When Penn basketball coach Steve Donahue looks at Final Four opponents Villanova and Kansas, he sees teams with plenty of similarities.
The Wildcats will meet the Jayhawks in Saturday’s semifinal and Donahue has a good feel for those teams after playing both No. 1 seeds at much different junctures of the season.
Granted, Penn (24-9) was a much better team when it faced Kansas than when it played Villanova. The loss to the Wildcats dropped Penn’s record to 5-4.
The similarities begin with the makeup of the rosters.
“They both have older players, no one-and-dones,” Donahue said in a phone interview. “Whoever shoots the ball well from three will probably win the game because they both really can shoot it.”
Kansas is 11th in the nation in three-point shooting (40.3 percent) while Villanova is 19th (40.0 percent).
“They are very similar teams, great coaching, good defensively but not great,” Donahue said. “They are really good offensive teams.”
That last statement is illustrated by the fact that under Jay Wright, Villanova leads the nation in scoring, averaging 86.6 points per game, while Bill Self’s Kansas squad is 29th (81.4 ppg.).
A key for Villanova will be to stop sizzling 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore Malik Newman, who had 32 points in the Jayhawks’ 85-81 overtime win on Sunday over Duke in the Midwest Regional final. Newman, a transfer from Mississippi State, is averaging 21.8 points in four tournament games.
The only team that held him relatively in check during this tournament was Penn. Newman hit 5 of 12 shots and was 0 for 2 from beyond the arc while scoring 10 points against the Quakers.
“Our game plan was to not allow easy drive-and-kicks because that is what Newman thrives on,” Donahue said. “He is such a great catch-and-shoot guy and I thought we did a good job.”
This game is a matchup of All-American point guards, Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham.
Graham opened with 29 points against Penn (although he shot 9 for 24) but has averaged 11.7 points in his last three games. Brunson is averaging 17.5 points in the tournament while shooting 8 of 19 from three-point range.
That matchup will be an obvious key, according to Donahue, who says the teams also play a similar style.
“They both like to go with four guards around one big,” Donahue said.
The Penn coach feels that Kansas 7-foot sophomore Udoka Azubuike will be a key. He was limited to three minutes against Penn, his first game back after missing the Big 12 tournament with a knee injury. In the last three tournament games, Azubuike is averaging 11 points and 8.7 rebounds in 22 minutes a game.
“Azubuike, if healthy, is a handful,” said Donahue, whose Quakers cut Kansas’ lead to 52-48 with 11 1/2 minutes left but never got closer. “Kansas may have an advantage although he is very foul-prone.”
He has fouled out of Kansas’ last two NCAA wins.
In addition to Brunson, Donahue loves the savvy and skill that likely lottery pick Mikal Bridges and fellow redshirt junior Phil Booth bring to Villanova.
Donahue says it should be a great game between two powerhouses that have earned their No. 1 seedings. This is a game in which the toughest job might belong to the scorekeeper.
“One weakness is that neither team gets to the foul line a lot and they rely on jump shots,” Donahue said. “This could be a game that is played in the 90s.”