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The 2022 NCAA men’s basketball Final Four features some of the most compelling storylines and matchups of any in recent history.
The teams play at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans starting Saturday night with the games between Duke and North Carolina and Kansas and Villanova. The winners will meet for the national championship at the same venue Monday night.
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Duke is looking for its sixth national championship as coach Mike Krzyzewski’s tenure with the Blue Devils comes to a close. The Blue Devils will have to get past a North Carolina team that got hot during the tournament after routing the Blue Devils in Coach K’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It’s the first time these two bitter rivals have met in the NCAA Tournament.
North Carolina coach Hubert Davis is in his rookie season as a head coach. He’s the second head coach to lead his alma mater to a Final Four in his first year. The last to do it was Dick Harp of Kansas in 1956. The Tar Heels are hoping to win their seventh national championship.
Kansas and Villanova may have fewer compelling storylines, but both are legit contenders.
The Jayhawks boast some of the top talent in the nation in Ochai Agbaji and Remy Martin. The Wildcats have the ability to counter with Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels. Villanova lost Justin Moore for the remainder of the tournament to injury, which is going to affect the team’s scoring against a tough Kansas defense.
Steve Lavin, who coached UCLA to the NCAA Tournament six times between 1996 and 2003 and St. John’s twice between 2010 and 2015, serves as a college basketball analyst for FOX Sports.
Lavin was 237-150 in his career as a head coach and 16 of his players were drafted into the NBA. In six of his seven seasons at UCLA, the Bruins won 20 or more games. He led St. John’s to 20 or more wins three times in six seasons.
Lavin broke down the matchups in an interview with Fox News Digital.
Fox News Digital: This Final Four features some of the best men’s basketball programs over the last 10-15 years. In your opinion, is this one of the best Final Fours in recent memory?
Steve Lavin: No doubt we have an impressive mix of perennial blue bloods and four of the most recognizable brands in the sport. Also, the compelling subplots of Coach K’s continued March Madness farewell tour and the tantalizing semifinals matchup of rivals Duke and UNC going head-to-head will make for a ratings bonanza.
In my opinion, it’s the best collection of four teams we’ve seen since the 2015 Final Four, which featured Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and Wisconsin. All four programs this year are elite brands led by three established Hall of Fame coaches, and the outlier in rising star first-year head coach Hubert Davis.
Fox News Digital: How can Duke get past North Carolina and win this semifinal in one of the most hyped matchups in recent memory and in what could be Coach K’s last game?
Lavin: The Blue Devils are an offensive juggernaut. For Duke to win, Paolo Banchero must continue to flourish and impose his lottery-level talent on opponents. His dominating performance at both ends of the court has been paramount to the Blue Devils success. Coach K deploys Banchero in a variety of positions on the court to take advantage of his size, strength, versatility and exceptional skill set.
Additionally, Wendell Moore and Jeremy Roach will need to continue their efficient offensive play. When they are playmaking and shot-making the Blue Devils prolific offense kicks into an even higher gear. Also noteworthy has been Mark Williams’ emergence as a difference-making presence in the basket area. Williams is often positioned at the rim on defense as an equivalent to a goalie in soccer. He has size, length, speed, agile footwork and intelligence to help elevate Duke’s defense. He will be tasked with trying to neutralize talented UNC big man Armando Bacot and keeping the Heels off the offensive glass.
Duke also will need to devise and execute a collective defensive approach to neutralize the tenacious Brady Manek as he lit up the Blue Devils in their regular-season meetings and has been blistering the nets during this current Tar Heels tournament run.
Fox News Digital: A lot of people believed North Carolina’s season was on the brink of failure, but it appears Hubert Davis has this squad ready to hoist a national championship. How do they pull off the upset against Duke?
Lavin: North Carolina’s success this season has been a direct result of first-year head coach Hubert Davis learning on job and masterfully navigating his basketball team through struggles and turbulence including the low point of a Heels’ loss to Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill.
Coach Davis demonstrated an unyielding belief in his Heels and provided the stewardship they needed at a juncture when most assumed the season was going down in flames. Davis, in a poised and composed manner, stayed on task and admirably adapted to his personnel by tweaking the Heels’ offense to better feature R.J. Davis as the facilitator which, in turn, led to the improved play of Caleb Love and company.
We’ve seen Love really score well of late with Davis directing the UNC attack. UNC’s skill and strength along the front line present a daunting matchup for opponents
Fox News Digital: How will North Carolina be able to stop such a dynamic offense in Duke?
Lavin: It’s going to be critical that Leaky Black asserts his stout and disruptive defensive prowess to enhance the Heels’ efforts to offset Duke’s prolific offense.
