I am stuck behind a rock and a hard place with this National Championship game tonight. More aptly, I am stuck between my head and my heart. The part of me that adheres to logic and reality has watched Kansas play like the best team in the country and wants to pick them to win. The part of me that watches games with emotion and wants the best stories to happen is rooting for North Carolina to become an unexpected champion. I’m not sure who is going to end up being my pick but I hope that the game will be incredibly entertaining either way.
The reasons to pick Kansas are super clear. Ochai Agbaji was one of the best college basketball players this year and he just had his best game of the tournament so far in the Jayhawks’ win over Villanova. Having a top-five player in the country playing at the top of his game is always helpful when trying to win a national championship. Kansas is also just stacked behind Agbaji. David McCormack is also playing really well and Christian Braun has been a steady force all year for Kansas.
The x-factor is going to be Remy Martin like it has been all tournament long. He came to Lawrence with sky-high expectations that he failed to meet due to a mix of injury and underperformance. The skill is there for Martin to be one of the best scorers in the nation, though, and he has shown that skill a lot more recently. If he adds another 20-point game off the bench to whatever the starters produce, then Kansas will be very hard to beat.
North Carolina has been a team of destiny in the tournament, though. Even though a team like UNC isn’t as fun of a Cinderella team as a smaller mid-major team, the run they have been on is undeniable. It all started in the Baylor game when it looked like the Brady Manek ejection would lead to an all-time collapse by the Tar Heels and a disappointing exit from March Madness. They somehow were able to hold on and outlast the Bears, and now here they are in the championship game. Of course, it took another win over hated rival Duke to get this far, but nothing is out of the realm for North Carolina at this point.
Manek has certainly been the breakout star for the Tar Heels with his three-point stroke and glorious mane of hair but Armando Bacot is the heart and soul of the team. He is a player that had a legit claim to ACC Player of the Year this season but has still flown a bit under the radar. He doesn’t score a ton or end up on a bunch of highlights but he does all the dirty work. He rebounds at an insane rate and plays so hard that he gives the other team’s bigs headaches.
The reason why North Carolina can succeed without huge scoring numbers from Bacot is that the rest of the starters can make up whatever he doesn’t do in scoring. Caleb Love has been scoring at a torrid pace this tournament and is capable of going off at any moment and hitting big shots. And I say starters for a reason because the Tar Heels are basically a five-man team at this point. All five starters played at least 30 minutes against Duke in the Final Four with Leaky Black and Love logging all 40 minutes. Bacot played the fewest minutes with 33 but that number would have been higher if he didn’t roll his ankle that took him out for a few minutes and foul out late in the game.
This is a super tough game to predict but I think I am going to go with my heart on this one. I want North Carolina to win because I love what they have done during this run. I also can’t in good faith root for a one seed when there is an eight seed on the other side. As much as I would love to see Agbaji get is big moment in college before heading to the NBA, give me Bacot, Manek, and Love in a super hard-fought game that hopefully goes down to the wire.