Image from: Duke Men's Basketball Instagram
March Madness. St.Peters Cinderella run. Gonzaga's unexpected exit. We can go on and on about all the madness we witnessed, such as Hubert Davis and the North Carolina Tar Heels spoiling Mike Krzyzewski’s storybook ending. The Duke Blue Devils' season ended after Caleb Love’s clutch three and late free throws secured the Tar Heels' 81-77 win over their long-time rivals. Not only did UNC spoil Coach K’s final game of his career, but they also spoiled his final regular-season game, beating Duke twice in one month. This was truly one of the best college games I have watched, the plot, the rivalry, the energy, it was AMAZING. These No.8 Tar Heels seemed to have clicked right when they needed to, being extremely dangerous in this tournament. But will it be enough to take on the Kansas Jayhawks?
Image From: University Daily Kansan
The Jayhawks didn't have quite as much of a challenge as UNC did in the Final Four. Starting with a 10-0 lead, Villanova had a lot of offensive struggles in the first half, where everything was clicking for Kansas. Agbaji has been quite underwhelming during this tournament, until this exact game. He showed him and instantly proved why not only Kansas but why HE belongs, hitting four threes in the opening eight minutes. Villanova didn't have the size to contain another star Kansas player McCormack, and Kansas knew exactly how to utilize that consistently, feeding him in the paint. Although Villanova started chipping away late in the game, it was still no match for what Kansas was putting down, running away with an 81-65 victory over the Wildcats. It's no surprise that Kansas is in this position, they have proved throughout their whole season that they are not a joke. Their mature system and chemistry seem to be better than ever, having a chance to take home that NCAA Trophy for the first time since 2008.
And then there were two…
Image From: The Athletic
How does UNC match up with Kansas?
I am actually extremely excited about this matchup, both teams' systems are so similar, so it will be interesting to see the adjustments that will be made in order to gain that edge. Throughout this whole season, we have witnessed the way Kansas sets up, Bill Self prioritizes his big man, who takes over in the paint, surrounding him with sizable, versatile forwards and guards that can not only spread the floor and play the perimeter but can also work around the rim. That is the same notion UNC head coach Hubert Davis used to get his team to the Championship game.
This is what makes this matchup extremely interesting, UNC may be the only team at this level that can easily match up with the strong force of Kansas Jayhawks. Again, when I say easily, I don't mean it will be an easy task to shut down the Jayhawks, but they have every component they need to get the job done. Bacot rolled his ankle late during the Duke game, but considering he is healthy for tonight's game, he should be a key component versus McCormack. Bacot has consistently shown up throughout each round of this tournament, his one downfall is that he falls into foul trouble quite early, limiting his playing time. Can he continue to be as forceful as he is without falling into foul trouble? RJ Davis, Caleb Love, and Brady Manek will continue to find shots, making it difficult for Kansas to track those down. As difficult as it will be for Kansas to chase down those shooters, it will be just as difficult for UNC to keep up with Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji coming off screens. Kansas showed great strength of the defense, especially during their most recent game against Villanova, this will be the quickest, most aggressive defense UNC has faced this tournament. Both teams can be quite threatening in transition, so I would expect so tight basketball played tonight.
The eighth seed Tar Heels have had an incredible run during this tournament, now, only the Jayhawks stand between them and their seventh NCAA Championship.
Photo From: KCUR
How do the Kansas Jayhawks match up against UNC?
Like I brought up earlier, Kansas loves playing in on their big guys, with star big McCormick and backup Mitch Lightfoot, it's going to take a lot from Bacot to shut them down without getting into early foul trouble. Kansas also has Jalen Wilson, who I believe can match up pretty well against Manek on those little picks and shoots UNC continuously runs. We have seen Agbaji struggle slightly in this tournament until his final four matchups, I am afraid UNC’s aggressive wing defense can bring that struggle back from Agbaji. We will need to see his shot creation excel tonight in order to avoid getting shut down by Love and Leaky Black. The same thing goes for Agbaji’s teammate, Braun, as he must escape this pressured UNC defense to put up numbers.
Image From: The Nation
I believe these two teams are a perfect matchup for each other, considering their similar philosophy. UNC throughout this whole tournament has shown a great sense of stamina as they kept games close but found a way to peel away and close in the final minutes. Whereas Kansas has made sure to keep control in the final half of the game, with concerning first halves, they do a good job of readjusting during the half to come out and dominate. Both teams have proved why they belong, especially in this last month, but only one team can win. Personally, I am riding with the Jayhawks, they have proved that they are the most skilled, dynamic, mature college basketball team in this tournament. I would say we are going to see a pretty close game, until the final quarter of the game when the Jayhawks should pull away. Again, this is march madness, so expect the unexpected.