Updated: Apr 27, 2022
Kansas and North Carolina will play in the National Championship game on Monday, ending our first "normal" Final Four since 2019. Both teams were able to pull out victories in different ways on Saturday to get to the final game, and this National Championship game could be one that goes down in history.
The environment and scene in New Orleans on Saturday night was something that fans of college basketball deserved after having this event completely canceled in 2020 and held with COVID-19 restrictions in 2021. After the Final Four lived up to the expectations in a big way, this grand finale has a tough act to follow.
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How Kansas Got Here:
By no fault of their own, Kansas drew a relatively favorable path to end up in this position. Kansas will be playing for the chance to raise a National Championship banner, after already capturing the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles. The Jayhawks were the only No. 1 seed in this tournament to reach the Final Four, and with that comes pressure and expectations.
Kansas is somewhat fortunate to get past a Creighton team without their top rim protector Ryan Kalkbrenner, and may not have advanced if it wasn’t for Remy Martin exploding with 20 points. Following that, Kansas was unimpressive in their Sweet 16 victory against Providence, but a turning point struck following a lackluster first half against Miami. Despite their stature as both a No. 1 seed and the Big 12 regular season and tournament champions, there hadn’t been many recent moments where Kansas had looked National Championship good. That changed in the Elite Eight, when Kansas outscored Miami 47-15 in the second half, leading to a blowout victory.
That momentum continued against Villanova, when Kansas got out to a 10-0 lead and never trailed for the remainder of the game. The blueprint for Kansas for a while now has been, “Remy Martin is the X factor and he needs to play well in order for Kansas to win.” That blueprint did not play out in the Final Four, as Martin finished with only 3 points and Kansas still dominated the game. The difference was that Kansas’ other top players stepped up in a major way. Saturday was the best David McCormack has looked wearing a Kansas uniform since arriving in 2018. The senior finished with 25 points and 9 rebounds, totally dominating Villanova down low. Bill Self went into this game knowing that Kansas had the major advantage down low, against a slim Villanova front court and a priority was made to get the ball there.
Kansas won’t have the luxury against North Carolina, assuming their rebounding machine Armando Bacot is ready to go after briefly leaving their game with an ankle injury.
Ochai Agbaji getting going was also a massive key for Kansas. After struggling early in the tournament, Agbaji's best performance came Saturday against Villanova, where he shot 6 of 7 from three against Villanova, marking his second straight game with 18+ points. Bill Self will need to get Ochai going, as he isn’t necessarily a player that is at his best creating on his own.
That is one of the fears for Kansas going into this game, if Remy Martin doesn’t have it again, do they have someone else able to make something out of nothing? Bill Self will be going for his second National Championship trophy, 10 years after losing to Kentucky in the title game, in the same Superdome that this game will be played.
Self has had a few March hiccups but has also established himself as an elite coach in this sport and has done a great job coaching this team.
Kansas has played their best basketball of the season in their last 60 minutes on the floor and will have momentum rolling heading into the last hoorah.
How North Carolina Got Here:
North Carolina’s backcourt of Caleb Love and RJ Davis have had some up and down moments over the course of the season. One thing about them though is you will never question their ability to go out there and make things happen. Love and Davis combined for 36 points in the victory, and each guard stepped up at a different point in the game. The narrative going into this game for many was “How could Duke lose to North Carolina again, to end Coach K’s career?” What wasn’t mentioned much was that after underachieving for a majority of the season, the Tar Heels have started to play their best basketball, at just the right time.
That victory for the Tar Heels was all part of a magical first NCAA Tournament for Hubert Davis. They blew out Marquette in the opener, which set up a game with the defending National Champions, Baylor. North Carolina started the game on absolute fire, finding themselves up by 25 points with approximately 9 minutes to play. That is when Brady Manek got ejected on a very questionable Flagrant 2 foul, and the whole game flipped. Caleb Love also fouled out of the game, before the game went into overtime and all hope looked lost, yet Carolina found a way to win. Any team that blows a 25 point deficit to the defending National Champions, while playing in their home state and still finds a way to win is mentally tough. The Tar Heels lacked that mental toughness early in the season, and seeing their growth and improvement through the last month, has been a pleasure to watch.
Caleb Love has had an up and down first two years at North Carolina, but has emerged into a star in this tournament. Love has put Carolina on his back, leading them to wins over UCLA and Duke with a handful of clutch shots. That included the dagger with about 30 seconds left, to give North Carolina the lead for good. North Carolina didn’t play well at all in the first half and were lucky to be heading to the locker room only down by three points. The only reason why North Carolina was able to stay in the game during the first half was RJ Davis and his tough shot making ability. Davis was due for a big game, considering he has been relatively quiet since his 30 point outburst in the Round of 32 against Baylor. Brady Manek, who was averaging 20 points per game in the Tournament heading into the Final Four only had 14, but everything was contested and those points all came at massive moments in the game.
On Monday Night, the matchup that determines everything will be down low between Brady Manek and Armando Bacot. Bacot has recorded a double-double in each of North Carolina’s past seven games and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Bacot has made two hustle plays in this tournament at crucial moments that have directly led to massive plays and swings for the Tar Heels. There is some concern whether Bacot will be at full strength heading into Monday Night, as he left the game briefly against Duke, with an ankle injury. Both big men playing on Monday Night, were able to take advantage of their matchup in the Final Four, and if either one could do it again, then their team will most likely come out on top.
The one concern for North Carolina of late has been depth, as they have been going with their starting five for a majority of the game, without much bench contribution. Despite having a No. 8 seed next to their name, North Carolina has been ready for any moment, no matter how big. This team's uncanny ability to always make plays in the clutch, is what has separated them from the rest.
Bill Self is due for another National Championship and it would be poetic for it to occur in New Orleans, 10 years after losing to Anthony Davis and Kentucky. With that being said, there is no one playing better than North Carolina right now. Will Kansas be able to match their last 60 minutes of basketball against a North Carolina team that is playing this well?
Kansas has played some close games in this tournament, but have yet to be really tested with nerves and pressure late. The opposite can be said about North Carolina, considering how many close games they have already played in throughout the big dance.
Even with some paranoia of a possible emotional letdown, this North Carolina team will be locked in and ready to win a National Championship, to close out a run for the ages.
North Carolina 70, Kansas 67