For those of you that took the time to fill out your brackets before the NCAA tournament started, I wonder how many of you had North Carolina facing Kansas for the National Championship on Monday night. It has been that kind of a tournament with so many twists and turns with all the early round upsets. In the end, it will be two “blue bloods” playing for the title on championship Monday. Kansas, the only #1 seed to advance all the way to the title game, will meet the Tar Heels, an #8 seed, who had to survive not only the darlings of the tournament in St. Peters in the Elite-8 but then had to take out a bitter conference rival in Duke to make it to Monday night.
The Jayhawks (33-6) will be making their 10th appearance in the title game and will be looking for their fourth national title when they take the floor in New Orleans. It will be the third time they will do so under head coach Bill Self. On Saturday night, the Jayhawks were in attack mode in their semifinal matchup with Villanova racing out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back. They took advantage of their size and strength inside against the smaller Wildcats all night long which allowed them to lead the game for all but 19 seconds of it. Nova did make a run at stealing the game late in the second half getting to within six by making long-distance shots. When Kansas needed to make a defensive stop to keep the Wildcats at bay, they did. The Jayhawks’ stars came up big in this one as David McCormack had a big night of 25 points with nine rebounds. Jalen Wilson came through with a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds. For Wilson, it was his seventh double-double of the season and the third of the tournament. He now has double-digit rebounds in four straight games.
North Carolina (29-9) made it to Monday night by going through a conference and tobacco road rival in Duke. How sweet it must be for fans of Carolina blue to watch their team beat the Blue Devils in coach Krzyzewski’s final home game. Then do it again in his final game on the Duke sideline. Carolina did it by shooting 42% from the field, and 38% from 3-point land. They outrebounded the Blue Devils by nine (50-41). Their stars also came through when needed. Caleb Lowe had 28 points on 11-of-20 from the field and 3-10 from deep. RJ Davis had 18 points and four assists, and Brady Manek chipped in 14 points on 3-of-6 from, and 3-point land. Amando Bacot had a monster game of 11 points and 21 boards, his 26th double-double of the season. He went toe to toe with Duke’s big men and stayed out of foul trouble. In the end, he won the battle. Carolina scored only 26 points in the paint (Duke had 48) but when they went inside, Barcot was there to finish. Where the Tar Heels did well was on second-chance points outscoring Duke 22-17. Head coach Hubert Davis became the fourth coach all-time to lead his team to the championship game in his first season as coach.
What becomes interesting about Monday night’s title game is the way that both North Carolina and Kansas got there. Both teams relied on their starters throughout. The Jayhawks only got five points off their bench and two players saw little time. UNC got only two points off the bench as Davis rode his starters for almost the entire second half. This will be a game won by the better starting five as well as the group that can stay out of foul trouble. Kansas must be able to defend the perimeter, while North Carolina must find a way to hold their own on the glass. Whoever can do their part will be cutting down the nets late on Monday night.
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