UNC vs. Kansas for national title could be epic: From Dean to Roy and beyond, blue bloods have a deep history

NEW ORLEANS — Duke vs. North Carolina was historic.

Kansas vs. North Carolina could be amazing.

Don’t automatically assume that Monday night’s national title game will fail as a result of Saturday night’s headliner saga. Duke is gone, but that hardly takes away from the blue blood and nostalgic appeal with which this 2022 NCAA Men’s Tournament concludes.

Consider: North Carolina has shown for five straight games: Hello, does anyone who has not yet worn the Carolina blue officially believe in this team? — which is as good as any team in the sport. Meanwhile, Kansas has the No. 1 seed, the only one of the best to reach the Final Four. The Jayhawks withstood Villanova’s push and are now favorites to win the national title by four points. If it happens, it would be the program’s fourth NCAA Tournament crown.

These schools are quite familiar with each other, even if the teams are not. It’s that history, rich, with many people intertwining two royal houses of basketball, that makes for a fantastic setting here in the Big Easy.

This is the fifth matchup in a Final Four/title game stage between these two, making UNC vs. KU in the most common matchup in Final Four history. It began in 1957, when the Final Four’s only three-overtime game was decided 57-56 in favor of undefeated North Carolina 32-0, which beat a Kansas team with a lanky player named Wilt.

Since then:

  • Kansas beat UNC in the 1991 national semifinals
  • Carolina returned the favor by beating KU in the ’93 semis
  • The Jayhawks defeated the Tar Heels in the 2008 Final Four, when all four No. 1 seeds came

Here we are being rewarded with the first title matchup between the schools that rank first (Kansas) and third (Carolina) in wins of all time. Hey, you get a blue blood Final Four, you’ll have excellent historical context no matter who peeks into the main game. It is also the seventh meeting between the Jayhawks and the Heels in the tournament, tied for second in history.

The connections run even deeper between the couple. Remember that coach at Carolina one time, Dean Smith? Kansas graduate. He was on the team that won the national title in 1952. Later in his life, they say Smith did well; he retired with 879 wins (most when he walked away) and two national titles with the Tar Heels. Smith is considered the best coach in North Carolina history.

And yet, is it the best? Because for all the talk of Coach K’s farewell season, this season’s final game is, in fact, a Roy Williams special. It could be argued that Williams, not Smith, is the best coach in UNC history. Won Three national titles and 485 games, which equates to a .748 winning percentage. Before that, of course, Williams was the manager of a Kansas program that dominated in the 1990s and early 2000s. Williams won 418 games in 15 seasons with Kansas. He was in the building on Saturday to gleefully cheer on Carolina’s poignant loss to Duke. It’s a safe bet the camera will find you early and often on Monday nights.

Kansas-UNC now, in a charming way, doubles as an unofficial send-off from a year later for old Roy. What about that?

There is more. Another former coach, Larry Brown, who guided Kansas to the Danny and the Miracles title in 1988, played for Smith in the 1960s at UNC. He may be able to find a seat near Williams. And with Bill Self and Hubert Davis meeting at this time, it marks the first time two coaches have met in a national championship game as successors to the same person; Self replaced Williams at Kansas, Davis did the same at Carolina.

If you want one more, sure, why not: North Carolina assistant coach Brad Frederick is the son of a formative and important figure in Kansas history, their late athletic director Bob Frederick.

Self knows this game has a chance to be great because of who’s on the other side. There is an increase in the special factor here.

“I think no matter who we play tonight, it would be incredibly special, because both teams are as blue as can be when it comes to blue blood,” he said. “But playing a Carolina program that’s intertwined with Kansas history, in large part because Coach Smith played in Kansas and won a national championship in ’52 and then goes on and is thought to be the best basketball coach ever. coached the sport for a period of time. So I think that’s special. Also, with Coach Williams running our program for 15 years and doing a magnificent job there and then going back to his alma mater and winning three national championships, I think which certainly adds to the interest. So I’m very proud to be a part of this game.”

For Kansas, it’s the 10th national title game. North Carolina returns here for the 12th time (second after UCLA’s 13). UNC is 2-0 in title games at the Superdome, winning in 1982 and 1993. Speculation about Michael Jordan’s appearance continues. To anyone’s knowledge, he wasn’t here on Saturday. But it was shown in 2017 to see UNC beat Gonzaga in the title game.

And this is the 40th anniversary of his game-winning goal against Georgetown, which is the genesis of Jordan’s origin story.

“I don’t just want him to show up. I’d like him to play,” Davis joked Sunday.

Fortunately for North Carolina, Armando Bacot will be playing. The man who has 30 double-doubles this season is ready to go after briefly leaving with a lower leg injury against Duke. Bacot won’t just be in uniform, here’s what he told reporters on Sunday: “They’d have to cut off my right leg so he can’t play.”

That rules. This matchup does too. North Carolina is trying to do something that hasn’t been matched since the first 64-team field in 1985: win it all as the No. 8 seed.

The school that did that, of course, is the one Kansas beat to get here on Saturday, Villanova.

This Carolina team is nothing like Rollie Massimino’s motley crew that pulled off one of the all-time upsets in American sports history. If UNC beats Kansas on Monday night, it will be a triple story: Davis winning in his first season, UNC doing this as the No. 8 seed and beating Kansas as the icing on the cake after the forever win over Duke two nights earlier. .

Davis knows a thing or two about agonizing losses on a Final Four stage, and that’s where we delve even deeper into how these two epic shows feel increasingly interchangeable. Davis revealed Sunday that he built a torturous ritual for himself every year earlier in his life: He watched the entire 1991 national semifinal loss he suffered as a player to Kansas.

“That was the hardest loss I’ve ever experienced in my entire life,” he said. “It would make me cry. And I was hoping that, it’s interesting, every time I watched it, I thought it was going to turn out differently.”

The rite of passage stopped in 2017, when Davis was an assistant on the title-winning UNC team that beat Gonzaga in Glendale, Arizona. A cleansing of the soul of basketball. He now has a chance to cash in any leftovers, though for Davis this is an opportunity for his players. He insists that now is his time, his chance at something he didn’t capture when he was in the UNC uniform.

“That was the best place, personally, that I’ve ever experienced,” Davis said. “Said [my players], I played 12 years in the NBA and that was my best moment as a basketball player, the best moment, just being part of the Final Four. I was trying to convey to you how special it is to be here. Now that they can experience it, it’s great.”

For all of the NCAA Tournament history between the two, these are not frequent enemies. Usually it is this tournament that brings them together. UNC has a 6-5 all-time lead over Kansas, with the Jayhawks winning the last three (all in the NCAA).

There’s too much familiarity here to think this game can’t be great. Kansas ranks as the better team, North Carolina screams in this matchup as the more compelling story. For nearly three weeks, it seemed like Duke was destined to come here with Mike Krzyzewski. Now that he’s off the table, there’s a lightness here that could give way to a loose game with lots of possessions and lots of points.

The story awaits. Either Self becomes the first Kansas coach to win multiple titles, or Davis becomes the first coach in history to win a national title in a first full season as head coach, as the No. 8 seed, to begin with.

Come now. It’s Kansas. It’s Carolina. It’s the national championship. It’s New Orleans. These games in this city have developed the custom of being classics. Let’s hope the voodoo is in the building once again on Monday night.

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