SAN ANTONIO (AP) A shaft of positionless basketball has conquered the nation. Coaches have charged losers with smaller, athletic players shooting 3-pointers and defending defenders from the dribble. Three, sometimes four, Guard ranks have become the norm, free-flowing the way.
This year's Final Four teams certainly fit the form. These last four also have something else in common: Experienced tall men who keep the defense honest, grab rebounds and protect the rim with all these smaller guys.
Villanova has Omari Spellman, Kansas Udoka Azubuike. Moe Wagner is Michigans man in the middle and the strong freshman Cameron Krutwig anchored the color for Loyola-Chicago.
These four are a big reason why these four are in San Antonio this weekend. [1
Wright's Wildcats are similar in composition to their 2016 title team. This group had a group mostly in the 6ft, 3ft, 6ft, 8st row who could play multiple positions and shoot lights. In the middle was Daniel Ocefu, an athletic 6-11 senior who could play with his back to the basket or make room for short jumpers. The defense had to pay attention to Ochefu in the middle to release Villanova's shooters, and he was the rimsguard the Wildcats needed.
Spellman played a similar role – with a twist.
He gives Villanova an inside offense presence and is a high-flying defense blocker, just like Ochefu. But the 6-9 redshirt freshman also contributes from the perimeter and hits 45 percent of his shots from the 3-point arc. He was 4 for 7 on 3 in the Sweet 16 and helped Villanova a harsh win over West Virginia.
"There are so many playmakers who can come into the alley and so many big boys who can reach out and hit the 3," said Villanova guard Jalen Brunson. "It's just mutual, we have the ability to do it, it's all unique, they have big boys who are capable of making games for themselves and others, I just like how complete we are. "
Wagner has a similar influence on Michigan.
The 6-11 German Junior is a clever indoor player with good footwork and a variety of moves. He can also leave the 3 and lead the nation among players 6-11 or above with 59 this season.
Moritz maneuvers inside and outside the opening opens the perimeter, where the Wolverines achieve more than 43 percent of their points. His agility also gives Michigan several options in his swarm defense.
"Being able to have a versatile big one is huge because they can clean up the floor," said Michigan freshman guard Jordan Poole. "We do not feel we have any match issues, but holding a 5 but holding a 2-guard is definitely great for our defense principles and gives us plenty of options."
Azubuike and Krutwig No Perimeter Shooters are a stretch, yet they are perfect for their teams.
Azubuike is a load in at 7-foot, 280 pounds and plays with an aggressiveness that forces teams to double crew or least against the Nigerian big man. Kansas coach Bill Self likes to work the ball from the inside, and Azubuike's ability to make his way to the edge frees the Jayhawks shooter.
Azubuike led the nation with 77 percent, hitting an incredible 82 percent over his last 11 games. He is also a force on the offensive glass, flying for blocked shots when his teammates are hit by the dribble.
"They are really making it very hard for you," said Spellman of Kansas. "They have four guys who go off dribbling and make great games, they have a big guy in the middle, 7 feet, just insulting, bouncing back all they miss and sealing the edge, we do the same, but it's hard to watch. "
Krutwig's clumsiness makes Loyola a strong guard.
The Ramblers rely on fast ball movements and sharp cuts, often playing with four guards on the pitch the same time. Krutwig makes it impossible for the defenders to ally themselves on the 3-point line.
A vigorous 6-9, Krutwig plays a bruise, often contacting. He has a variety of old-school up-and-under moves around the basket and is a skilled passer by the post office whipping balls to the Ramblers' cache of shooters.
"We play four guards at once, so if you have people who can clear the ground and have a selfless group, dominoes start," said Loyola Swingman Donte Ingram. "If you have a post-threat like Cameron, it makes us a very balanced team."
This Final Four has four of them, thanks to their great men.
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston of Philadelphia has contributed to this report.
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