One more night. The goal of every men’s and women’s Division I college basketball team is to be playing on the final night of the season.
While for many of the one-bid and mid-major league schools reaching the Final is a pipe dream, the basketball bluebloods view a season’s success or failure in getting to — or not getting to — the final game. Kansas becomes the fifth school to reach the championship game ten times while North Carolina ties Kentucky and UCLA with its 12th appearance in the final game.
The Jayhawks and Tar Heels have been intertwined ever since UNC beat KU 54-53 in overtime to win the 1957 National Championship (Wilt Chamberlain tallied 23 points with 14 rebounds in defeat but was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player). Dean Smith played at Kansas before his Hall of Fame coaching career at North Carolina. One of his longtime Tar Heel assistants Roy Williams took the Kansas job in 1988 and returned to Chapel Hill 15 years later, eventually leading UNC to three NCAA titles (one more than Dean). And now after retiring last March, Roy watches his successor Hubert Davis face the man who succeeded him at Kansas (Bill Self) for the title.
Kansas (33-6) vs. North Carolina (29-9), 9:20 p.m.
How they got here- The Jayhawks were ranked third in the Preseason and remained in the top ten for the entire season and tied for first in the Big 12 before winning the Conference Tournament championship. After getting the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional Kansas won three of its five NCAA Tournament games by double digits, including their 81-65 triumph over Villanova Saturday night. The Tar Heels were ranked 19th in the Preseason but stumbled early and often, including a 29-point loss to Kentucky, a 22-point defeat to Wake Forest, and a 20-point drubbing at home to Duke on Feb. 5. But since then the Heels have won 13 of 15, including one win over the Blue Devils that spoiled Coach K’s final game at Cameron and Saturday’s 81-77 victory that sent Krzyzewski into retirement.
Players to Watch- Kansas is led by guards Ochai Agbaji (19 points and 5 rebounds per game) and Christian Braun (14 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists) while forward Jalen Wilson (11 points and 8 rebounds per game) does the heavy lifting inside. He’ll have his hands full with North Carolina double-double machine Armando Bacot who averages 16 points and 13 rebounds per game after netting 11 and 21 Saturday against Duke. Perimeter threats include Caleb Love (28 points including the game-sealing three against Duke) and Brady Manek is a matchup nightmare that is six-foot-nine while shooting 40% from three-point range.
Keys to the Game- Can the Tar Heels settle down after an emotional victory over their arch-rival? Will the Jayhawks be able to contain UNC’s offense that’s averaging 82 points during the tournament?
Presto’s Pick–Kansas 78, North Carolina 71.
Meanwhile, the South Carolina Women wrapped up a dominant season and incredible NCAA Tournament run with a 64-49 win over UConn, holding the Huskies to 41% shooting and 4-16 from three-point range while outrebounding them 49-24. Senior Destanni Henderson scored 26 points to capture Most Outstanding Player honors while junior Aliyah Boston added 11 points and 16 rebounds. Coach Dawn Staley returns the bulk of her rotation including National Player of the year Boston.