The first Final Four game is between two #2 seeds as the Villanova Wildcats of the South and Oklahoma Sooners of the West prepare to do battle in their Final Four match-up (6.09pm ET, Saturday, April 2nd on TBS).
It’s true what they say, “everything is bigger in Texas” and this year that goes double as college basketball’s version of playoff semifinals head to NRG Stadium in Houston to decide which of these two are headed to the national championship game. Here’s our big game preview, concluding with our betting picks’ predictions.
Oklahoma’s Road to the Final Four
Being in the Big 12 meant being in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball this year as six of the 10 teams made it to the Big Dance. Before getting there however, was the conference tournament which seeded and pitted all of the teams against each other. Oklahoma, as the seventh best team in the country and second best team in the conference, took on West Virginia in the semifinals, losing by just two points. Kansas went on to win the whole thing and in the process earned the first overall seed.
Oklahoma meanwhile, under some discrepancy, was named a #2 seed and in their first match-up took on CSU Bakersfield. As one would expect from a 2/15 match-up, the Sooners emerged on top, thanks in part to the 27 points scored by the runner-up for national player of the year, Buddy Hield.
Hield again led the Sooners in the second round, dropping 36 points and seven rebounds as the team just barely got past VCU in an 85-81 final. In the Sweet 16, Oklahoma faced a familiar foe in Texas A&M, a team which was once part of the Big 12 and is now in the SEC. Oklahoma made the win look easy, defeating their opponents by 14 points, matching the tournament high for the team. Hield only scored 17 in this contest but saw his presence known elsewhere as he added 10 rebounds.
Oklahoma advanced to the Elite 8 where they took on and took out their region’s top seeded team, the Oregon Ducks. It wasn’t even close as Oklahoma won by 12 and never fell far behind in the game. Leading for most of the contest, it was once again a monster day from Hield, recording a tournament high 37 points, that helped lead Oklahoma to victory and back to the Final Four for the first time since 2002.
Villanova’s Road to the Final Four
Despite at one point in the season actually being ranked as the top team in the nation, there weren’t many expectations for the Villanova Wildcats upon the start of this March Madness tournament. That was in part because they failed to win the Big East conference championship, despite starting as the sportsbook’s favorites. It was also because for the past five years, the Wildcats had failed to make it to the Sweet 16.
Led by a talented senior roster perhaps tired of that stigma, Villanova rolled into the second round, defeating UNC Asheville by 30 points, the second largest margin of victory in the first round. Villanova built off that victory and went on to defeat Iowa by 19 points, doing so in a game some expected them to lose.
In the Sweet 16, those expecting Villanova to lose increased in number especially as the team were to take on Miami and two of the top guards in the nation. However, lose they did not. In fact, Villanova led the entire game, ultimately shooting over 67 percent from behind the arc and winning by 23 points. The 72 point margin of victory from the first three games was the largest of the tournament.
Defeating Miami meant the Wildcats were set for a date with the Kansas Jayhawks, the top overall seed in the tournament. Unsurprisingly the underdogs, Villanova managed to defeat Kansas doing so not with their offense this time but with defense, which shut down Perry Ellis, and free throw shooting, which was all but perfect. This earned the Wildcats their first Final Four since 2009.
Key Match-Up to Watch: Buddy Hield vs Villanova’s Zone Defense
Villanova has shown itself to be one of the best defensive teams in the nation as of late and has done so against top notch competition. The Wildcats have not had it easy, be it facing a duo of top guards in Miami or against a trio of them from Kansas. On top of that, Villanova faced Ellis who had scored 69 points in his three tournament games. The Wildcats held him to just four on 1-5 shooting. It was his worst performance of the season.
While Ellis is talented, Hield is an entirely different monster and stopping him won’t be as easy. Hield is a unique player and makes opportunities for himself as a high volume shooter. He is coming off of his best game of the tournament and his third best of the season. Not to mention, he is lights out from beyond the arc, even drawing comparisons to the college version of Steph Curry.
Defensively, shutting him down seems unlikely but if there is one way to stop Hield it’s to get him to turn the ball over, something Villanova has done with a great deal of success as of late. In the last two games, Hield has 11 turnovers. Against Kansas, Villanova had 11 steals alone.
Everyone said that the Wildcats were going to live by the three or die by the three as they had so often during the season but when the shooting went cold against Kansas, the defense stepped up in a major way. Whether the shooting goes cold or not against Oklahoma, that defense is going to have to strike lightning in a bottle in order to advance to the national championship.
Our Preview’s Villanova vs Oklahoma Betting Picks Predictions
If there is one thing Villanova has that perhaps no other team left in the tournament does, it’s the level of depth among its starters. You’re not really going to find any standout stars like Hield but throughout the tournament, Ryan Arcidiacono (pictured), Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins have all consistently scored in the double digits in almost each contest.
When it comes to that kind of depth, it’s hard to imagine every guy going cold but for Oklahoma, Hield is just one guy and while he is shooting lights out right now, he has gone cold before. If he does and if Villanova’s top of the line defense can shut him down even minimally, it could be a good day for the Wildcats.
That’s not even to mention the team is 36 of 38 from the free throw line in its last two games. In the guts of the tournament, especially in the closing minutes against Kansas, making free throws is going to be all the difference.
Villanova is 4-0 ATS so far and, favored two points on the sportsbooks’ spread against Oklahoma, our preview’s prediction and betting pick is that they will make it 5-0 on Saturday.