One of the better NCAA tournaments in recent memory will come to an end Monday night when Kanas faces North Carolina for all the marbles inside the New Orleans Superdome.
There are dozens of reasons to believe this title game will be a fitting conclusion to a thrilling month of college hoops. Let’s talk about four of them.
1. A no-debate, blue blood national championship game
Debates over who is and who isn’t a blue-blood in college basketball and what the threshold to attain the status are tired, pointless, and almost always ultimately unproductive.
Having said that, two programs that are going to be on the list of anyone who partakes in this activity are Kansas and North Carolina. The last time we had a no-debate, no questions asked, all-blue blood national championship game was exactly 10 years ago in New Orleans, when Kentucky took down the Jayhawks to get John Calipari his first (and still only) national title.
North Carolina is making its 12th national championship game appearance Monday night, tying it with UCLA and Kentucky for the most all-time. If the Tar Heels prevail, they’ll be cutting down the nets for the 7th time in program history, bringing them just one title behind UK for the second-most all-time.
For Kansas, this is their 10th appearance in college basketball’s ultimate game. They’ll be searching for their fourth title, and their first since 2008. If the Jayhawks do it, they’ll break a tie with Villanova and Louisville and move into a tie with Connecticut for the sixth-most championships.
While the history is of secondary importance to everyone associated with both programs right now, it’ll matter more once the victory or the loss sets in over the weeks and months ahead.
2. Everything on paper says the game should be fun and competitive
Forget about the names on the front of the jerseys or the seeds of the respective teams: The profiles of the two teams and the way they’ve both been playing all March says that we’re in for a tremendous national championship game.
Both teams rank in the top 65 in the country in tempo, both shoot the three at a high-level, both have been taking more shots from beyond the arc during the NCAA tournament, and both have a commanding and entertaining presence in the paint.
You’ve also got two of college basketball’s ultimate feast or famine guards in North Carolina’s Caleb Love and Kansas’ Remy Martin. Martin was the MOP of the Midwest Regional but was quiet in KU’s win over Villanova, while Love has been stellar all tournament long and went nuts against Duke. Either one could score 35 tonight, and either one could almost single-handedly take their team out of contention.
There’s not much reason to believe this game will be anything other than an up-tempo, thrillingly competitive contest for all 40 minutes.
3. The potential for Kansas awkwardness
NCAA President Mark Emmert avoided some potential awkwardness when the 2020 NCAA tournament — which was set to be headlined by Kansas as the No. 1 overall seed — was canceled because of COVID. There won’t be anywhere to hide if KU gets the job done inside the Superdome on Monday night.
Kansas is facing five Level I violations (the most severe) stemming from the FBI’s probe into college basketball. Three of those Level I violations are pointed directly at KU head coach Bill Self. The Jayhawks have taken their case to the Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP), which — coincidentally or not — updated the case on Sunday for the first time in months.
No one seems to have any idea how this whole thing is going to play out (or when the hell we’re finally going to get a punishment for something that happened when the kids Kansas is currently recruiting were in 5th or 6th grade), but it’s certainly something that’s still hanging over the program — even if everyone is going to act like it isn’t on Monday night.
While coaches like Rick Pitino (Louisville), Mark Gottfried (NC State ... and Cal State Northridge), Sean Miller (Arizona) and Will Wade (LSU) have all lost jobs at least in part due to the corruption scandal, Self has not only remained at Kansas, he’s thrived. The Jayhawks went to the Final Four in 2018, were a 4-seed in 2019, were set to be the pre-tournament favorites in 2020, were a 3-seed in 2021, and are now one win away from their first national title since 2008.
If the success alone wasn’t enough, there was also the “Late Night at the Phog” season tip-off event that featured a performance from Snoop Dogg complete with women dancing on poles and the rapper shooting a money gun into the crowd. Self, who had been hit with allegations from the NCAA just days prior, was also there rocking gold chains and an Adidas shirt.
It feels like a safe assumption that Self is going to get hit with some sort of personal punishment when all of this is said and done, but that isn’t going to limit his celebration if his team prevails Monday night.
Everyone likes seeing Mark Emmert — or anyone from the NCAA, really — uncomfortable. The potential for that to be on full display from inside the Superdome Monday night is very high.
4. North Carolina’s shot at history
Because of who they are and how they’ve been playing for the last month, it’s easy to forget that North Carolina is an 8-seed that is one win away from matching 1984-85 Villanova as the lowest-seeded team to ever win the national championship.
That ‘Nova team — which ironically upset North Carolina in the Southeast Regional final — had a similar path to winning it all. They took down a 2-seed in a competitive second national semifinal before toppling No. 1 seed Georgetown by a bucket to win the whole thing.
After being on the wrong end of Villanova becoming the first team in NCAA tournament history to win the national title on a true buzzer-beater, it would feel like a little bit of poetic justice for UNC to at least partially take away the Wildcats’ other major claim to fame.