Let’s warm up for The Final Four.

It’s a gathering of college-basketball royalty, with Kansas playing Villanova in Saturday’s first game, followed by Duke facing North Carolina in a marquee matchup of ACC dynasties.

Can Coach K move happily into retirement with his sixth national championship at Duke?

Can North Carolina’s Hubert Davis, a rising coaching star, win it all as a rookie head coach?

Can Jay Wright make it three national championships in the last six NCAA Tournaments?

Can Kansas coach Bill Self win his first national title since 2008? He’s overdue.

Let’s go to the games…

KANSAS: 32-6, ranked 4th at KenPom

VILLANOVA: 30-7, ranked 9th at KenPom

Betting Line: Kansas favored by 4.

Fact: Both teams have won nine consecutive games and are 6-3 against the spread in the nine games.

Why the Jayhawks can win it all: This team has terrific balance, ranking 7th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 18th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom … guard Remy Martin emerged late in the season as another go-to scorer for a team that already had considerable firepower, and in the tournament he’s been a game-changer when the Jayhawks need a boost … Self is an underrated coach defensively; he makes excellent adjustments during games … KU shoots well, defends well, is good at pulling offensive rebounds, and rank 17th in defending 3s … There are no obvious flaws, and the Jayhawks have been tested by one of the most challenging skeds in the nation this season.

Why the Wildcats can win it all: Jay Wright is the second-best coach in college basketball and will move up to No. 1 when Coach K retires. Villanova does all the little things well, and that really matters in close games. This is the best free-throw shooting team in a single season in NCAA history. The Wildcats don’t turn it over much, are outstanding at controlling tempo (slow, slower and slowest), are ranked 17th nationally in defense (KenPom) and can light up a defense with a barrage of three-pointers. This season Nova has scored nearly 40 percent of its points on threes.

Why the Jayhawks may fail: It’s been an erratic NCAA tournament for Kansas. In the second round, Creighton had the ball down by one to KU with one minute to play, Providence led by one with less than six minutes remaining in the Sweet 16, and Miami was up by six at halftime in the Elite Eight before Kansas poured it on in the second half. But perhaps we should put more emphasis on this: when challenged and shoved into a corner by Creighton, Providence and Miami, the Jayhawks responded like champs … this is a key for the Jayhawks: All-American Ochai Agbaji was having a relatively quiet tournament (averaging 10.3 points per game) until hitting 67 percent of his shots in an 18-point bounce-back against Miami in the Elite 8. He can’t be laid back now. He must be more assertive in this Final Four.

Why the Wildcats may fail: Villanova won’t have their important guard, Justin Moore, who is down with a torn Achilles. Even before the terrible injury Villanova had minimal depth. As Bleacher Report noted, players beyond Nova’s regular six-man rotation combined for only four points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in the first four tournament games – and most of that came in garbage time of a 20-point win over Delaware in the first round. Caleb Daniels moves into the starting lineup at shooting guard, and he’s a good shooter from three range. But the loss of Moore is huge; he was averaging 14.8 points and 5 rebounds per game and was hitting his threes at a rate of 36 percent. There’s also a sneaking suspicion that Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie is playing hurt; that could explain why he missed 15 of 20 shots from the floor in Villanova’s last two wins … Speaking to The Athletic, one unnamed coach explained another problem caused by Moore’s injury absence: “They’ve had two different teams: a bigger team with their starters and a smaller one when they bring in Daniels. Now without Justin Moore they only have one. That kills a lot of their versatility.”

Bottom Line: KU advanced to the Final Four without playing at its top-level best over a complete 40 minutes. And if they can peak it up in New Orleans, they’ll win it all. But Jay Wright has had nearly a week to come up with a plan after losing Moore, and he’ll make this one close. If Villanova could beat a strong Houston team in the Elite 8 despite shooting only 28.8 percent from the floor, they’re dangerous as hell in any situation. The ‘Cats will be hoisting threes all game, and if Gillespie (41%) Eric Dixon (52%) and Daniels (38%) go off then Villanova can overcome the short depth and steal a win from Kansas … especially if the Jayhawks have another March malfunction – which has become something of a pattern in NCAA tournaments.

Bernie’s secret Adobo sauce: Kansas, 74-72.


NORTH CAROLINA: 28-9, ranked 16th at KenPom

DUKE: 32-6, ranked 8th at KenPom

Betting Line: Duke is favored by 4.

Fact: The Tar Heels are 9-1 straight up and 8-2 against the spread in their last 10 games.

Why the Tar Heels can win it all: They’re 16-3 in their last 19 games and are the best all-around team in the nation since March 1 according to the metrics at BartTorvik.com … UNC has four proven scorers in St. Louisan Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, [post man Armando Bacot and roamer Brady Manek … so far in the tournament guards Love and Davis each have a 30-point game, Manek has scored 26 or more twice, and Bacot has had a double-double in six consecutive games… the Tar Heels are one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the nation. And they’ve shown substantial improvement on defense, ranking 6th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency in March.

Why the Blue Devils can win it all: In four NCAA Tournament wins Duke is averaging 80 points per game, shooting 54% from the field, hitting 39% of their threes and has the most athletic and talented rotation in this Final Four. A young Duke team has turned into a stone-cold closer, putting opponents away with scintillating runs of unstoppable offense … Duke is ranked No. 1 at KenPom in adjusted offensive efficiency, and has the nation’s eighth-best effective field goal percentage (56%.) It’s ridiculous that 6-10 freshman Paolo Banchero is averaging 18.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists in the tournament while making 51% of his shots overall, and 53% of his threes. The other four Duke starters – center Mark Williams, guard Jeremy Roach, forward A.J. Griffin and Wendell Moore Jr. – are averaging at least 11.5 points or more during the tournament.

Why the Tar Heels may fail: if an injury-damaged Baylor team can go on a 30-4 run to erase a 25-point deficit, then what can a thermonuclear Duke offense do to Carolina? … the Tar Heels lack experienced depth and Coach Davis puts too much responsibility on the starting five … if Duke can get Bacot into foul trouble it will be a big problem; the Tar Heels don’t have a capable backup center. Foul trouble in general is trouble for UNC.

Why the Blue Devils may fail: The defense is too loose too often, with Duke giving up so many easy baskets and prompting Coach K to switch to a zone to lessen the damage … of the four remaining teams Duke has the poorest adjusted defensive efficiency rating (45th) in the nation according to KenPom … in its last eight games Duke has been hit by opponents for an average of 76.3 points per game plus a 39% shooting percentage from three range.

Bottom Line: Duke has at least four future NBA players in the lineup, and has peaked during the tournament. The teams split the two-game series during the regular season; both were blowouts. So that sets up volatility and unpredictability in this one. But Duke has been a different team since being routed by North Carolina on March 5 in Durham. But if Duke’s offense gets bogged down Saturday, North Carolina will win. From an investment standpoint, I have to take the Tar Heels +4. How can we say Duke is unstoppable when UNC won by 13 in Coach K’s final home game, played less than a month ago?

Bernie’s secret Adobo sauce: North Carolina, 79-76

Thanks for reading …

And I hope you have a wonderful weekend.


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

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Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.