In the first meeting in February, they tried putting Armando Bacot on Banchero, and he picked up two early fouls, hence becoming a factor in UNC getting blown out. In their second meeting, Hubert Davis elected to instead put Black on Banchero, and it slowed down the Blue Devils star in Durham. I assume that Black and Banchero will be the initial matchup in this semifinal.
Matchups aside, UNC will need to shoot well from behind the three-point arc and stay active on the offensive glass as they have throughout this tournament.
Fox News Digital: Is there anything Coach K could tweak in his game plan that could throw off North Carolina’s offense?
Lavin: It’ll be something interesting to look for in this Final Four matchup.
Coach K showed some creative thinking last week as he pushed all the right buttons at the West Regional. One such instance was when he surprisingly opted to shelf his preferred man-to-man defense and instead employed a 2-3 Zone in the Sweet 16 matchup with Texas Tech. It proved to be a game-changing adjustment as Duke advanced to the Elite Eight. Coach K also sprinkled in some possessions of zone defense in their Elite Eight matchup against Arkansas as well.
Another unexpected but shrewd strategy Coach K implemented in the Elite Eight was directing his team to pass up on jump shots from behind the arc and instead relentlessly attack the smaller Razorbacks off the dribble, leading to high percentage layups and mid-range shots. Ten minutes into the game, the Blue Devils had attempted only one 3-point shot.
Even after 47 years of head coaching, it’s inspiring that Coach K puts his teams in a position to win by tinkering to find an approach to best amplify the Blue Devils’ strengths to exploit opponents’ vulnerabilities.
I’d expect we see more zone defense from Duke as it’s a good fit given the Blue Devils personnel, serves as an effective “change-up” opponents must prepare for, conserves energy and, most importantly, keeps Williams and Banchero deployed near the basket for rebounding and rim protecting.
Fox News Digital: Kansas-Villanova won’t get as much hype as Duke-UNC, but both teams are more than capable of winning a national championship. What are some of the keys each team needs to focus on to win this game?
Lavin: This is the tortoise and the hare matchup
Two teams with contrasting styles. Kansas prefers an up-tempo pace and Nova thrives at a more methodical deliberate approach.
It’s a credit to coach Bill Self that Kansas has arrived at the Final Four without standout Ochai Agbaji being offensively dominant in the tournament scoring at a 12.3 points per game clip. If he starts knocking down more shots this week, Kansas has an even higher ceiling.
Villanova wins with a disciplined defense, precise, patient mistake-free offense, timely three-point shooting and near-perfect free throw shooting (An NCAA record 83%).
The loss of versatile guard Justin Moore is a big setback for the Wildcats, so Brandon Slater and Jermaine Samuels will collectively attempt to pick up some of the slack. Keep in mind Nova has battled through injuries all season long, so being shorthanded is familiar territory.
Fox News Digital: How does Villanova overcome the loss of Moore? They’re a different team than the one that was selected as the No. 2 seed in the South Region.
Lavin: Villanova lacks depth and works with an undersized front line but remarkably finds a way to win games through Jay Wright’s creative game planning and intuitive in-game adjustments. In other words, Nova consistently demonstrates resourcefulness and ingenuity in overcoming shortcuts and adverse circumstances.
Colin Gillespie and Caleb Daniels will shoulder the shot-making and playmaking responsibilities. A pleasant surprise for the Wildcats has been Eric Dixon’s development into a reliable and versatile low-post option for Nova to play through.
Nova will need to be judicious with 3-point attempts to execute with a balanced offensive approach that has allowed them to win games by putting opponents in foul jeopardy, therefore, capitalizing with free throw shooting proficiency.
Fox News Digital: Kansas has proven to thrive at times when it pushes the ball. How much of a difference will that make?
Lavin: It will be vital for Kansas to push the tempo and get out in transition. Villanova is the 14th slowest team in the country. Kansas is the 61st fastest. Look for the Jayhawks to try and get out and run off of their defense whenever possible.
A steady and complete performance by Remy Martin will be important if Kansas is going to push past Villanova. Martin prefers playing at a breakneck pace in getting the ball up the floor, but against the efficient Wildcats he must also exhibit good judgments in knowing when to set up his talented Jayhawk teammates.
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Fox News Digital: In your opinion, how does the Final Four shake out? Can Coach K wrap up his stellar career with a national championship?
Lavin: Kansas had a slight edge over Villanova before the Moore injury, so the team that imposes a preferred pace on their opponent will determine who wins this tortoise vs. hare-like matchup.
With Duke’s short bench, keep an eye on how the game is officiated. It’s obviously important they defend UNC yet limit fouling.
The Blue Devils have a slight edge over the Final Four field as they have a high-octane offensive attack, arguably the best player in college basketball in Banchero and a head coach with five national championships.
Coach K is as comfortable when leading a team at this stage of the season as any coach in the history of college basketball, and that may very well be the differentiating element in determining who cuts downs the nets Monday night.