And the National Champions are…

The final three games of March Madness did not disappoint.

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Kansas Jayhawks raising the National Championship for the fourth time in school history.

Maddox Greenberg, Staff Writer

It has been a week since I’ve talked about the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament, also known as March Madness.  I’ve discussed the major upsets and that the reigning champs, 1-seed Baylor, were eliminated early by North Carolina and runner-up of last year’s championship game, 1-seed Gonzaga, lost to Arkansas in the Sweet 16.  And to remind you that the tournament is so unsuspecting that, like Saint Peter’s, even a 15-seed from New Jersey going all-the-way to the Elite 8, the first-time in history, can happen.

 

Now, to recap this tumultuously Herculean pursuit for the vacant NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship trophy with the matchups that went down last Saturday and Monday in Caesar’s Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

 

To start Saturday’s slate of two main-event caliber matchups was 2-seed Villanova, my dad’s alma mater, and 1-seed Kansas.  During the game, Kansas came out strong quickly leading 10-0 with star-player and potential NBA prospect Ochai Agbaji’s (#30) six points.  Villanova star players Collin Gillespie (#2), playing his fifth year with the program, Brandon Slater (#3), and Caleb Daniels (#14) then narrowed the gap from 10-0 to 16-8.  Kansas, though, responded quickly and harshly.  Before the half, Kansas was by as much as 19 points at 38-19 with 4:55 left.  Collin Gillespie’s two three-pointers and a jumper, and Brandon Slater’s defensive rebounds and free throws rallied Villanova’s deficit down to 11, 40-29, to end the half.

 

In the second half the game got more intense.  Kansas stretched its lead to 16-points, 50-34, but Villanova’s Caleb Daniels made sure that wasn’t gonna happen and closed the lead by half, 50-42.  With the assistance of Brandon Slater’s three-pointer, at 12:48, Villanova was inching closer down Kansas’ tail with a seven-point deficit, 52-45.  However, soon Kansas’ Christian Braun (#2) and David McCormack (#33) pushed the lead to 12, 71-59.  Villanova tried everything to reach those 71-points with 3:12 left, kept pushing, but soon fell thanks to Kansas’ Jalen Wilson’s two free throws, making the final score read 81-65.  Kansas went on to its first National Championship since 2012.

David McCormack, Kansas Jayhawks forward (33)

 

After the game, per ESPN, Kansas big man David McCormack said, “We know we wanted to avenge that 2020 team and everything they rightfully deserve.  And we’re gonna get it this year.”

 

Before the cancelled March Madness tournament in 2020, Kansas would’ve been the Number 1 overall seed.  They did make it last year but fell short in the Round of 32 as the 3-seed to 6-seed USC, who would fall to 1-seed Gonzaga in the Elite 8.

 

Now, Kansas has to wait for its opponent: either (8) North Carolina or (2) Duke.

 

        

In the bout between Duke and North Carolina, Duke had everything to lose.  This was Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s (K) last tournament ever!  They made it past 15-seed CSU-Fullerton in the first round, 7-seed Michigan State in the second, 3-seed Texas Tech in a nail-biter at the Sweet 16 and took down 4-seed Arkansas in the Elite 8.  Two more games for future Hall of Famer Coach K, who won five National Championships with Duke and three Olympic Gold Medals for the U.S. and two International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cups; and he was an assistant coach on the 1992 “Dream Team,” with Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Magic Johnson, and so many more.  With Coach K’s leadership, Duke would have 50 overall wins against North Carolina in the rivalry history, until North Carolina’s win on Coach K’s last home game of the regular season in Cameron Indoor Stadium that made it 50-49.

 

North Carolina and Duke started out with almost two minutes of no shots.  Then, North Carolina Tar Heels’ Leaky Black (yes, that’s an actual name) started the circus of scores with a tremendous three-pointer.  Several dunks and threes and free throws later, evened it out at 11 apiece.  North Carolina took a quick 16-15 lead before Duke snuck around like New Orleans Pelicans Jose Alvarado to lead 24-18.  (For those who are not NBA fans, Jose Alvarado is known for sneaking around one of the opposing team’s players and taking the ball from them at times).  North Carolina fought to shorten it to 24-22 until Duke’s Theo John (#12) got fouled on.  Tar Heels’ Armando Bacot (#5) then evened it out again to 24-24.  With 5:17 left, both teams had an overall four lead changes and three ties.  Duke came back to make it a 31-26 lead with almost 2:30 remaining.  Tar Heels’ RJ Davis (#4), Brady Manek (#45), and Caleb Love (#2) led the charge to get from a 34-28 North Carolina trailing to even out the score at 34-34.  Duke’s Jeremy Roach (#3) made a layup and Tar Heels’ Justin McKoy foul, Roach set up a free throw to lead Duke at the half, 37-34.  In the first half, both teams had an overall five lead changes and ties.

