March Madness preview: Final Four has a blue tint with power programs – The Denver Post

Coach K’s final chapter will have a distinctly blue tint.

Two weeks of upsets and underdogs in the books, the Final Four is down to four blue blood programs: Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and Villanova.

Kansas faces Villanova, then it’s Duke-Carolina for the first time in the NCAA Tournament in New Orleans.

This is going to be good, so here’s a quick rundown of the last four teams left standing:

KANSAS

Final Four road: The Jayhawks (32-6) looked vulnerable after consecutive late-season losses, but rounded into form at just the right time. While the other No. 1 seeds dropped off in the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 champions beat Texas Southern, Creighton and Providence to reach the Elite Eight. Kansas rolled into its 16th Final Four by crushing Miami 76-50 to win the Midwest Region.

Strengths: Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun can both score in bunches, shoot from the perimeter and beat defenders off the dribble. Remy Martin is an immediate adrenaline boost off the bench.

Weaknesses: The Jayhawks overwhelmed Miami in the paint in the Elite Eight, but have been mediocre in the post at times.

Star: Agbaji. The 6-foot-5 senior is explosive and coming off his best game of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting against Miami.

Key contributor: Martin. The Arizona State transfer enters the game like he’s shot off a launching pad, changing the complexion with his quickness and fearlessness.

VILLANOVA

Final Four road: The Wildcats (30-7) had some shaky stretches earlier in the season, but have won 14 of 15, including the Big East Tournament. Villanova has been its efficient best at both ends in the NCAA Tournament, beating Delaware, Ohio State and Michigan to reach the Elite Eight. The Wildcats smothered Houston in San Antonio, winning 50-44 to reach the Final Four for the third time in six seasons.

Strengths: The buffed-up Wildcats often bully teams around the floor on offense and defense. Villanova also shoots 83% from the free-throw line, on pace to break Harvard’s NCAA record of 82.2% set in 1994.

Weaknesses: The Wildcats were already thin and lost second-leading scorer Justin Moore to a torn Achilles tendon against Houston in the Elite Eight.

Star: Collin Gillespie. The senior guard tore his ACL late last season, but has been a huge reason Villanova is back in the Final Four with his steady leadership and clutch shooting.

Key contributor: Jermaine Samuels. The 6-7 senior plays bigger than his size and is a difference maker at both ends of the court

DUKE

Final Four road: Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final of 42 seasons in Durham suffered a few bumps in the road, including a blowout to North Carolina in his final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils (32-6) have seemed determined to send Coach K out on top since the NCAA bracket began, blowing out Cal State Fullerton, then grinding out wins over Michigan State, Texas Tech and Arkansas to reach the Final Four for a record 13th time under Krzyzewski.

Strengths: The Blue Devils have multiple scoring options and are No. 1 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings. Krzyzewski has shown the game hasn’t left him behind as he heads for the exit, making key adjustments that propelled Duke to the Final Four.

Weaknesses: Duke has been good on the defensive end lately, but had some rough moments earlier in the season, particularly in the loss to North Carolina. The Blue Devils have good 3-point shooters in A.J. Griffin and Wendell Moore, but have been inconsistent from the arc.

Star: Paolo Banchero. A likely top-3 pick in this year’s NBA draft, the 6-10 freshman is a matchup nightmare for opponents. Banchero has the size to post up smaller players, can shoot from the perimeter and beat defenders off the dribble.

Key contributor: Mark Williams. Duke’s 7-1 sophomore center is a dominating force on the defensive end, blocking and altering shots. He’s also got a good post game and finishes with authority.

NORTH CAROLINA

Final Four road: The Tar Heels (28-9) got their first season under Hubert Davis off to a shaky start, looking like they’d miss the NCAA Tournament. Davis has since pulled the right strings, leading North Carolina to wins over Marquette, No. 1 seed Baylor and UCLA to reach the Elite Eight. The Tar Heels ensured a blue blood Final Four by crushing upstart Saint Peter’s 69-49.

Strengths: Armando Bacot is one of the best big men in the country, freshman Caleb Love is a dynamic scorer and R.J. Davis a steady floor leader who also can score in bunches.

Weaknesses: Davis’ rotation doesn’t go much beyond the starting five, which nearly cost the Tar Heels against Baylor. North Carolina has been better defensively late in the season, but had some real clunkers on that end earlier.

Star: Bacot. North Carolina’s big man can be dominating, as he was with 20 points and 22 rebounds against Saint Peter’s.

Key contributor: Brady Manek. The Oklahoma transfer proved to be the piece North Carolina was missing, providing perimeter shooting and scoring while doing all the little things the Tar Heels need.

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