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The second semi-final in Saturday’s double-header is the headliner, pitting two bitter rivals against each other with major historical context on the line.

The early game, however, is no slouch. Kansas and Villanova are two of the best programs in the sport, each with championship aspirations.

The Context

Over the last two decades, no two programs have stood out from their peers in college basketball than Kansas and Villanova. The Jayhawks only have one championship to the Wildcats’ two in that time frame, yet it’s been the consistency of these two schools year after year that has impressed.

Kansas won or shared every Big 12 regular season title from 2005 to 2019. Since the Big East re-formed in 2014, Villanova has won or shared all but two regular season crowns. Jay Wright and Bill Self have kept their teams head and shoulders above their rivals through a combination of recruiting, coaching and culture building.

Because these two programs have been so successful, they’ve played each other somewhat regularly. This is their sixth meeting since 2013, with two of those coming in the Elite Eight or later. Villanova has won four out of five.

The Spread

The Jayhawks currently sit as 4.5-point favorites on Saturday evening thanks to a few factors.

First, the Jayhawks are the lone remaining top seed in the Final Four and the current favorites to cut down the nets as champions in New Orleans.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, Villanova will be without star guard Justin Moore, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon late in the Wildcats’ victory over Houston. His loss is certainly notable due to his level of play, but even more so because of how shallow Villanova’s bench has been this season.

The Wildcats rank 323rd in bench minutes this season, per KenPom, with only six players averaging more than ten minutes per night. The five remaining players on that list will take on quite a burden in this game. Villanova is also without freshman guard Jordan Longino, who was taking on a larger role late in the season prior to an injury of his own.

The Total

The over/under for this game has been set at 132.5, far below the total of 151 set for Duke’s meeting with UNC in the other semi-final.

This is also related to Villanova’s lack of depth. The Wildcats already played slowly with Moore in the lineup, and without him, they cannot afford to get into a high tempo shootout. Wright will likely play the guards he trusts for a large majority of this game. It would be no surprise to see senior guard Collin Gillespie on the court for the entire game.

To do that, Villanova has to slow the pace and try to grind out a low possession game.

The Matchup

Aside from Villanova’s efforts to slow the game down, there are a few key battles that will determine the outcome here.

In the paint, Villanova big man Eric Dixon will need to keep his counterpart David McCormack off the offensive glass. When McCormack rebounds effectively, he creates so many opportunities for putbacks or kick out threes.

On the perimeter, expect to see Brandon Slater covering Kansas All-American Ochai Agbaji. Slater’s length will likely give Agbaji trouble. He loves to shoot quickly coming around screens or working into the mid-range. Slater is a heady defender and will be sure to have a hand in the face of Agbaji at all moments.

The last thing to watch is how Kansas attacks Collin Gillespie as a defender. Villanova cannot win this game without Gillespie playing more than 35 minutes and acting as the primary scorer and creator.

Kansas head coach Bill Self knows that and will force Gillespie to work on the defensive end, building up body blows to tire out his legs or bait him into foul trouble. If Gillespie picks up a second foul in the first half, have an eye out on a live bet on Kansas. Wright will likely trust Gillespie through most foul trouble, but there comes a breaking point when he can’t afford to lose his best man in a tight game.

Best Bet

My favorite item on the board for this game is Villanova to stay under their team total of 68.5 points (-115).

The Wildcats are averaging 63.9 points since the start of the Big East Tournament, and that figure comes with Justin Moore in the lineup and includes an 80-point outburst against first-round flunky Delaware.

Villanova can’t win this game scoring more than 70 points. There simply isn’t enough firepower on the court with Moore sidelined. The Wildcats can threaten Kansas and win the game, but it needs to be in a low-scoring contest.

The Winner

With Moore on the court, I think Kansas would have been mild favorites in this game, giving the Wildcats a point or two. Without him, the line should have swung much more. Moore does so much for Villanova on the offensive end and there’s really no one on the Villanova roster capable of replacing his contributions, unless Gillespie turns into a superhero mid-game.

Self has had so many good teams in the last decade that have under-performed in March. Finally, he caught some breaks in the form of the committee’s bracketing and injury luck. The Jayhawks should win and cover here (-110).