For the 12th time in the storied history of Carolina Basketball, the Tar Heels will compete for the national championship tonight in New Orleans, the same site where they won titles in 1982, and 1993. Their opponent, like Carolina, is a college basketball blue blood, as the Kansas Jayhawks will seek their first championship since 2008. The two programs have met in the NCAA Tournament before, with Carolina securing their first NCAA title over Kansas back in 1957. UNC was 1-1 against Kansas under Dean Smith when the Jayhawks were coached by Roy Williams. Under Roy Williams, Carolina was 0-3 against Kansas in the Big Dance, losing to Kansas in the 2008 Final Four, before Kansas topped Memphis for the title two nights later.
This isn’t the best Kansas team Bill Self has taken to the Final Four, as he’s done one of the best coaching jobs of his legendary career. Kansas once again won the Big 12 regular season, align with winning the Big 12 tournament, on their way to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They are led by All-America, Ochai Agbagi, who leads the team in scoring at nearly 19 points per game. In addition to the production of their All-American, Kansas has four total players that average double figures, as they have a balanced, potent offensive attack. Kansas advanced to the national title game, after taking down Villanova 81-65 on Saturday night. The last two times the Jayhawks played for the national championship in the Big Easy, they fell short, losing to Syracuse (2003), and Kentucky (2012).
The Tar Heels may be an 8 seed, but make no mistake, this isn’t a Cinderella run from Carolina. All week long Hubert Davis and his players maintained that they are where they belong, and they validated that with the win over Duke on Saturday night. As emotional as that win was for all involved, the challenge now becomes turning their attention to a tough Kansas team, and finish this run with One Shining Moment later tonight.
Two months ago, it wasn’t likely that the Tar Heels would even be competing in the NCAA Tournament, and now they are on the brink of winning the program’s 8th national championship. This turnaround by the players and coaching staff has been very surprising, but equally fulfilling watching the program play at the level we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. It has been led by Armando Bacot who will suit up tonight, after spraining his ankle in the final moments of the win over Duke. Caleb Love has become the type of big-time player we knew he could be upon committing as a 5-star recruit. Brady Manek has proven to be the right transfer for Carolina, as Hubert Davis quickly adapted to the ever-changing scene of college athletics. Tonight, they all 3 have a chance to write their names into the long storied history of Carolina Basketball forever:
Contain Ogbagi: The All-American hadn’t had the NCAA Tournament he was hoping for until arriving in New Orleans, where he poured in six three-pointers against the Wildcats. He is the focal point of the offensive attack for the Jayhawks, despite them having multiple double-digit scorers. You can imagine that Leaky Black will draw the assignment for Agbagi tonight, and there is reason to believe that he will be able to slow him down, as Black has clamped down every scorer he’s been tasked with during this run to the national championship game.
Stay Out of Foul Trouble: Kansas like most opponents during the tournament has more depth than Carolina and will spend a lot of time trying to get Carolina’s “Iron 5” on the bench. Foul issues became an issue in the game against Duke, as Armando Bacot fouled out, and multiple others had at least 4 fouls. Hubert Davis has relied on his starters to get the team to this point in the season, and he’s going to need every possible minute he can get once again tonight. That is only possible if they play defense without fouling.
Make Perimeter Shots: In Carolina’s run to the national title game, they have made double-digit three-pointers in 4 of the 5 games so far. The sweet spot has been making anywhere from 8-10 a game all season long, and they’ll need to get in that area again tonight. For most of the tournament, it has been either Love or Davis in the backcourt, along with Manek making the shots from behind the arc. It would be nice if all three players could be on tonight, but UNC will need at least two of them to make shots from the perimeter, soften up the Jayhawks defense, and better attack the rim.
Rebounding: If Carolina can win the rebounding battle, they can wear down the opponent, and better control the pace of the game. With Bacot in the lineup, you can expect to grab his fair share of rebounds, so Carolina will need the other members of the Iron 5 to get to the glass as they did against Duke. Carolina did allow 15 offensive rebounds on Saturday night, a number too high if they hope to be the team celebrating after the final horn.
UNC in the National Championship Game: This is the 12th time Carolina has played for the national title, with a 6-5 record in their previous 11 championship game appearances. Carolina won both national titles under Dean Smith in the same building as tonight’s venue. A win tonight would give Carolina 8 national championships, tying them with Kentucky for the second-most in college basketball.
Series History: Carolina is 6-5 all-time against the Jayhawks, with KU winning the last 3 contests. In the NCAA Tournament, Carolina is only 2-4, but their biggest win came in the 1957 national championship game, which secured the Tar Heels a perfect season and established the program on a national level.
UNC - 16th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.7 (18th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.7 (39th)
Kansas - 3rd overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 119.6 (6th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 92.0 (17th)
TV Info: Tonight’s game will tip at 9:20 PM on TBS.
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