So Monday night it will be UNC vs. Kansas for the national title. Both teams are deserving and have really shown their competitive worth.
So who are we picking?
We’ll get back to that in a minute.
One thing you are not going to hear much about is the recent corruption in both programs. For Kansas, which has titles in 1952, 1988 and 2008*, glory might be fleeting: the Jayhawks are part of the Adidas FBI scandal and face five Level 1 infractions and a charge of head coach responsibility and the dreaded lack of institutional control.
The university is defiant and has already said it will keep Self no matter what the NCAA rules and in fact made him coach for life - on the same day Sean Miller was fired by Arizona for his part in the same scandal.
Don’t count on much from the NCAA at this point.
UNC basically changed expectations when it got out of significant punishment by arguing that the paper classes behind its scandal were open to all students, and in fact quite a few non-athletes caught on to the scam and declared a minor in African and Afro-American Studies department.
UNC’s titles in 2005 and 2009 remain even though were peak years of the the academic fraud, something Roy Williams claimed he knew nothing about, dismissing it as “the junk.”
But assistant coach Sean May knows a few things about it, since he majored in African American history when he was at UNC from 2002-2005. We’ve raised the question before and we will again: we assume coaches at UNC are required to be college graduates. Is May a legitimate graduate of UNC? Or was his transcript peppered with paper classes? Why did none of our local journalists bother to ask? Or national for that matter?
Either way, UNC shamefully claims that the 2005 and 2009 titles are legit but they are unquestionably tainted. Tyler Hansbrough took AFAM classes as did a number of other players on the 2005 and 2009 teams. None of this is secret.
If UNC were the university it claims it is, or used to claim it was anyway, they would have vacated those titles voluntarily to reclaim its honor. That, of course didn’t happen.
None of that reflects on Hubert Davis though nor does it detract from what he has accomplished this season. He’s come a very long way and has entirely justified Roy Williams’ faith in his former assistant. He was not at UNC during the paper class era and bears no responsibility for it.
He’s also irritatingly likable.
From a distance, Dean Smith made a great villain and Williams could at times be a real hothead who, among other things, cursed on TV broadcasts and said nasty things to and about his own fans at both Kansas and UNC (that said, it’s been fun to watch him as a fan this spring).
It’s going to be harder with Davis. He was a very genial presence when he was on ESPN and competition aside, at least in public he’s been a sweetheart this year. It’s just hard to dislike the guy despite who he’s coaching.
So back to Monday night: what’s going to happen?
Before Saturday’s Duke-UNC epic, we said that the winner of Kansas-Villanova would have an advantage and nothing has changed. UNC is very thin and expended huge energy in beating Duke. Armando Bacot will play after his late ankle injury but who knows? His rebounding has been brilliant but his shooting has fallen off in the post-season.
It’s a bit of mystery really. In the blowout against Marquette, he shot 6-13. Against Baylor, he was 4-10. Against UCLA he was 6-10, in the blowout over much smaller Saint Peters, he was 8-15 and against Duke just 3-10.
Total that up and it’s 27-58, or 46.5 percent, and this from a guy who lives around the basket.
Part of it is surely just defensive attention, but it’s hard to imagine that Marquette and Saint Peters could do much to stop him and UNC’s three point attack should give him plenty of room to operate.
So we don’t get that.
Kansas isn’t necessarily much deeper but Remy Martin is the sixth man and that’s better than UNC’s bench.
The Jayhawks have had a tougher path than people realize: Creighton gave them a tough game as you might have expected from a overshadowed team in overlapping media markets but the Bluejays are pretty good too.
Providence was no easy out and it took awhile to crack a red hot Miami team.
But the Jayhawks are playing very, very well. We don’t know if Ochai Agbaji can hit 6-7 on threes or not like he did against Villanova - probably not - but look at this.
Against Creighton, Self played 10 guys. Against Providence, eight. Against Miami, three bench players got meaningful minutes prior to garbage time. And of course against Villanova, KU went seven deep.
And keep this in mind too: as sick as Duke fans probably are of Brady Manek, Kansas got four years of him when he was at Oklahoma. Self has watched that guy enough to really, really know him. That’s potentially a big advantage for Kansas.
So all in all, we can certainly imagine UNC winning but the Tar Heels have a lot more to overcome at the point than Kansas does. So we’ll go with KU here.
And then wait for whatever the emasculated NCAA has in store for Coach For Life Self.
*Amazingly, like UNC, Kansas claims two Helms Foundation national championships. These were awarded, by votes, years after the seasons in question. So if a Jayhawk fan says five, you can tell him to go stuff it. It’s ridiculous. Titles are won, not awarded.