Skip to main content

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Kansas Jayhawks Prediction: NCAA Tournament National Championship Preview

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Kansas Jayhawks Prediction: NCAA Tournament National Championship Preview

Tar Heels, Jayhawks meet in New Orleans for their second-ever national championship matchup

Will North Carolina complete a magical run through the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament when it battles Kansas for a national championship on Monday night?

The 8-seed Tar Heels have reached the national championship game for the 12th time. This current run is more unexpected than any of the others. North Carolina (29-9) kept its season alive with a hard-fought 81-77 victory over archrival and 2-seed Duke in the Final Four. In a game that featured 12 ties and 18 lead changes, the Tar Heels took the lead for good on a pair of free throws from RJ Davis with 1:01 left. Caleb Love sealed the victory over the Blue Devils with a 3-pointer and three free throws in the final 25 seconds, part of his game-high 28 points. North Carolina prevailed after shooting 50 percent from the field in the second half and making seven 3-pointers after halftime.

The No. 1-seeded Jayhawks had no trouble handling 2-seed Villanova in the Final Four. Kansas (33-6) led from start to finish on its way to an 81-65 victory over the Wildcats and closed the game on a 17-7 run after Villanova cut the deficit to six points. The Jayhawks shot 61 percent from the field in the second half and knocked down 13 3-pointers over 40 minutes. They also doubled up Villanova around the basket, outscoring the Wildcats 32-16 in the paint. David McCormack set the tone in the post with 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting. Ochai Agbaji tore it up from outside, making six 3-pointers and totaling 21 points.

This is the second time North Carolina and Kansas are playing to decide a national championship. The Tar Heels edged the Jayhawks 54-53 to win the 1957 NCAA Tournament – marking the first of six national titles in the Tournament era.

National Championship: No. 8 North Carolina (29-9) vs. No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (33-6)

Time: Monday, April 4 at 9:20 p.m. ET
Where: Caesars Superdome (New Orleans)
TV: TBS (also simulcast on TNT and truTV)
Spread: Kansas -4.0

Keys for North Carolina

It's no stretch to say that the Tar Heels owe a ton to Caleb Love for bringing them to the cusp of winning another national championship. Love's ability to make timely baskets has helped North Carolina close out one upset win over a higher-seeded opponent after another. The sophomore guard is averaging 20.0 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. He had one of his finest shooting performances of the season against Duke, going 11-of-20 from the field. If the shots are falling for Love, the Tar Heels are difficult to beat.

Letting Kansas have its way inside will quickly put North Carolina on its heels. Duke successfully traded blows with the Tar Heels down to the final minute by getting to the basket. The Blue Devils outscored North Carolina 48-26 in the paint. Fortunately, the Tar Heels weathered the storm by winning the battle on the glass. They outrebounded Duke 50-41 and scored 22 second-chance points off 17 offensive rebounds. The Jayhawks are quality perimeter defenders, so having good inside, outside balance on both ends is crucial.

Keys for Kansas

The Jayhawks have combined a balanced offense with stifling perimeter defense to win comfortably in its last two contests. Kansas opened on a 10-0 run against Villanova and led by as many as 19 points before halftime. The Wildcats shot just 33 percent in the first half and never really got on track long enough to seriously threaten the Jayhawks in the closing minutes. Against Miami, Kansas outscored the Hurricanes 47-15 in the second half and shot 59 percent from the field while limiting Miami to 21 percent. If the Jayhawks extend possessions and clamp down on the perimeter, it can sap North Carolina's momentum in a similar manner.

Ochai Abgaji and Christian Braun are the sparks that ignite the offensive engine for Kansas. Abgaji shoots 41 percent from 3-point range and averages 18.9 points per game. Braun is a 39 percent shooter from long distance and drops 14.2 points per contest. The duo is lethal coming off screens. As brilliant as they are offensively, it won't mean much without big performances from the Jayhawks' big men. Jalen Wilson is averaging 12.0 rebounds over his last four games and David McCormack is coming off arguably his finest all-around performance of the season. Kansas needs both players to dominate in the post to keep North Carolina's defense off balance.

Final Analysis

Don't be fooled by the seed disparity here. This is a legitimately tough game for Kansas. North Carolina has been playing like a top-10 team since late February. The Tar Heels have the size inside and the shooters outside to trade blows with the Jayhawks for 40 minutes. Only one 8-seed has won the NCAA Tournament, however. As talented as North Carolina is, Kansas has more depth and more experience. The Jayhawks won't get rattled and will pull away late to end the Tar Heels' underdog push for a title.

Prediction: Kansas 74, North Carolina 70

Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.