 

To start the second half, Duke rallied up four unanswered points to lead 41-34.  North Carolina and Brady Manek fought back with 11-unanswered to lead (the sixth) at 47-41.  Duke moved back on the offensive, securing the sixth tie at 47.  Then, again at 49.   Then, again at 55.  North Carolina took a 60-55 lead thanks to Love’s jumper (offering up two-points).  RJ Davis added another two to make it a five-point deficit for Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils.  The game continued on with Duke’s one-point lead (63-62), then North Carolina’s one-point lead (64-63), then back and forth before the game was tied for the eleventh time at 67 with four minutes left.  A few more minutes went by, then the Tar Heels tied it up for the twelfth time at 74-74.  North Carolina eased in a quick 78-74 lead with 28 seconds on the clock.  Duke got to 79-77, falling short.  Caleb Love set up a defensive rebound and Duke’s Roach fouled in the late set up Love to secure two more free throws to win 81-77.  Duke fell to North Carolina again in what had to be the second-most watched matchup of the tournament (turns out, per ncaa.com, this was the most watched semifinal game since 2017’s UNC vs Oregon.  UNC vs Duke was viewed an average of 16.3 million).  This meant Duke and North Carolina, in their first matchup in the tournament in history, are now tied 50-50 all-time.

 

Now to Monday’s game.  The National Championship…that aired at 9:20 on a Monday.  8-seed North Carolina, who took down defending champions Baylor, versus 1-seed Kansas, who almost lost to 9-seed Creighton in the second round.

 

 

North Carolina Tar Heels’ forward Brady Manek, #45

 

Kansas opened the game with a bang!  Kansas led 7-0 before Brady Manek, a guy who doesn’t look like he should be playing basketball but instead a guy who looks like he would toast you in a lumberjack competition, notched a three.  North Carolina superstars Caleb Love and Armando Bacot led North Carolina to a 12-11 lead before Christian Braun set up a layup to give Kansas back its lead.  Down by four, RJ Davis and Caleb Love both pulled up jumpers to tie it at 18.  Kansas’ Mitch Lightfoot (#44) got fouled on and sent Bacot to the free throw line.  With a jumper by Davis again, North Carolina went from being down four to being up by four, going on an 8-0 run.

 

Soon, North Carolina found its stride and went from 25-22 with Manek three-pointer to a 38-22 lead on a 16-0 run.  Agbaji put up a three for his team before time ran out at the half.  The Tar Heels lead 40-25.

 

Christian Braun got Kansas back up by nine before Kansas fell back by 12, 45-33.  Soon, Kansas went on a rampage and was one-point behind North Carolina, 48-47.  After Agbaji tied the game at 50 with a free throw, Kansas stretched its lead to six.  North Carolina went back to tie and kept playing on Kansas’ heels (get it—Tar Heels, Kansas heels).

 

Kansas, with a 68-65 lead, allowed Love to score a two-pointer and Brady Manek to score a two-point tip shot, making the lead fall back into North Carolina’s lap at 69-68.  And like a man possessed, David McCormack scored two jumpers and gave Kansas the 72-69 lead.  Caleb Love went for a three-pointer and…missed!  Kansas won its first national championship since 2008, with the final score being 72-69.  And because of Kansas’ fourth National Championship, they became the winningest program in NCAA history during their tournament run.  Go have yourself a day, Coach Mike Self.

 

Ironically, one of Kansas’ players played for Arizona State, a conference rival, and took out Kansas in 2017 when Kansas was the 2-seed and 2018 when Kansas was the 1-seed.  Now, No. 11 Remy Martin, scoring 11-points, was 4-4 on field goals, and 3-3 on 3-point field goals in the second half, led Kansas to their first Natty (slang for National Championship) in 14 years!  But don’t be so gloomy North Carolina and its fans (including you, Coach Taylor).  First year head coach Hubert Davis led North Carolina men’s basketball team to the NCAA Basketball Championship game.  He took North Carolina to the Final Four as both a coach and a player.

 

Remember, this is where heroes get remembered and legends are made, and Cinderellas are born.