Men’s Final Four 2022 – How the national championship matchup was set


NEW ORLEANS — The storybook ending was not to be for Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils. The dream lives on for Hubert Davis and the North Carolina Tar Heels. North Carolina took down Duke 81-77 on Saturday night in what was the first meeting in NCAA tournament history between the hated rivals, and UNC’s second win over Duke in less than a month. The game was the final one of Krzyzewski’s Hall of Fame career, and the loss denied him a shot at a sixth national title.

Davis, attempting to win a national championship as an 8-seed in his first season as a head coach, can now bring the Tar Heels their seventh championship in school history and become the fourth coach to do it, joining Frank McGuire, Dean Smith and Roy Williams. Standing in the way of history will be a top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks team that has some championship pedigree of its own, with three titles in school history including a 2008 crown under head coach Bill Self. Kansas took down the Villanova Wildcats 81-65 in the first semifinal on Saturday night.

In advance of Monday’s historic meeting, ESPN’s team of Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Joe Lunardi discussed all the key points from Saturday’s contests and looked ahead to the North Carolina-Kansas matchup from Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.

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North Carolina opens up the second half of their game with Duke on a 13-0 run.

How North Carolina beat Duke

What was the key to North Carolina’s win over Duke?

Duke led 71-70 with just 2:02 to play after Trevor Keels hit a 3-pointer. North Carolina took the lead on a Brady Manek 3 in the next possession. But the following shot, a 3 from Wendell Moore Jr. off a rebound that gave Duke a 74-73 lead, summed up the key to this game: second-chance opportunities. At that point, both teams had collected 37% of their missed shots. To understand the significance of that stat: TCU led the nation this season with an offensive rebounding rate of 38%.

Throughout the game, the Blue Devils couldn’t make a 3 and the Tar Heels could do little to stop them from attacking the rim.

By securing those second chances and putting the ball in the hands of so many talented scorers, North Carolina battled Duke for 40 minutes and set up its shooters (38% clip from 3) to help the Tar Heels achieve their second win over Duke this season.

Those opportunities helped Carolina stay close to a Duke team that had outscored it 48-26 in the paint.

But it was Caleb Love’s clutch 3 and late free throws that preserved North Carolina’s edge in a classic rivalry game that lived up to the hype. — Medcalf

What was most surprising about the Tar Heels’ performance?

I was surprised that Armando Bacot was able to continue his reign of regal rebounding so successfully and dominantly when it mattered most. Before he fouled out in the final minute, Bacot picked up 21 rebounds, eight of them offensive. Those second chances were crucial on a night when North Carolina was cold from the outside in the first half and turning the ball over on occasion in the second half. In his past two games, Bacot has hauled in 43 rebounds. He is dominating the boards, and I can’t wait to see the collision that takes place Monday night when he faces David McCormack. — Gasaway

How memorable will this edition of Tar Heels vs. Blue Devils be in the all-time annals of the rivalry?

We know two things for sure about the rivalry: One, it had never occurred in the NCAA tournament, much less the Final Four. And, more than three times as many people witnessed this game than any prior meeting. That it was an epic contest with so many momentum swings and subplots only adds to the legend.

I would argue that, in the annals of ACC basketball, only the 1974 conference tournament title game had greater significance. NC State’s 103-100 overtime victory over Maryland led directly to the addition of at-large teams to the NCAA field and created the modern tournament. Without that game, neither Duke nor Carolina would have been on the floor in New Orleans.

Thankfully, the powers that be gave us an expanded field and the greatest drama in sports. And on Saturday night, two incredible teams combined for the most important and memorable encounter in their unforgettable history.

For Duke, an extraordinary era ends, arguably the greatest in college basketball itself. For North Carolina, its next era is 40 minutes away from a championship. — Lunardi

How does North Carolina match up with Kansas?

Both Hubert Davis and Bill Self have a similar philosophy in their approach to offensive scheme. Self likes to play a big man who can do a lot of work in the paint, and surround him with a collection of big, versatile guards and forwards who can make an impact on the perimeter and around the rim. That’s the same concept Davis has used to lead his team to the national championship game.

Based on personnel, North Carolina has the kind of team that can compete with Kansas at every spot. Bacot, assuming he’s healthy after rolling his ankle late in Saturday’s game, will be key versus McCormack. And I think Kansas will have as much trouble chasing Manek (40% 3-point shooter), Love and R.J. Davis as they hunt for open shots as North Carolina will have with Kansas running Ochai Agbaji (41%) and Christian Braun (39%) off screens. Both teams can be difficult to stop in transition, and over the past month, both have been top-50 in defensive efficiency inside the arc, per Barttorvik.com. — Medcalf

What’s next for Duke? Who will be back for the Blue Devils?

The biggest Duke storyline entering 2022-23 won’t be about the players, of course; it will be the Blue Devils’ first season under Jon Scheyer and their first season starting without Coach K since 1980. How the program transitions to the Scheyer era will be one of the more fascinating storylines to watch in all of college basketball next season.

