I’m going to go ahead and say it: there is a very real chance that the Tar Heels knock off the Jayhawks tonight and win the national championship.
I know that is a bold statement to make, especially when it comes to a team that was counted out so often this season, but do me a favor: look through Kansas’ wins and losses this season, and tell me that you don’t see it too. Sure, Ochai Agbaji & Co. have been on a tear throughout this tournament. Yes, Bill Self is a very good coach that has had UNC’s number since Roy Williams’ exit from Lawrence. Finally, the Heels do enter this game as the four-point underdogs according to DraftKings.com. But here’s the thing: a lot of people didn’t think the Heels could get this far, let alone beat Duke to make it to the final game of the season. I’m not saying that I think it will happen, but what I am saying is that a seventh national championship is well within the realm of possibility.
With that said, let’s talk about what the Heels have to do to make this happen.
Shut down Ochai Agbaji
One of the stars for the Jayhawks this season has been senior guard, Ochai Agbaji. He is a skilled player that can get hot at any given time, and occasionally will punish teams from the three-point line. Right now he’s averaging a career-high 18.9 ppg, 47.6% from the field and 41.1% from deep. He is the head of the Kansas snake, and UNC will have to make him as much of a non-factor as possible if they want a chance of winning the title.
Luckily for the Heels, Leaky Black has been incredible on defense, and it would shock me if he doesn’t get assigned to Agbaji. His length should be enough to bother Agbaji and make life very difficult for him, which is something that we saw when he shut down AJ Griffin two nights ago. Needless to say, Kansas also has other talented players in Christian Braun, Jalen Wilson, and David McCormack, but the most important task is to make Agbaji work all night on offense, and the rest will take care of itself.
Feeding Armando Bacot early and often
In the game against Duke, UNC’s star junior had a tough outing in the scoring department. He finished the game with 11 points, despite Mark Williams and Theo John getting into foul trouble quickly in the first half. The opportunity was there for the Heels to capitalize on Duke going small, but it just wasn’t Bacot’s night. Part of it was his teammates not getting him as involved as they should have, but the other factor was the Blue Devils’ physicality bothering him when he did touch the ball.
Things may not be a whole lot better against the Jayhawks, as McCormack is a worthy foe for Bacot. Here’s the thing, though: UNC just needs to find ways to get Bacot easier looks at the basket, whether it’s via pick-and-roll action, knocking down shots quickly from the perimeter to clear up the lane, or just making better passes in general. The Heels simply cannot win this game without Bacot at his best, which also means that his ankle needs to be healthy enough to play 30+ minutes of quality basketball one last time.
Bringing a fight after taking down Duke
Let’s be honest: games between UNC and Duke are extremely draining endeavors that sometimes lead to one or both teams having mediocre performances in their next game. I’ve voiced my concerns about that game taking place at all, but what I never talked about was that the winner of the game would have to go into the championship game after having the battle of their lives with their most hated rival. It all sounds like a made up narrative I’m sure, but it’s very possible that it ends up being an issue.
The task ahead is simple: Hubert Davis has to find a way to get the Heels to give their absolute best one more time for the season. I have a feeling that it won’t be difficult, because it is hard not to bring your best shot to a national championship game, but you never know which key player will fall back to Earth at the worst possible time. Beating Duke was fun and all, but tonight’s game could make the 2021-22 team one for the history books, and that alone is more than enough reason to leave it all on the court.