Here is everything you need to know about the Kansas Jayhawks and the North Carolina Tar Heels in our Kansas vs. North Carolina NCAA Tournament men’s basketball preview.
Final Four — National Championship Game
No. 1 Kansas (33-6) vs. No. 8 North Carolina (29-9) Monday, April 4, 8:20 p.m. CT, TBS, Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, La.
How They Got Here: Kansas won the Big 12 Conference tournament. North Carolina was an at-large selection into the NCAA Tournament.
Seeds: Kansas was the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. North Carolina was the No. 8 seed in the East Region.
NCAA Tournament results: Kansas: def. Texas Southern, 83-56 (first round); def. Creighton, 79-72 (second round); def. Providence, 66-61 (Sweet 16), def. Miami (FL), 76-50 (Elite Eight); def. Villanova, 81-65 (Final Four). North Carolina: def. Marquette, 95-63 (first round), def. Baylor, 93-86 (OT) (second round), def. UCLA, 73-66 (Sweet 16), def. Saint Peter’s, 69-49 (Elite Eight); def. Duke, 81-77 (Final Four)
Winner gets: The 2022 NCAA National Championship.
Projected starting lineups
Kansas: G Christian Braun, G Dajuan Harris Jr., F Jalen Wilson, G Ochai Agbaji, F David McCormack.
North Carolina: G Leaky Black, G Caleb Love, G RJ Davis, F Armando Bacot, F Brady Manek.
Players to watch
Kansas F David McCormack: Did someone ask for the McCormack that was the 2021 Big 12 Most Improved Player? Because that’s what Kansas Jayhawks fans got on Saturday night against Villanova. McCormack looked like the player he was last season as he scored a season-high 25 points and grabbed another nine rebounds. With his various injuries, McCormack moved around as well as he has all season, playing 29 minutes as his dominant play was something head coach Bill Self just couldn’t turn his back on in the moment. Yes Ochai Agbaji had a head-turning 21 points, but McCormack was the dominant force, the X-factor that many basketball observers, including myself, say is the key to the Jayhawks winning a national championship. McCormack played like the X-factor on Saturday, and he must do it again on Monday.
North Carolina F Brady Manek: Well, here we are again. For the second time in the NCAA Tournament, the former Oklahoma Sooner will square off with a former Big 12 rival. And Kansas should know that Manek is playing the best basketball of his college career. He poured it on with 28 points and 11 rebounds against Marquette in the first round. Then, he had 26 points in just 30 minutes before he was ejected for a flagrant two foul, which was one of the most controversial calls of the entire tournament. Since then, he’s averaged 15.3 points, which is his season average, as the play of Armando Bacot has taken center stage. But in a matchup between two of the game’s true bluebloods, Manek’s terrific play — and his local knowledge of the Kansas Jayhawks — could take center stage.
Kansas: Kansas will play in its 10th NCAA national championship game on Monday, but its first in a decade. That game, in 2012, was also in New Orleans and was also against a team that wore blue, albeit that ‘royal blue’ of Kentucky. The Wildcats won that game. Kansas won two Helms (pre-NCAA Tournament) titles in 1922 and 1923 and won three more national crowns through the NCAA Tournament in 1952, 1988 and 2008. Phog Allen presided over those first three titles, while Larry Brown led the Jayhawks to the 1988 crown. Current head coach Bill Self is seeking to join Allen in the multiple national championships club for the Jayhawks. Kansas is playing its best basketball of the season right now, and Agbaji’s and McCormack’s play have both turned a corner since halftime of the Miami game. That pair, along with Braun, Remy Martin, Harris, Wilson and Mitch Lightfoot, has Kansas in position for a sixth national championship. It’s one that these players would like to share with the 2020 team that was set to be a No. 1 tournament seed before COVID-19 canceled that postseason.
North Carolina: There are few programs more associated with the NCAA Tournament than North Carolina (we call them ‘blue bloods’ for a reason, you know?). North Carolina is playing in the NCAA Tournament for the 52nd time, the second-most tournament berths all-time. North Carolina is playing in its 21st Final Four and has six national titles. We get it. They’re good. And they have a team that, despite its seeding, has designs on winning its seventh national championship. This is Hubert Davis’ first season as head coach. He played for Dean Smith. Now, Davis will try and carry on Smith’s, and Roy Williams’ legacy, in the national title game. UNC has won five of its six titles since Smith won his first in 1982. Smith won two titles and Williams won three. Monday will be UNC’s 12th national title game, and its last since winning the title in 2017 under Williams. The Tar Heels enter this game with incredible momentum, having defeated their arch-rival, Duke, in the NCAA Tournament in their first meeting ever in March Madness.
As highly-regarded as Kansas and North Carolina are, the two teams have faced each other just 11 times, with North Carolina owning a 6-5 record all-time. But, Kansas is 4-2 against North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas has won the last three meetings in the NCAA Tournament — an 84-66 win in the national semifinals in 2008, an 80-67 win in the 2012 tournament and a 70-58 win in the 2013 tournament. Kansas won its fourth game in 1991, beating UNC, 79-73, in the national semifinal. North Carolina returned the favor in 1993, beating Kansas, 78-68, in the national semifinal. North Carolina won their only meeting in a national championship game in 1957, 54-53, in Kansas City. It was the Tar Heels’ first national title.
Kansas 79, North Carolina 77. Originally, I thought Duke was going to beat North Carolina. But with UNC advancing, even though the matchup inside doesn’t favor Kansas, I think the Jayhawks have the firepower to win this game and claim the program’s sixth national title.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.