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The NCAA men’s basketball national championship game will feature two of the top schools in the history of the game in Kansas and North Carolina.
The Jayhawks are bringing their three national championships to the table looking for a fourth one and their first since 2008. The Tar Heels are searching for a seventh national title while having previously won in 2017.
Kansas came into the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed and are the last No. 1 seed left. The Jayhawks defeated Texas Southern, Creighton, Providence, Miami (FL) and Villanova to get to the national final. Kansas put Villanova in the Final Four on Saturday night and won the game easily 81-65.
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North Carolina came into the NCAA tournament as the No. 8 seed but were riding a wave of momentum winning their final eight of 10 games and managed to secure a place in the tournament despite failing to make an appearance in the ACC Championship. The Tar Heels defeated Marquette, Baylor, UCLA, Saint Peter’s and handed Mike Krzyzewski and Duke their final loss.
North Carolina coach Hubert Davis is in an interesting spot coming into the national championship. Davis has a chance to follow Steve Fisher in winning a national title in his first-ever season as a head coach. Fisher did it for Michigan in 1989.
Davis was also on the 1991 team that lost in the Final Four in Kansas. Davis scored 25 points in the game, leading all scorers but the Tar Heels failed to win. Kansas would go on to lose to Duke in that game – Krzyzewski’s first national championship.
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“Prior to us winning the national championship in 2017, from 1991 to 2017, I had watched that game at least once every year,” Davis said of the ’91 game on Sunday.
“It’s the best team that I ever played with, with (King Rice) and (Rick Fox) and Pete Chilcutt as the seniors and George Lynch, we were as connected as this team is connected now. And we really felt like we had a chance to win the national championship and we came up short. And that was a game that Coach Smith got two technical fouls and got kicked out, and it was an emotional game and an emotional end to a season.
“And playing at Carolina, the thing, for me, that I always wanted was to cut down those nets as a player. And we were so close and weren’t able to be able to have that experience. And that was the toughest loss that I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. And thankful that I had an experience that — or an opportunity to be an assistant coach and be part of this again and to be able, as an assistant coach, be part of the championship of 2017. But that loss was a hard one to take.”
Bill Self took over at Kansas after Roy Williams left for the North Carolina job and helped transform the Jayhawks into a perennial powerhouse of a team each year. However, Self only has one championship to his credit – in 2008 when the team topped Memphis in overtime.
“We’ve had some really terrific seasons and some great teams that came up short. And I do think that when you have as many good teams as we’ve had — at most places winning one national championship would be quite an accomplishment – – I think as many good teams as we’ve had, one’s not enough,” Self said Sunday.
“And so I don’t think that I personally feel pressure that we have to win. But I do know that when you have a chance to coach at a place where you have an opportunity to be in the game most years, you need to take advantage of that more than we have.”
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Kansas was on course to get the No. 1 seed in the 2020 tournament and was a favorite to win until the COVID pandemic derailed everything.
“It was tough for everybody. I mean, that was just a tough year all around for everybody, no matter what you did as a profession. Everybody was affected in some way. It was probably maybe our most equipped team to go deep in the tournament, at least going into a tournament,” Self said. “We had the best big man defensive player in the country. We had the best guard defensive player in the country and we had a second-team All-American on top of that. So that was tough for our guys.
“But they handled it well. And probably what made it a little tougher was the year before we got knocked down in the second round the year after we get knocked out in the second round. So getting here is I think pretty sweet for us, in large part because many guys on this team didn’t have a chance to play in it when we had — I don’t know if we had a legitimate shot but it would have taken a pretty good effort to knock us out.”
Both Kansas and North Carolina are loaded.
Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun and David McCormack along with Remy Martin off the bench have been key players for the Jayhawks.
“This is the moment that every kid dreams to be in, to play for a national championship for their school, to represent their school on the highest stage of basketball itself and play in front of all these people,” Agbaji said when asked whether it was his dream to play for a national title.
“I think that’s just a dream come true for me and all the guys on my team. So we’re just excited to play tomorrow and everyone’s just ready.”
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Caleb Love and Armando Bacot have been playing really well for the Tar Heels and are major parts as to why the team has had the success it had.
Bacot is averaging 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds per game. Love is averaging 16 points and 3.6 assists per game. Bacot appeared to insult his ankle at the end of the win over Duke on Saturday. He said Sunday he was sure he was going to play.
“My status right now is that I’m playing. There’s no way I’m not playing in the national championship game. My right leg would have to be cut off for me not to play,” he said, via Sports Illustrated.
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Tip-off is set for Monday night at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. The game begins at 9:20 pm ET and can be watched on TBS.