Live coverage of the Final Four press conferences
NEW ORLEANS — Kansas men’s basketball’s Final Four game with Villanova is getting closer.
The Jayhawks (32-6) represent the Midwest Region and are a No. 1 seed. The Wildcats (30-7) represent the South Region and are a No. 2 seed. The winner will face Duke or the North Carolina with a national championship on the line.
Follow updates as of Thursday availability at Caesars Superdome:
Caleb Daniels, Collin Gillespie and Eric Dixon talk
These three Villanova players were the first to speak to the media.
Daniels expressed what a blessing and an honor it was to be here, given that he is from the area. Being able to become the player he is today, he said, comes from his teammates holding him accountable just as he holds them accountable. Consistency is the key.
Gillespie said he didn’t play post at all in high school, but learned to do it by playing one-on-one with his family and then starting to do it when he arrived at Villanova . He thanks Jalen Brunson for helping him a lot. It’s an invaluable tool for the Wildcats, using it there. He feels it has become natural for him now, and it has also helped him defend it by finding ways to take advantage of it on the attacking side.
Dixon said it meant everything to have Justin Moore with them for this Final Four experience. Gillespie said the same thing, and that it was more about basketball and they wanted to make sure he was okay. Daniels has described Moore as a real brother to them, and it gives them extra confidence to have him around.
Gillespie could tell right away that Daniels was someone who could help Villanova, from the first time the two played one-on-one. Daniels even got up 13-0 over Gillespie in that match, although Daniels admitted that Gillespie ended up winning it and getting the better of him in their series.
All three discussed how they felt about Kansas as a team. Dixon said they were tough. Gillespie said they are really well trained, he knows Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun and David McCormack and Remy Martin is a dynamic scorer off the bench. Daniels considers the Jayhawks well balanced and well trained, and expects a physical battle for 40 minutes.
Brandon Slater, Chris Arcidiacono, Jermaine Samuels and Bryan Antoine talk
These four Villanova players were next.
Slater said it was something special, for the community he came from, for himself and for others, to be on that stage in New Orleans. They don’t talk about it much during the season. However, after the season, he indicates that they will.
Arcidiacono described Kansas as a unique team unlike any other team they’ve faced this season. He added that they play hard, physical and fast. He said Villanova will have to play their brand of basketball for 40 minutes and bounce back as well.
Samuels also doesn’t think there’s a team in the Big East Conference or their non-conference schedule that’s similar to Kansas. He thinks David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot give the Jayhawks great forward ground, and that Remy Martin makes them capable of being explosive offensively. He added that Kansas is a No. 1 seed for a reason.
Samuels also said it was tough not having Moore available, but the other guys on the team are also ready to compete. They worked themselves, even if the public does not see it.
Samuels remembers a game a few seasons ago against Kansas that was electric, and the Jayhawks players on that team got better. And that means Kansas is experienced.
For Arcidiacono and Antoine, given that they don’t have Moore, what they have to do is keep doing what their coach asks of them. Arcidiacono added that it was not just up to them, and that there were others who would step in.
Samuels considers it an honor to be on a Final Four stage with blue blood programs like Kansas, Duke and North Carolina. Since he started watching basketball, he’s seen these teams reach the Final Four. It’s a tribute to the guys who came before him at Villanova to be on that stage, and he plays for them.
Jay Wright speaks
Villanova’s head coach was next.
In his opening statement, Wright talked about how exciting it is to be part of the Final Four and how thrilled he is to be in New Orleans. He said they had good practice as they started to feel more comfortable without Moore available. Kansas will be one of the fastest teams Villanova has played, and he knows the Jayhawks are smart because they’re a Bill Self-coached team.
If there are one or two players, Wright thinks he has to stop, because Kansas is playing backwards, he should say David McCormack and Ochai Agbaji. But then, Wright pointed out, there’s also Remy Martin coming off the bench. There’s also Jalen Wilson, who Wright described as being like Josh Hart but taller.
Speaking about the consistency of Self’s teams, Wright said they always play hard and are outstanding defensively. And, he repeated, the Jayhawks are still smart.
Wright hopes the way Villanova displays his guards can be effective against Kansas, especially if they don’t have Moore available. However, while Wright knows the Wildcats get a lot of credit for that, that’s only part of what they do. He thinks they’ll have to get creative with how they do it against the Jayhawks, but they can be successful without it.
There are a lot of good feelings about coming to the Final Four, but something that really warms the heart for Wright was seeing Daniels go on the Daniels journey and be in that position. Wright noted how the pandemic has affected Daniels individually, when it comes to contracting COVID-19. Wright emphasized Daniels’ faith and mental toughness.
Wright wasn’t surprised to hear about the one-on-one match between Gillespie and Daniels, or how it went. He’d love to see these two face off now, because of everything Daniels has developed – especially defensively – in that time.
Wright is thrilled to be on stage with blue blood programs like Kansas and North Carolina and Duke. The tournament is all about playing the best basketball right now, and he thinks all three of those programs are. He doesn’t aspire to be a Blue Blood, but enjoys hearing others consider Villanova to be on the same level as them.
Wright considers the current Kansas team to be very different from the one that made the Final Four in 2018. He thinks that game four years ago was just one of those games where a team does a ton of shots. It reminds him of the games this season that Villanova lost to Creighton and Baylor.
Mitch Lightfoot, Dajuan Harris Jr. and Ochai Agbaji talk
These three Kansas players were next.
Both Agbaji and Lightfoot mentioned how difficult it was to lose in the Round of 16 last season and have to watch other teams do their shopping. They knew making a run this season meant taking things game by game.
Agbaji also explained what it means to have local guys on the team leading to a Final Four. He said that speaks volumes about the Kansas City area’s basketball talent.
Agbaji added that Remy Martin brings a lot of energy to the bench and gives them a dynamic look offensively which is different. Harris and Lightfoot added to that, okay. Lightfoot noted that Martin’s energy is contagious.
Harris said length will be important in this game. He noted that he might not be the tallest player, but he had long arms.
Lightfoot understands that physicality is going to be a big part of this game, and both teams do that. He knows that both parties appreciate him.
Lightfoot also understands this because the other Final Four game is Duke vs. North Carolina, and that leads to a number of different storylines. He said it was okay if there were fewer people watching the game between Kansas and Villanova, and he knew how focused his team was on that.
Regarding David McCormack, Lightfoot said McCormack is doing a great job staying ready. He added that McCormack had no complaints at all about all the work he had to do to stay ready despite his injury. He knows McCormack will go to great lengths to be available in games like this.
From experience, Agbaji said it goes a long way. This helps teammates understand each other’s plays. This helps the team gel in general. This team is battle tested due to the games they have played this season.
On the advice of NIL, Agbaji said to do what you believe in.
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas athletics at the Topeka Capital-Journal. Reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.