Sports Tonight: March 31: Final Four start times, previews, and what to read to prepare

Villanova’s Jalen Brunson celebrates after cutting a piece of net following the team’s win over Texas Tech in an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional final, Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Boston. Villanova won 71-59 to advance to the Final Four.

With Villanova in the Final Four and looking for its second NCAA Championship in three seasons, Sports Tonight returns to give insight as to where to go for the best coverage of the Wildcats journey in San Antonio.

When, where and how to view the action

Saturday, March 31

Game 1: No. 3 seed and West Champion Michigan  vs No.11 seed and South Champion Loyola-Chicago

Time: 6:09 p.m.

Television: TBS

Stream: https://www.ncaa.com/march-madness-live/watch

Game 2: No.1 seed and East Champion Villanova (34-4) vs No.1 seed and Midwest Champion Kansas (31-7)

Time: 8:49 p.m.

Television: TBS

Stream: https://www.ncaa.com/march-madness-live/watch

Camera icon Yong Kim
Villanova forward/guard Mikal Bridges dribbles the basketball against Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver in the East Regional Finals on Sunday, March 25, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

What I’m reading about the Final Four

Columnist Bob Ford writes everyone is talking about the NBA prospects of Mikal Bridges except Bridges.

Villanova beat writer Joe Juliano writes about the latest marquee matchup for Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson.

Columnist Marcus Hayes details how former Villanova star Kris Jenkins has struggled with his professional career since his famous shot in 2016.

Jalen Brunson is named the player of the year by the United States Basketball Writers Association.

Photos from Villanova’s Final Four practice

Villanova beat writer Joe Juliano breaks down the matchup between Villanova and Kansas.

Staff writer Mike Jensen gives the low down on the semifinal between Michigan and Loyola-Chicago.

Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star tells Jayhawk fans what they should know about Villanova.

 

Camera icon Yong Kim
Villanova guard Jalen Brunson holds the East Regional Championship trophy after beating Texas Tech on Sunday, March 25, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston. Villanova advances to the Final Four. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The riff on Villanova

There’s no question that Loyola-Chicago is the Cinderella darling of the 2018 Final Four.

The Ramblers are from a private Catholic school with an enrollment of about 16,000.  They play in the Missouri Valley Conference – a prototypical mid-major league.

Compared to Michigan of the Big Ten with an enrollment, with nearly 29,000 undergraduates, or Kansas University of the Big 12, with an enrollment of 28,000, Loyola is certainly in a David against Goliaths situation.

What about Villanova?

Like Loyola, it is a private Catholic university, but it only has around 7,000 undergraduates – making it the smallest school in the Final Four.

While the Big East Conference is considered a power conference in basketball, a lot of that is largely based on the reputation built during its original era from 1979-2013. When realignment cost the conference its College Football Playoff members before the 2013-14 season, the shakeup cost the Big East the programs that had won its five most recent NCAA basketball champions.

They then added Butler and Xavier from the Atlantic 10 and Creighton from the Missouri Valley – three quality programs but still ones that were traditionally viewed as mid-majors. Except for Jay Wright, coaches view the Big East as a stepping-stone job to a “Power Five Conference” gig. Despite earning a No.1 seed Xavier’s Chris Mack just left for Louisville of the ACC, which didn’t make the tournament.

In the past five seasons, Villanova is the only non-top level football-playing school to win an NCAA Championship (2016). Gonzaga in 2017 and now Loyola (2018) are the only others to make a Final Four.

The Wildcats join Power Fives Kentucky, North Carolina and Wisconsin as the only programs to make two Final Fours since 2014.

Considering the influence of and revenue generated by Power Five college football schools since 2013-14, Villanova remaining a perennial Top-Five basketball team might be the most incredible Cinderella of all.