The men’s Final Four matchup between North Carolina and Duke was an instant classic.
The first-ever showdown between Duke and North Carolina in the men’s NCAA tournament was always going to be memorable. The fact that we finally got it in the Last Four and during Mike Krzyzewski’s final year before retiring made it one of the most highly awaited games in sports history.
With UNC as a No. 8 seed and Duke in a state of flux heading into March, this matchup seemed too good to be true. It should have been impossible for this game to live up to such high expectations, yet it managed to do so.
North Carolina won 81-77 against Duke to go to the national championship game. The Tar Heels will now compete for the national title against Kansas. In the other semifinal, Kansas beat Villanova 81-65.
This was without a doubt one of the finest games I’ve ever seen. Coach K’s career comes to a close with a defeat against his archrival.
This game’s last minutes were just fantastic. With little over two minutes remaining, Trevor Keels made a three-pointer to give Duke a one-point lead. On the following play, North Carolina’s Brady Manek replied with a three of his own, putting Duke back in front. Duke came down and found Keels for a three-point attempt that went wide left, but Duke got the offensive rebound, threw the it to Wendell Moore, who sank another go-ahead three.
R.J. Davis’ free throws gave North Carolina the lead back. Mark Williams of Duke then missed a pair of free throws. Caleb Love nailed a stunning pull-up three-pointer on UNC’s following possession to put the Heels up four. This was the night’s most important shot.
It wasn’t over yet. Jeremy Roach of Duke went down the court and converted a basket to trim the Duke advantage to two. Duke had one more opportunity down three points after Love split free throws after an intentional foul. Trevor Keels was fouled and missed both of his free throws, keeping Duke at a two-point deficit.
On the following play, Duke fouled Love, who hit both free throws to give UNC the victory.
North Carolina’s journey to the Final Four was no fluke.
After losing by 20 points at home to Duke halfway through the season, the Tar Heels were in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. North Carolina came back late in the season, memorably defeating Duke by a score of double digits in Coach K’s last home game on March 5.
UNC was seeded eighth in this event. They upset No. 1 seed Baylor in the round of 32, but only after almost blowing a 25-point advantage. After handily defeating No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in the Elite Eight, Carolina’s Sweet 16 victory over UCLA was impressive, but there were still some doubts about whether this was a Final Four-caliber squad.
In the Final Four versus Duke, UNC showed themselves in the biggest game of the season. Carolina demonstrated how talented this club has always been. Love’s performance was electrifying, as he scored 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting. Despite twisting his ankle late in the game, Armando Bacot had an outstanding night on the glass, finishing with 11 points and 21 rebounds. In the victory, Davis scored 18 points and Manek had 14 points.
With superb guard play, a tough presence inside in Bacot, and adequate shooting on the wings, this Carolina club checks virtually every box you want in a college basketball contender. These Tar Heels are deserving of the championship.
Paolo Banchero put together a strong performance, but it wasn’t enough.
Since July, we’ve rated Paolo Banchero as our No. 1 prospect in the 2022 NBA Draft. Before tip-off, we even published a lengthy breakdown of why he’s so good. While some of the tournament’s brightest talents have faltered on the biggest stages, Banchero has been outstanding throughout Duke’s run. Against UNC, he had another outstanding performance.
Banchero demonstrated his whole skill set. He shot pull-up threes, scored in the post, and showed explosive driving skills at 6’10, 250 pounds. In the defeat, he scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on 8-of-17 shooting from the field.
The men’s national championship game between North Carolina and Kansas will be thrilling. Although the Jayhawks are a No. 1 seed and the Tar Heels are a No. 8 seed, neither team seems to be a favourite. Both of these teams play fantastic basketball.
One game remains in a remarkable men’s NCAA tournament. We’re excited to see what more surprises are in store.