he’s been winning and nominated for a lot of awards,” Duval said. “They have great shooters and a really good big guy, Udoka (Azubuike). They are a really good team. We have to go back to the hotel, do our scout and then see what we can do to beat them.”
It’ll be the first meeting between the two schools since the 2016 Champions Classic in New York, which ended with a game-winning shot from Frank Mason III. Grayson Allen was limited to 12 points (4 of 15 shooting) in 38 minutes.
Both teams have a much different look than their last matchup. Duke features its latest crop of one-and-done NBA prospects. For Kansas, Azubuike was just playing in his second collegiate game and Newman was sitting out the season as a redshirt.
“They are in the Elite Eight for a reason,” Duke sophomore center Marques Bolden said. “We just know they are a real tough and physical team, and we look forward to the matchup."
At this point in the tournament, teams expect to play the best players and teams in the country. Looking ahead to potentially matching up against Graham, Duval said it will be “pretty cool” to play the Big 12 player of the year.
“It’s another time for me to prove myself and for our team to prove ourselves also,” Duval said. “It’s just another opportunity.”
Omaha, Neb. — The purpose of the trip was to mix in freshmen, transfers and upperclassmen at the beginning of the season. Essentially an opportunity to bond overseas before the grind of the season begins.
Scheduled to play four games in August, the results don’t matter. Traveling overseas to play various all-star teams is a lower level of competition than anything in a Power Five conference. Perhaps, it’s a small chance to gain some chemistry but players learned as much off the court as they did while playing.
But looking back months later, players were grateful for the chance to spend some extra time together. Kansas traveled to Italy and Clemson went to Spain. The Jayhawks had a 4-0 record, winning each game by more than 25 points, and Clemson went 3-0.
“We got a lot of new guys that came in just this year so I think it was just a really good chemistry building thing,” Clemson forward Mark Donnal said. “We played three games out there, but the focus wasn’t even on that. It was just being around each other, establishing those relationships and I think it’s kind of carried over to the season.”
The fifth-seeded Tigers (25-9) opened the season by winning 14 of their first 15 games, including non-conference victories over Ohio State and Florida.
During the trip to Spain, Clemson canceled its fourth and final game after a nearby terror attack in Barcelona. Starting guard Marcquise Reed said it was a reminder to not take anything in life for granted and possibly brought the team closer together.
“For whatever reason I just think this team clicked right away,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “We have some freshmen on our team that have outgoing personalities and some characters that have really kind of energized our program and combine that with older players that are good players, mature, and I think there is just a feeling that guys like each other.”
After the trip to Italy, Kansas players mentioned the same chemistry-building, bond-tightening experience even if the competition wasn’t as high as they expected.
Donnal said he wasn’t sure if the overseas trips, which schools can only take once every four years, would be as beneficial for a team with a ton of returning players. But when there’s plenty of newcomers, it’s like a sped up preseason.
“You’re all you got when you get out there,” Reed said. “You don’t really know nobody. You have no choice but to stick close to each other.”
Brownell added: “When we went to Spain on a foreign tour, I just left feeling unbelievably confident about our group because I loved our leadership. I loved the synergy and spirit of our team. And I knew we had good players. I knew our starting five were good players and would play well this season.”
In the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1997, Clemson will play Kansas at 6:07 p.m. Friday for a spot in the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks have played in the Elite Eight in each of the last two seasons, Clemson has made it once in program history.
The fifth-seeded Tigers, voted to finish 13th in the ACC in the preseason poll, beat New Mexico State in the first round and crushed Auburn to continue their season. They’ve played without star senior forward Donte Grantham, who tore his ACL, since the end of January.
“They were probably the most impressive team, I felt like, in the first weekend,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Without Grantham, Clemson owns a 9-6 record with wins over NCAA Tournament teams North Carolina and Florida State in conference play.
Fun fact: The Tigers tied a program record for wins in a season (25) with their victory over Auburn in the Round of 32 last weekend.
Series history: It’s the first meeting between the two schools.
BREAKING DOWN CLEMSON
No. 2 — G Marcquise Reed | 6-3, 189, r-jr.
A second-team all-ACC selection, Reed surpassed the 1,000-point milestone earlier this season. Averaging a team-best 15.9 points, Reed is shooting 35 percent from the 3-point line and 84.5 percent at the free-throw line. He leads the team with 58 steals.
Reed played his freshman season at Robert Morris, reaching the NCAA Tournament, before transferring to Clemson. Only three assists behind teammate Shelton Mitchell, Reed could become the first player to lead the Tigers in scoring, assists and steals since 2000.
In the NCAA Tournament: Totaled 31 points and 14 rebounds on 13-for-31 shooting (1 of 8 from 3), adding four assists and four steals.
