The Kansas-North Carolina Connection Has Shaped College Basketball | Pedigree, History, Legacy Stamp This NCAA Championship Game

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Life has a weird way of coming full circle, and that especially applies to sports. What we have on deck for the men’s national championship on Monday is an example of just that.

The Kansas Jayhawks, winners of the Midwest Region and a national semifinal win over the Villanova Wildcats, will face the North Carolina Tar Heels, who defeated archrival Duke in the Final Four. Fresh off ending Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career, North Carolina has to be careful not to avoid a letdown, because they aren’t facing any easier an opponent in Kansas.

Kansas coach Bill Self talked about his team’s approach and excitement, while also understanding the job isn’t done.

 “We’re thrilled to be here and have a chance to play for a championship. Last night was a great night for us, as it was for Carolina also. But it’s time to forget about that and get focused on what’s next.” 

Self Is Excited About Title Opportunity: He Felt His 2020 Team Could’ve Won It All

The 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled as COVID-19 began to ravage the world. That season Bill Self’s squad was the unquestioned best team in the country and would’ve been the tourney’s No.1 overall seed. Led by center Udoka Azubuike (now with Utah Jazz), second-team All-American guard Devon Dotson and Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Garrett, the Jayhawks were primed to make some real noise during March Madness.

 Self can’t help but think of what could’ve been.

 “It was tough for everybody. I mean, that was just a tough year all around for everybody, no matter what you did as a profession. Everybody was affected in some way. It was probably maybe our most equipped to go deep in the tournament, at least going into the tournament.
“We had the best defensive big man defensive player in the country. We had the best defensive guard in the country, and we had a second-team All-American on top of that. So that was tough for our guys.”

 How KU And UNC Got Here: A No. 1 Seed And a No. 8 Seed

Kansas won the ultra-tough Big 12 regular season and conference tourney. Then it ousted Texas Southern in the opening round of the NCAAs before struggling with two Big East teams in Creighton and Providence.

Then came a tough, gritty Miami team, whom they trailed at halftime 35-29 before blitzing them 47-15 in the second half to win 76-50. Next up was Villanova, who’d beaten them the last two times they faced off in the tourney. KU blitzed them 81-65.

UNC as a No. 8 seed is laughable. They struggled at times during the season, but they deserve more respect just based on their program’s history. An opening-round win over Marquette preceded a huge upset over defending champion and No. 1 seed Baylor in the second round. The Heels followed that up with a big win over UCLA behind Caleb Love’s 27-point second half. They then dismantled the darling of the tourney, Saint Peter’s, from the opening tip.

Now these two legendary blue blood programs will face off for the first time in the tourney since KU’s wire-to-wire dismantling of the Heels in the 2008 Final Four. It was a game where the Jayhawks led 40-12 in the first half, winning 84-66.

They defeated Derrick Rose and Memphis two nights later to give Self his one and only national title.

Since then UNC has tasted victory twice on the last night of the season (2009 and 2017). They almost made it three but were beaten by Villanova on a buzzer-beater by Kris Jenkins in 2016.

 In this title game we’re getting some real full-circle history.

 The KU/UNC Connection Is Very Real

Legendary UNC head coach Dean Smith went to KU, played for and was an assistant coach for Phog Allen. Phog learned from Dr. James Naismith, who’s credited with creating the game of basketball. Smith took an assistant job at UNC under Frank McGuire and upon McGuire’s retirement UNC then promoted Smith to head coach.

Smith hires Roy Williams as an assistant. Smith signed Hubert Davis out of high school. Davis becomes an assistant at KU under Roy after his NBA career. Roy takes the UNC job and brings Hubert with him as an assistant. Self replaces Roy at Kansas. Roy retires and hand-picks Hubert. Hubert then hands archrival Duke it’s two most demoralizing losses since the 1991 national title game.

Smith actually arrived at UNC in 1958, one year after the Heels beat the Jayhawks team that featured Wilt Chamberlain 54-53 in three overtimes in the 1957 national championship.

So far Self and Davis have pushed all the right buttons. Let’s see who can do it for 40 more minutes and experience that “One Shining Moment.”