UNC vs Kansas Put Bow on Season
This was not the title game that people were predicting, but the North Carolina vs Kansas showdown in the NCAA Tournament championship game certainly delivered in so many ways.
The suggestion that North Carolina would have a hangover after sending Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski into retirement with an emotional victory in the national semifinals seems laughable now with the way the Tar Heels played on Monday night.
The only regret is that the teams were limited to 40 minutes because the UNC vs Kansas matchup was the type of game that seemed to get better as time progressed.
Good to the Last Shot
From an artistic standpoint, the North Carolina vs. Kansas game won’t go down as one of the great finals in NCAA men’s basketball March Madness history, but in terms of two teams leaving it all out on the court, this was a classic confrontation.
The 20 assists and 11 made 3-pointers are an indication of how difficult the two defenses made it to get things done.
Kansas regrouped at halftime after trailing 40-25 and started to have success scoring around the rim, which was certainly not the case in the first half.
Players on both teams were making tough shots in the final five minutes. In the end, it was David McCormack making the final two shots to give Kansas the 72-69 victory in a classic UNC vs Kansas showdown.
In the era of the transfer portal, keeping players for four seasons can be challenging even for the best programs.
Kansas’ starting five featured four-year contributors McCormack (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Ochai Agbaji (12 points) and a three-year player in Christian Braun. Fifth-year senior Mitch Lightfoot was asked to play seven tough minutes off the bench when McCormack was either in foul trouble or needed a break.
This is the era of the one-and-done player and the top three players in the upcoming NBA Draft could all end up being college freshmen, but this was a reminder that there is a place in the game for players who stay for the long haul.
Bacot Battled to the End
If one scene stood out from Monday’s title game, it was North Carolina’s Armando Bacot on the bench overcome by emotion.
The junior forward suffered an ankle injury in the national semifinals that might sideline a lesser competitor. Bacot fought through the pain to finish with 15 points and 15 rebounds before he re-injured the ankle late in the game and had to come off the court.
Bacot could only watch as McCormack hit two late baskets. Bacot struggled to hit shots during the Final Four but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. In his last five tournament games, he had 16, 15, 22, 21 and 15 rebounds.
Good Calls by Manek, Martin
With all due respect to the Oklahoma and Arizona State programs, there can’t be any questioning that North Carolina’s Brady Manek and Remy Martin of Kansas made the decision to finish their careers elsewhere.
Manek, who battled against Kansas in eight games during his four seasons at Oklahoma, had 13 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots in the title game. His offense was harder to come by in the second half, although he had a key layup after one of his five offensive rebounds in the final two minutes. He also had a pair of clutch free throws as the Tar Heels kept Kansas from pulling away.
Martin came off the bench to score 11 of his 14 points in the second half. He made all four of his shots, including three 3-pointers after halftime, as Kansas erased a 16-point lead, the largest comeback in NCAA men’s Division I championship game history.
They might have started their collegiate careers elsewhere, but Manek and Martin were pivotal players in this UNC vs Kansas heavyweight battle.
The Real Winner(s): the Fans
This had the feeling of a heavyweight title fight more than a basketball game. North Carolina came out throwing haymakers, especially during a 16-0 run to break open a tie game.
Kansas withstood the body shots and came charging out of the locker room after halftime. Before the midway point of the second half, the once-comfortable North Carolina lead was gone, setting the stage for an action-packed race to the finish between the two blue-blood programs.
In a rather chaotic season, it seemed like the perfect way to wrap things up.
There will be some holes to fill especially on the Kansas side of things.
Agbaji, the Big 12 Player of the Year, will leave a huge hole to fill, as will Martin. Thanks to the COVID rules granting an additional season of eligibility, McCormack could return for the Jayhawks. The 2022-23 Kansas Jayhawks figure to be led by rising juniors Jalen Wilson and Dajuan Harris as well as junior Christian Braun.
The only seniors in the rotation for North Carolina were Manek and Leaky Black, who deserves a ton of credit for his defense on Agbaji, especially during that first-half run.
If Bacot as well as sophomore guards Caleb Love and R.J. Davis all return, the Tar Heels could be one of the teams to beat next season.
Puff Johnson, who had a huge effort off the bench in the title game, figures to see a more expanded role.