As for the personnel, well, they’ll be very good too. Five of Duke’s top six players — Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Mark Williams, Keels and Moore Jr. — are projected to be selected within the first 35 picks of June’s NBA draft, so we’ll assume for now they’re all gone. Same with super senior Theo John. But Scheyer reloaded with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, bringing in three top-five prospects and two more ESPN 100 recruits. Dereck Lively, Dariq Whitehead, Kyle Filipowski and Mark Mitchell are all capable of starting from day one, and Jeremy Roach will also be back. I would expect the Blue Devils to hit the portal for a player or two, too. — Borzello

What will college basketball look like without Mike Krzyzewski? How will the game be different?

Mike Krzyzewski is the John Wooden of modern NCAA basketball. On the court and off, his influence and success are unequaled. Throw in multiple Olympic gold medals and he is arguably the most accomplished coach in the history of the sport. But just as the game has survived the loss of Adolph Rupp and Wooden and Bob Knight and Dean Smith, it will survive and thrive without Coach K. What we’ll never see again is a 42-year reign to make Duke the bluest of blue bloods. — Lunardi

How Kansas beat Villanova

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Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji knocks down six 3-pointers to help fuel the Jayhawks to the national title game.

Kansas got the 2022 Final Four off to a smoking start on Saturday night at the Caesars Superdome, running out to a 10-0 lead and keeping Villanova at arm’s length the rest of the way for the 81-65 victory. Its performance puts KU in Monday night’s title game for the first time since 2012, with a chance to hoist the NCAA trophy for the first time since defeating Memphis for the 2008 championship.

What was the key to Kansas’ win over Villanova?

Agbaji and McCormack: the Jayhawks’ star, and their season-long (career-long?) X factor.

Agbaji snapped out of a brief slump in the second half of the Elite Eight win over Miami, and that momentum carried over on Saturday night. He came out of the gates gunning, hitting two 3s in the first three minutes and going 4-for-4 from deep in the opening eight-plus minutes. Collin Gillespie switching onto him slowed Agbaji down some toward the end of the first half, but two more backbreaking 3s to keep Villanova at an arm’s length in the second half were huge.

McCormack was always going to be the key against Villanova. The Wildcats simply didn’t have the size to handle him, so it came down to whether he could stay out of foul trouble, stay on the floor and be effective. And it didn’t take long for Kansas to make its intentions known. The Jayhawks were forcing the ball in the post to McCormack early and often; he scored two baskets in the opening two minutes and was getting touches on nearly every possession. He had 13 points in the first 11-plus minutes. When Villanova started causing some issues for Kansas defensively by attacking McCormack with smaller players, the big man responded by going to work at the other end. Agbaji and McCormack finished with a combined 46 points. — Borzello

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Kansas’ David McCormack rises up to throw down a massive dunk over Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels.

What surprised you most about the Jayhawks’ performance?

If you could tell KU fans in November that the hero of their national semifinal would be McCormack, they would be more than surprised. Stunned might be a better word. There have been lengthy discussions all season long about whether the Jayhawks should go small. For one night, at least, McCormack went really big on Villanova. The surprise within the surprise was that it started right away. The first minutes of the game were a blizzard of Agbaji 3s and post feeds to McCormack, who was just too much for the Wildcats to handle. The poster dunk, putting up 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting — it all summed up to a magnificent performance. — Gasaway

How does Kansas match up with North Carolina?

In terms of personnel, the Jayhawks have experienced big men down low in McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot to throw at North Carolina’s Bacot. They have Jalen Wilson, who is big enough and versatile enough to deal with Manek on the pick-and-pops North Carolina likes to run. I do think the Tar Heels’ aggressiveness defensively on the wings with Love and Leaky Black could cause issues for Agbaji and Braun, though. It’s a tough matchup against North Carolina. — Borzello

What will be the legacy of this Villanova team?

The Wildcats continue to demonstrate the rarity of basketball excellence without big-time football. Villanova and Gonzaga are the only truly elite programs in that category.

The legacy of Jay Wright and the Wildcats is secure regardless of this Final Four result. In what was arguably the most limited team of his four to reach the national semifinals, Wright did another masterful job in winning the Big East tournament and the NCAA South Regional.

The 2021-22 Cats should and will be celebrated among the most beloved teams in program history. And when they build a statue for Wright someday, Gillespie will join Scottie Reynolds, Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson as the coach’s personal Mount Rushmore. — Lunardi

What would be the historical impact of a Kansas win on Monday night?

Bill Self has done everything there is to do at Kansas but knows the single national championship in 2008 isn’t commensurate with 15 Big 12 titles and a staggering nine No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Cutting down the nets in New Orleans changes that narrative permanently.

The list of coaches with multiple NCAA championships is a short one. And a fourth trophy for the Kansas program would place the Jayhawks behind only five other schools on the all-time list, one of which — North Carolina (6) or Duke (5) — would be their victim on Monday.

It says here that the Jayhawks are due. They were the best team in the country two years ago when COVID-19 derailed their tourney chances, and they might very well be the best team remaining in 2022. — Lunardi

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