- “He doesn’t talk a lot, he’s not a guy who’s showy at all. I think he just kind of comes in and does his thing,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “He’s kind of like that as player because he will be quiet for 20 minutes and then all of a sudden, something will happen and he snaps and turns into this assassin making big shots.”
No. 10 — G Gabe Devoe | 6-3, 207, sr.
When the Tigers are playing well, Devoe is usually scoring. After Donte Grantham’s injury, the Tigers are undefeated when he scores more than 11 points, winless when does not. Clemson’s top 3-point shooter (39.9 percent), Devoe is averaging 13.7 points and 4.6 rebounds, earning an all-ACC honorable mention.
In the NCAA Tournament: Averaging 22 points, 3 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 8-for-14 shooting from the 3-point line.
No. 14 — F Elijah Thomas | 6-9, 237, jr.
A dominant shot shot blocker (2.2 swats per game, named to the ACC’s all-defensive team), Thomas is averaging 10.9 points and 8.1 rebounds with nine double-doubles. He leads the Tigers with 78 offensive rebounds, more than double any other player on the team. Thomas played his freshman season at Texas A&M before transferring to Clemson.
In the NCAA Tournament: Recorded 24 points, 21 rebounds and 5 blocks in 57 minutes while shooting 9-for-17 from the field.
No. 4 — G Shelton Mitchell | 6-3, 194, r-jr.
A transfer from Vanderbilt, Mitchell leads the Tigers with 3.7 assists per game. He’s averaging 12.3 points, shooting 37 percent from the 3-point arc. According to hoop-math.com, he takes about a third of his shots at the rim, the highest mark among Clemson’s guards.
In the NCAA Tournament: Led the Tigers with 11 assists, 33 points and 9 rebounds in the first two games, shooting 10-19 from the floor.
No. 25 — F Aamir Simms | 6-7, 237, fr.
Simms usually plays off the bench, averaging 4.0 points and 3.2 rebounds on 47.3 percent shooting from the field. In 15 minutes per game, Simms ranks second on the team in blocks (29) and fourth in offensive rebounds (25).
In the NCAA Tournament: Playing 43 minutes, he produced 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks while shooting 2-for-2 from the 3-point arc.
ONE THING CLEMSON DOES WELL
Ranked seventh in defensive efficiency by KenPom, the Tigers own one of the best defenses around the rim. With Elijah Thomas protecting the paint, they’ve limited opponents to 52.9 percent shooting on shots at the rim, which ranks 17th in the county according to hoop-math.com.
Add that with their strong transition defense and it becomes even tougher for opposing offenses to find ways to score.
ONE AREA CLEMSON STRUGGLES
Despite the Tigers’ strong defense protecting the paint, they don’t force many turnovers. Entering the tournament, Clemson ranked 213th in the country in turnover percentage defense and that didn’t change in the first two rounds. The Tigers forced 11 turnovers against New Mexico State and only six turnovers against Auburn.
MEET THE COACH
In his eighth season at Clemson, Brad Brownell led the Tigers into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011, his first season in the program. Helping remove himself from the hot seat with his first-ever Sweet 16 appearance, Clemson added NIT appearances in 2014 and 2017.
Prior to his time at Clemson, Brownell spent four seasons each with UNC Wilmington and Wright State. He had four 20-win seasons with Wright State and two NCAA Tournament appearances at Wilmington.
Kansas by 5. The Tigers don’t allow many points around the rim and are strong at limiting points in transition. One weakness is defending the 3-point line (34.9 percent). I think it will be a slower-paced game for the Jayhawks, similar to their first-round game against Penn, but Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick should find plenty of looks from deep.
My prediction: Kansas 74, Clemson 65. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 16-14.
Equally skilled at scoring and rebounding, Seton Hall senior forward Angel Delgado presented one of the toughest matchups for Kansas big men all season.
Heading into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks could face more players like him.
Clemson, KU’s opponent in the Sweet 16 on Friday (6:07 p.m., CBS), is led by 6-foot-9, 237-pound junior Elijah Thomas but he’s not as prolific as an offensive rebounder as 6-foot-10, 245-pound Delgado. Thomas does average 10.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, ranking fourth in the ACC with 2.24 blocks per game.
If the Jayhawks advance to the Elite Eight, they could face prolific scorers and rebounders like Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. or Syracuse’s Oshae Brissett. Bagley is fifth in the nation with 21 double-doubles this season, only one behind Delgado. Carter, a more traditional center than Bagley, has recorded 15.
The 6-foot-11 Bagley and 6-foot-10 Carter combined for 26 rebounds (seven offensive) against Texas center Mo Bamba in November.
With the benefit of already facing Delgado, their second-round win gives the Jayhawks a blueprint of how they will need to attack some of the top forwards remaining in their region. Of course, it’s unlikely any of those forwards will have as much success as Delgado. He became the fifth player in the last 40 years to record 20-plus points and rebounds in an NCAA Tournament game.
