Beltway Basketball Beat: Bracket Racket XIX — Putting a bow on a memorable March

Wow. Quite a comeback. And one fantastic finish.

A great National Championship game is no guarantee (just look at last year), but Kansas and North Carolina delivered a classic Monday when the Jayhawks rallied from 16 points down to beat the Tar Heels 72-69. The key for Kansas was being able to chip away at the Carolina lead coming out of intermission, making 13-17 shots while scoring 30 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half after being held to 25 points in the first half. It looked like they were delivering the knockout blow, but UNC wasn’t done just yet. They rallied to make this a nail-biter that wasn’t decided until Caleb Love’s three-pointer with one second left came up short.

Kansas celebrates with the trophy after their win against North Carolina in a college basketball game at the finals of the Men’s Final Four NCAA tournament, Monday, April 4, 2022, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Was UNC over-exhausted, physically and/or emotionally? The Tar Heels were less than 48 hours removed from defeating archrival Duke in a game where two of their starters played 40 minutes, another played 38, and a fourth played 36 minutes. It was on those legs that they shot 11-40 (28%) in the second half and made just 5-23 threes (22%) on the night. This team was out of gas and felt like it was missing a wheel at the end of 40 minutes.

But the fact that the Tar Heels even got out of the first weekend as a No. 8 seed in the same bracket as the defending national champs was a major achievement. Believe it or not, there was a time in February when it looked as though UNC might not even make the field. And they have the forever feather in their cap in spoiling Coach K’s retirement party — not once but twice. But just like the other 356 schools that didn’t play Monday, North Carolina will be asking itself what it needs to do to between now and next fall to be in better shape to have a better season next winter.

Maryland and George Washington have new coaching regimes in place, and with the transfer portal, it’s easier to microwave a roster nowadays. Georgetown looks to bounce back from a nightmare of a season while dealing with a reshuffled coaching staff and a minimum of four departures from its roster. American didn’t go winless in the Patriot League, but the Eagles haven’t played in the Conference Tournament Semifinals since 2016. Coach Kim English enters his first true offseason at George Mason. Catholic and Kenny Blakeney look to build on perhaps the best season inside the beltway, knowing that incredible progress has been made but one winter does not a program make. Virginia and Virginia Tech will go back to the drawing board with each team knowing they beat Duke during Coach K’s final run, but there’s more to a successful season than beating the Blue Devils. Richmond and VCU will reload as well and gear up for at least two showdowns at Siegel and Robins Center next winter.

But before we move on to 2022-23 (there’s nothing I look forward to less than the “Way too early Top 25” or “Bracketology” in May), let’s celebrate what was. Because even though Kansas won the National Championship, schools like Saint Peter’s and Miami won March with incredible runs in the Tournament and I got to witness underdogs like Richmond and Delaware punch their tickets to the Big Dance thanks to improbable conference tournament runs.

We were treated to great theater over the last month — make that the last five months. Rest easy this offseason. Enjoy a book or two by the pool. Get outside and breathe the fresh air. When the time is right this November, I’ll see you courtside.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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