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Men’s NCAA Final Four: How to Watch and What to Expect

NEW ORLEANS — The men’s Final Four features four blue blooms in the bayou.

Among them, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and Villanova have collectively won 17 NCAA Division I men’s basketball championships.

North Carolina is in its 21st Final Four — the largest of any men’s program — while Duke (17) and Kansas (16) are among their all-time all-time leaders. Villanova, who has reached seven Final Fours, is within reach of his third championship since 2016 under coach Jay Wright.

Here’s what to watch out for in the national semifinals on Saturday:

Great things were expected of Remy Martin when he made the preseason move from Arizona State to Kansas.

The 6-foot senior guard from Burbank, Calif., was named Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year for having been an All-Pac 12 selection three times and leading the Pac 12 with 19.1 points per game last season had, including averaging 21.5 points per game in conference play.

But Martin suffered a right knee injury in late December and struggled through much of the season. He failed to score in double digits in 12 consecutive games from late December to early March. Now he’s healthy again and it showed at the crucial time of the season.

In Kansas’ four NCAA tournament games, Martin averaged 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Against Providence, he picked up 23 points and seven rebounds in a 66-61 win in the round of 16.

Coach Bill Self is still planning to get Martin off the bench and finding ways to get him on offense.

“Now I see and have seen what his presence can actually mean and how it can benefit a team,” Self said Thursday. “So I give him the credit. He was great.”

If Villanova junior guard Justin Moore hadn’t lost to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in the dying seconds of the 50-44 win over Houston on March 26, the Wildcats might have been the favorite in the national semifinals against Kansas.

Heck, they could have been favorites for their third title since 2016.

But with Moore averaging 14.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the season, Villanova comes in as an underdog.

Wright has had a week to rework his game plan for Kansas and knows he needs to give players like Caleb Daniels, Chris Arcidiacono and Bryan Antoine extra playing time.

“I feel like we’re in a good place to replace Justin,” Wright said Friday. “I think as I watch Kansas more and more, I’m just so impressed with their team speed, defensive intelligence and execution in dead-ball situations.

“Bill is a Hall of Fame coach,” Wright said of the Kansas coach. “So it’s not a surprise, but it’s still cool to watch their execution and intelligence. And I think we have to play extremely intelligently and hard against them. And I think we’re ready for that.”

North Carolina spoiled Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last home game on March 5 at Cameron Indoor Stadium when they defeated the Blue Devils 94-81. The performance in front of a crowd that included 96 of Krzyzewski’s former players prompted the 75-year-old coach to tell fans afterwards that the result was “unacceptable”. Krzyzewski will retire at the end of the season and that was his last game in front of the home fans.

Duke and North Carolina have met 257 times, with the Tar Heels leading the series, 142-115. However, they have never met in an NCAA tournament.

With a spot in Monday’s national championship game — as well as part of Krzyzewski’s legacy — at stake, the Blue Devils are not focused on getting revenge for their regular-season loss.

“It’s just another game for us,” said junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. “No matter who it was, they’re standing in our way until Monday. That’s how we see it.”

Sophomore center Mark Williams added: “I think no matter who we play on Saturday we have the same attitude. Obviously it’s a national semi-final game. You want to go out there, play your best basketball, play hard, do whatever it takes to win, whether it’s North Carolina or whoever it may be.

Krzyzewski wasn’t interested in talking about the end of storybooks.

“I didn’t do this season to have a storybook,” he said Thursday. “I did it because I wanted to be a coach for another year and have a successor plan for our program.”

Nine men’s coaches have led their teams to the Final Four in their first year as head coaches, most recently Bill Guthridge of North Carolina in 1998.

Neither has ever won the title, so Hubert Davis Davis of North Carolina could become the first men’s coach to win a national championship in his freshman year as head coach.

Davis, who took over when Roy Williams retired after last season, almost forced this season’s success. In September, he placed a picture of the Caesars Superdome in every North Carolina player’s locker.

“He was telling all the parents at the time to book hotels and a flight to New Orleans and he was deadly serious when he said that,” junior forward Armando Bacot said this week.

Second-year guard RJ Davis added: “Just for him to have that confidence in us and believe in us early in the year is actually insane. It’s something I will definitely remember forever.

“He saw the potential in the team, he saw the courage, he saw the talent we had,” continued Bacot. “It was just about putting it together.”

The Tar Heels were considered an NCAA tournament bubble team late in the season, but Davis made his players win when it mattered most. They have won 10 of their last 11 games and 16 of their last 19.

With another victory over their most hated rival, the Tar Heels would simultaneously end Krzyzewski’s career and position themselves for the program’s seventh championship.

“Why shouldn’t I stay positive,” Davis said. “I love these kids. What’s supposed to be negative about that?”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/02/sports/ncaabasketball/final-four-ncaa-mens.html Men’s NCAA Final Four: How to Watch and What to Expect

Ethan Gach

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