By Andy Katz
FOX Sports College Basketball Analyst
NEW ORLEANS – Devon Dotson has entered the Kansas locker room late Monday night wearing a championship hat.
It was Bill Self’s hat.
Self gave it to Dotson after the Jayhawks made the biggest comeback in title game history, going from 15 at halftime, to beat North Carolina 72-69 to win the national championship. Monday evening.
Dotson, who played for the Chicago Bulls and in the G-League, was on the 2020 Jayhawks squad, along with Udoka Azubuike and Marcus Garrett, two National Defensive Players of the Year. This Kansas team was heading into the NCAA Tournament as the likely No. 1 seed, the favorite to win the program’s first title since 2008.
But it wasn’t meant to be for Kansas, for any of us, since the world has shut down due to the global pandemic.
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Two years later, the Jayhawks are national champions, thanks to a brilliant second half against North Carolina.
“They say things happen for a reason,” Self said in a hallway just outside the Kansas locker room. “There is no guarantee of winning anything in this tournament. I just wish Dok and Marcus could be here tonight.
Self said he felt bad for them when the 2020 playoffs were canceled. There were undoubtedly plenty of coaches and teams who felt the same way. But this Kansas team still has many pieces from this 2020 team, and that’s a major difference from some of the others. The rosters change – players graduate, transfer, some get drafted. There are countless issues that prevent teams from being able to win a title after missing one.
Programs like Kansas are usually in the mix because of the talent they constantly correlate.
Ochai Agbaji is one of those talented players. He was supposed to redshirt his first season in 2018-19 but was put on duty when Azubuike got injured. The tall senior guard was named the 2022 tournament MVP. He was the only Naismith and Wooden Award finalist to make the Final Four.
“I don’t do anything but hard work,” said Agbaji, while holding the national title trophy. “To see this result is so special. Kansas has my heart now.”
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To win the title, there has to be luck on your side or at the very least good fortune – and sometimes, unfortunately, that comes at someone else’s expense.
The Tar Heels had a terrific run to the title game, arguably a tougher road with games against Marquette, defending champion Baylor, UCLA and then Cinderella in a St. Pierre uniform. Oh, and then in the national semifinals, UNC had to face Duke for the very first time in the NCAA Tournament.
Armando Bacot has been sensational this week in New Orleans, playing with a twisted ankle he re-injured late in Monday’s game. This left Bacot in tears, sobbing into his briefcase as he knew he couldn’t get home until the last minute. Meanwhile, Kansas great David McCormack scored in the low block for the final bucket.
Would this have happened if Bacot was in the game? Maybe, but maybe not.
The Tar Heels were also playing with a hobbled Caleb Love and a breathless Puff Johnson, who came off the bench to score 11 points but played much of the second half due to shortness of breath after taking a knock at the ‘stomach.
Yes, the Tar Heels took a 15-point halftime lead, but they ended their season with memories to last a lifetime, including the end of coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career at Cameron Indoor Stadium and in the Final Four with victories that will go down in Carolina history.
Freshman coach Hubert Davis has done a tremendous job leading the Tar Heels through sometimes turbulent waters. His first year almost ended with a title.
“I told the team that I couldn’t remember a time when I was supposed to be disappointed, but I was filled with gratitude,” Davis said ahead of the post-game press conference. “I’m so proud of them. They had tenacity and a will to fight and be the best team they could be. They gave this program and gave each other everything they had.”
Kansas last won a title in 2008, when Self’s team beat Memphis in overtime after Mario Chalmers hit a buzzer to send the game into OT.
The Jayhawks made appearances again in 2012, here in New Orleans, losing to Anthony Davis and Kentucky, and again in 2018, falling to eventual champion Villanova in the national semifinals.
But it was their next best move after dropping 2020.
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Mark Titus and Tate Frazier explain how the Jayhawks fought their way to a national championship.
One of the missing pieces was Arizona State senior guard Remy Martin, who was on the ground when the Sun Devils beat then-No. 1 Kansas in Tempe in 2018. Martin has struggled this season with a knee injury after being named the Big 12 pre-season player of the year. But he appeared at the right time, leading the Jayhawks to the Midwest Regional title as the region’s MVP.
And then after scoring three points in the semi-final against Nova, Martin made four huge 3s to finish with 14 points in the title match.
“I realized during the offseason when I came here that we could do something special,” said Martin, who had the honor of putting the Kansas name on the final leg of the podium at the Superdome. “Coach Self had tremendous confidence in me and I in him. It’s great. I’ve been injured and had my ups and downs. I’m so happy to win a national championship. I love the Kansas, and I love my teammates.”
Kansas’ home field at Allen Fieldhouse and its fanbase are among the best in the country. The Jayhawks expect to compete for titles, but as Self said, those “don’t fall out of the woods. They’re hard to come by, and if I’m not mistaken, only a handful of teams in have won two in the past 14 years.” ‘
That would be correct: Duke and Coach K won in 2010 and 2015, North Carolina and Roy Williams in 2009 and 2017, UConn in 2011 (Jim Calhoun) and 2014 (Kevin Ollie), Nova in 2016 and 2018 under Jay Wright, and now Kansas in 2008 and 2022.
Naismith Hall of Famer Self carried Kansas through the rugged and intimidating Big 12 to share the title with Baylor. The Jayhawks were a No. 1 seed and the only one to advance to the Final Four.
And Self got here, then won, with a heavy heart after the death of his father, Bill Sr., in late January.
“I know he’s so proud and proud of these guys,” Self said. “My parents grew up depressed. They had this no-lunch mentality. You get what you earn. He loved this team.”
So true. This team has won every last drop of this title.
And in a season where the fans were back, the madness certainly returned with a 15 seed making the Sweet 16, the retirement of Coach K, Duke-UNC and endgame drama that had us all captivated. .
In the end, a blue blood rose up and won the championship with an epic comeback.
The storyline is never what we expect, but the ending is almost always the same – with a deserving champion who has a story worth telling.
And we will start again in 2023.
Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst, and broadcaster. He can be seen on the FOX Sports and Big Ten Network platforms, as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and he hosts the “March Madness 365” podcast. Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, before that, at newspapers for nine years.
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