The Kansas Jayhawks are looking for their first national championship since 2008 and need to focus on these three things to top North Carolina.
A wild and wacky March Madness has gone from 68 teams to two as North Carolina and Kansas are set to square off for the national championship on Monday night. The Jayhawks looked more dominant in their semifinal win over Villanova but North Carolina will get all the headlines for ending Coach K’s historic career to punch their ticket to the championship game as an 8-seed.
The game will draw a huge spotlight on retired Tar Heels’ head coach Roy Williams, who left Kansas for his alma mater back in 2003 and won three national championships with North Carolina. Bill Self has a title of his own with the Jayhawks back in 2008 but is entering just his third title game, raising the pressure on him to get a second ring to ensure a place in the pantheon of all-time great coaches.
Let’s take a look at three keys to victory for Kansas as they look to end North Carolina’s magic carpet ride on Monday night.
National Championship: 3 keys to victory for Kansas vs. UNC
3. Control the interior
One area where the Tar Heels figure to have an edge is down low, where Armando Bacot has been a beast throughout the NCAA Tournament. Bacot has recorded a double-double in all five of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament games and has grabbed at least 15 rebounds in four straight games, including 22 against Saint Peter’s in the Elite Eight to go along with 21 massive boards against Duke in the Final Four.
All of those rebounds can either lead to second-chance opportunities for Bacot or start the Tar Heels in transition if Bacot is cleaning up Kansas misses. It will be up to the Jayhawks’ interior trio of David McCormack, Mitch Lightfoot and Jalen Wilson to not let Bacot put up another 15+ rebound effort in the championship game.
2. Lock down Caleb Love
While Bacot is the biggest name on the Tar Heels, Caleb Love has been North Carolina’s most dangerous player in the NCAA Tournament. Love has averaged 20 points per game for the Tar Heels and torched both UCLA and Duke with a combined 58 points in those games while also delivering daggers from the three-point arc late in the game.
Kansas has done a good job taking away the other team’s lead guards but there have been moments where their perimeter defense has struggled, notably when Miami’s Kameron McGusty got off to a hot start in the first half of their Elite Eight matchup. Key second-half adjustments allowed the Jayhawks to take McGusty out of the game and Self will ensure that his guards are harassing Love all night long.
1. Ochai Agbaji needs to deliver an epic performance
The best player on the floor on Monday night figures to be Kansas senior Ochai Agbaji, a finalist for the Wooden Award after an outstanding regular season. The NCAA Tournament hasn’t been as kind for Agbaji, who struggled in the leadup to the Final Four before posting his best game of March Madness against Villanova on Saturday night.
Agbaji poured in 21 points for Kansas on the strength of six made three-pointers, which should be a nice confidence boost for him entering the national championship game. If the Jayhawks can get the Agbaji that dominated the regular season to show up on Monday night they will have a much better chance to defeat the Tar Heels and cut down the nets.
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