Win (all the damn time) or go home? Kansas, UNC round out all-blue-blood Final Four
The Jayhawks got it done Sunday with a dizzyingly good second half at the United Center, outscoring Miami by 32 points in a 76-50 Midwest Region final. At last in this tournament, a 1 seed stood up and declared itself worthy.
Blue, that’s who.
Blue-blood programs. Blue color schemes. Blue Bayou.
The Final Four is headed to New Orleans, and if you aren’t on the short list of college basketball’s “haves” — as in having it all, including lots of blue in your uniforms — you’re just not invited.
Villanova, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. Goliaths one, two, three and four. That’s the order in which they cut down the nets after winning in the Elite Eight.
Kansas, the only No. 1 seed among the four, got it done Sunday with a dizzyingly good second half at the United Center, outscoring No. 10 Miami by 32 points in a 76-50 Midwest Region final. At last in this tournament, a 1 seed stood up and declared itself worthy.
Sorry, Baylor, Gonzaga and Arizona, but you still just plain blew it.
Kansas (32-6) trailed by six at the break, and its chances of progressing toward a second national title under coach Bill Self looked pretty bleak. Twenty-two straight Jayhawks teams have been top-four seeds in this event, with only one of them so far making it to the very mountaintop. Same old, same old this time?
Not by a longshot. Big man David McCormick and guard Christian Braun each had an individual five-point spurt as the Jayhawks took a three-point lead by the first television timeout. The run soon ballooned to 19-5 — with first-team All-American Ochai Agbaji beginning to heat up — and not long after that to 25-7.
“We had about two good plays turn into four, which turned into eight, which turned into 16,” Self said. “These guys played as well as they could play in the second half. …
“When we play the way that I think we’re capable of playing, I have total faith.”
By the time guard Remy Martin drilled a three from the top of the circle and then waved his arms in the direction of the Miami bench and fan section, it was 57-44 and one couldn’t help but wonder: Just who in the heck did these Hurricanes (26-11) think they were, St. Peter’s?
“Kansas came out in the second half and really hit us with a knockout punch,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said.
A 47-15 half isn’t a knockout punch. It’s a soul stealer.
“I think the [pressure of] the Elite Eight was one thing,” Larrañaga said. “The other is Kansas. They are really, really good.”
So good — at least on Sunday — they had the opposing coach digging deep into the file cabinet for the excuse that Miami’s program “didn’t even exist from 1972 to 1985.” That’s true. It also didn’t exist from minute 21 to minute 40 in the school’s first-ever Elite Eight appearance.
Kansas, owner of more wins all-time than any other school, will face South No. 2 seed Villanova, winner of two of the last five tournament championships, on Saturday (5:09 p.m., TBS). It almost sounds as big as it gets, doesn’t it?
The truth is the Jayhawks and Wildcats might seem invisible in the days to come. That’s because the second national semifinal — Duke against old rival North Carolina — is going to suck all the oxygen out of the room, the airwaves, the sport.
It’s Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season, and here he is two victories from ending it all with national title No. 6 and his first since 2015. You can love him. You can root against him. You can roll your eyes or even gag at the extent to which broadcasters fawn over his every coaching decision or facial expression. But you can’t deny the college game’s winningest coach ever trying to go out with the ultimate bang is a gigantic story.
And to run into North Carolina in the Final Four? North Carolina, its neighbor, rival and equal? The same North Carolina that won at Duke earlier this month in Krzyzewski’s final home game on the Blue Devils’ Senior Day? It’s as poetic as it is dramatic.
But for Self to win it all again would be monumental. It would also be a bitter cherry on what some college hoops fans consider a rotten sundae. If you sniff deeply enough, there’s still a scent of Level 1 violations in the air surrounding Kansas. There still are NCAA charges of a lack of institutional control and head coach responsibility in the stink of the so-called FBI Adidas scandal that bubbled up in 2017.
But Self has a lifetime contract and a killer team that’s as good as any potential opponent out there. And that team celebrated on the UC court, players looking up at joyous images on the scoreboard video screens as they pointed their phones into the crowd.
“We’re not done yet,” Agbaji said. “I’m not satisfied with this, and none of my teammates are, either.”
They’re out for blood. Blue blood. The rest of us can look elsewhere for any underdog stories now.