Coast to Coast: College basketball National Championship edition
The NCAA Tournament draws to a close tonight as two of the sports’ bluest blue bloods face off in New Orleans. Kansas Head Coach Bill Self will lead his troops out against the North Carolina squad that ended Coach K’s storied career over the weekend.
Let’s dive into how they got here and where they’re going.
What a run it’s been for the Jayhawks, who pummeled Villanova 81-65 on their way to the national championship game. Senior guard Ochai Agbaji dropped in 6-of-7 threes and senior forward David McCormack added a cool 25 points to end any hopes the undermanned Wildcats had of securing their third title in the last six years.
Kansas seems to have hit its stride at the right time, as it squeaked by Creighton and Providence in the second and third rounds of March Madness before blowing out its last two opponents. Miami came face-to-face with the full potential of this team as the Jayhawks went on a 47-15 run in the second half to win.
If Kansas can play the way it has for the last two games, there might not be a team in the country that can stop it. But the Tar Heels might have something to say about that.
No sixth championship for Coach K as North Carolina squeaked past Duke 81-77 Saturday.
The Tar Heels flashed the kind of dominant two-way play that has carried them to the national showcase, as sophomore guard Caleb Love shined when the pressure was highest. A clutch 3-pointer from Love when they were down 75-74 kept them up for good, and the point guard hit three out of his four free throws after that point to ice the game.
It hasn’t been an easy path to the championship for North Carolina, as it dispatched No. 1 seeded Baylor and St. Peter’s, the most successful 15-seed in NCAA history.
Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek has shared the load on offense with Love, supplementing a defense dominant since March 1. Junior forward Armando Bacot, who was named to the first-team All-ACC, has led the way off the glass, posting the most double-doubles in the ACC since Tim Duncan.
In a game on the biggest stage in college hoops, experience wins out as Self leads Kansas to its fourth NCAA title. While Tar Heels Head Coach Hubert Davis has had a remarkable first season, Self has been doing this for a few more years. He’ll game-plan to perfection, shutting down Love and Manek with his experienced cast. The Jayhawks are used to dealing with Manek, as the forward spent four years at Oklahoma before transferring.
While much has been said of North Carolina’s outstanding starting five, almost no attention has been paid to its bench. When Kansas makes a concerted effort to foul its first five out, it’ll be that bench that will have to contend with a Jayhawks team that ranks No. 6 in adjusted offensive efficiency rankings per Kenpom.
Watch for a resurgent Agbaji to continue his hot shooting on his way to Final Four MVP honors.
What would this title mean for both squads?
For Kansas, this title would finally vindicate all the top seeds and Big-12 championships the Jayhawks have racked up under Self. A second title would put Self among truly elite company in NCAA basketball history, a deserved honor for a man who has mastered the regular season.
For super-senior point guard Remy Martin, a title would be the perfect ending to a rocky season at Kansas after transferring from Arizona State. For the Jayhawks’ first-team All-American, Agbaji, a title would be the ultimate cherry on the cake for a player that went from a 247Sports 3-star recruit to a National Player of the Year candidate.
For North Carolina, a title would ring in a new era of basketball under Davis. Following Roy Williams was never going to be easy, but a title in your first year would do quite nicely. A team of underrated journeymen would finally get their due praise.
Love deserves much praise for his elevated game in the post-season. Senior guard Leaky Black has never gotten the recognition a man of his two-way talents deserves. Even Manek’s transformation from Larry Bird-look alike to mountain man would get its time in the sun after a Tar Heel title.
Yoav Gillath is a freshman writing about NBA and NCAA basketball. His column, “Coast to Coast,” runs every other Tuesday.