What saved Kansas, in the eyes of coach Bill Self, was Udoka Azubuike’s performance to fight strength with strength.
“If Udoka wasn’t able to come back from his injury, we don't win,” Self said afterward.
Delgado had 12 points (5-for-9 shooting), 11 rebounds and one turnover when matched up against Lightfoot. Seven of his 11 rebounders were on the offensive end, tormenting the Jayhawks with second-chance points.
In four minutes against De Sousa, Delgado had four points, three rebounds and a blocked shot. Self said the game was a “little bit too big” for De Sousa. At this point of the season, the Jayhawks can’t afford wasted offensive possessions when players are out of position.
“We obviously couldn’t guard (Delgado),” Self said. “Angel had 12 and 12 at halftime. This isn’t a knock to Mitch, but Mitch physically is going to have a hard time with that.”
Azubuike limited Delgado to eight points and nine rebounds — only one offensive board. The Dominican Republic native shot 4 of 6 against Azubuike but opted to attempt more jumpers and short hook shots.
“Second half, I thought Dok actually defended him pretty good,” Self said. “Of the 24 he got, he probably got six or eight on Dok and the rest were on our other guys. We thought that our best chance was to put a big, heavy body on him.”
Afterward, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said he wished the Pirates would’ve fed the ball more to Delgado when he was guarded by Azubuike. They went away from him, looking for other scoring options, because Azubuike’s size took so much energy out of Delgado.
In December, Syracuse’s Brissett had 13 points and nine rebounds against KU, but only one rebound was on the offensive end.
“You just gotta give him credit,” Delgado said of Azubuike. “He's an unbelievable player. He did a great job with his bad knee. You just gotta give credit to great players.”
Wichita — Hoping to receive 20 minutes from Udoka Azubuike on Saturday, Kansas coach Bill Self said he thought Azubuike was the team's most valuable player with the way he provided offense in the post and defended Seton Hall center Angel Delgado in a 83-79 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
"We won the game because of Dok," Self said. "That kid would've had 35 and 34 if Dok didn't play. I'm really, really thankful and proud of him for his attitude and coming back so quick."
Advancing to the Sweet 16, Self said he doesn't want to get caught up in how the team played as long as the Jayhawks continue to win.
"We have to win two more games to get where we want to go but so proud of our kids and certainly nobody can say they haven't had a great season," Self said. "Now we have to go make great (turn into) special."
Wichita — In the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004, Seton Hall’s basketball players were going to be confident against any team they were matched up against.
With experience against No. 1 seeds Villanova and Xavier during Big East play, they know what it’s like to play the top teams in the country. The Pirates had an 0-4 record against the top two teams in the Big East, taking Villanova to overtime on Feb. 28 at home. They lost both road games against eventual top-seeded opponents by double digits.
Preparing to take the floor versus top-seeded Kansas at 6:10 p.m. Saturday (TV: TBS) at Intrust Bank Arena, the Pirates expect they’ll be loose when the opening jump ball is tossed in the air.
“There’s no pressure,” Seton Hall sophomore guard Myles Powell said. “We’ve been doing this all year. We’ve been tested all year. It’s nothing new. They tie their shoes just like we tie our shoes. We’re not looking at them like they are something special and we’re not. We’re just going to come out and play our game.”
Seton Hall’s players agreed that Kansas plays a different style than what they saw against Villanova and Xavier, but they value the experience of playing a top team.
Instead, several players said the Jayhawks reminded them of Texas Tech. Seton Hall beat the Red Raiders, 89-79, at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 30.
“It doesn’t put no fear in our heart or anything because we’ve been here before and we know we can play with anybody in the country when we’re playing our game,” Powell said.
Sophomore guard Eron Gordon added: “I think that it’s given us the experience to be prepared and make sure we stay composed.”
After a first round victory over North Carolina State, the Pirates turned their attention to Kansas with two film sessions and a walkthrough before their early afternoon media sessions. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said players probably weren’t happy with him with an early wake-up call.
“When you're playing as good a basketball team as you are in Kansas, you need to do all the little extra things to try to give yourself a chance to win,” Willard said. “You just can't treat it like you're playing any other team. They're just too good.”
Confident in their preparation to play Kansas, the Pirates hope their experience in road games against Xavier and Villanova, along with other big crowds at Creighton and Louisville, will only benefit them in front of a pro-KU crowd in Wichita.
Sitting inside of a cramped visitor’s locker room at Intrust Bank Arena — home of the Wichita Thunder minor league hockey team — the Pirates said they are entering their second-round game like many of their other games.
“Regular road game,” Powell said. “We expected something like this. Yesterday they had us in the nice locker room, now look where we’re in. It’s just little stuff like that just helps fuel the fire. I feel like we’ve played better at road games than home. We’re definitely going to be ready.”