NEW ORLEANS – The highest seeded combined pairing in the Final Four Saturday has basically been treated like an NIT game.
But No. 1 seed Kansas (32-6) and No. 2 seed Villanova (30-7) are also here and will tip off the first national semifinal (6:09 p.m. eastern, TBS) in the 74,000-seat Superdome.
In the main event at 8:49 p.m., it will be No. 2 seed Duke (32-6) and its neighor eight miles away – No. 8 seed North Carolina (28-9) in the first-ever Final Four game between two teams from the same conference and state.
And Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, 75, is in his last and NCAA record 13th Final Four as he announced his retirement last summer. Or have you heard?
Duke and North Carolina will play for the 258th time since the series began in 1920 with North Carolina leading, 142-115. None of those games took place in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas and Villanova have played nine times since 1968 with Villanova ahead 5-4 and 2-1 in NCAA Tournament games.
“It’s perfect,” Kansas 6-foot-7 junior guard Christian Braun said Friday when asked about the lack of attention. “We don’t need anyone to talk us up. I feel like we know who we are. We’re Kansas.”
Kansas is the only No. 1 seed remaining and has won nine straight. It looked like an NBA team for much of its 76-50 win over No. 10 seed Miami in the Elite Eight on Sunday. Consensus All-American 6-5 senior guard Ochai Agbaji leads the Jayhawks with 18.9 points and 5.2 rebounds a game.
Oh, and Kansas is the winningest program in NCAA Division I history with 2,355 victories. Coach Bill Self, 59, is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame along with Krzyzewski and has one national championship (2008) to Krzyzewski’s five (1991, ’92, 2001, ’10, ’15). He also is in his fourth Final Four.
“We don’t need to compare ourselves to anybody,” said Braun, who is averaging 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds a game with 32 blocked shots. “We have the best coach in the country, and we have really good players. So, the media can talk about whoever they want. We know we’re the lone No. 1 seed left, and that’s for a reason.”
Self does not seem to mind secondary status either.
“I do look at that game as getting the majority of the attention, and probably rightfully so,” he said. “We’ll be the second game because it’s through Carolina and they never met, Coach K’s last year, and all those things. But we’re fired up. I don’t think anybody in this field is flying under any radar or anything like that. Actually, I believe all four teams have a legitimate shot if they play well.”
Villanova carries quite a bit to talk about as well as the Wildcats won the 2016 and ’18 national championships under coach Jay Wright, 60. He is also in the Naismith Hall of Fame, and Villanova has the best NCAA Tournament record in the nation since 2016 at 20-3. He has taken the Wildcats to four of their seven Final Fours. Villanova has won 14 of its last 15 games.
Wright drew the “undercard” question.
“When you say it, I get it,” he said. “Somebody else did say that to me. But I’m so worried about Kansas, honest to God. I don’t think about that at all.”
Wright is more concerned with being the first one out as he is without 6-4 junior shooting guard Justin Moore, who tore his Achilles tendon in the final moments of the Wildcats’ Elite Eight win over Houston on Saturday and cannot play. Moore was averaging 14.8 points a game and hitting 35 percent of his three-pointers (86 of 225) through 36 starts and 34 minutes a game.
Junior 6-5 guard Bryan Antoine will try to replace Moore. Antoine is averaging 1.4 points and 9.5 minutes a game through 19 games and no starts. He has hit just 4 of 25 from three-point range for 16 percent.
“What he brings is great speed defensively, which against Kansas is important,” Wright said. “He gives us perimeter shooting and a high-level basketball IQ offensively. This is a great opportunity for him.”
If he plays well, and Villanova wins it all, he could be talked about more than Duke and North Carolina put together.
“There are a lot of great teams left with great traditions just like us,” Braun said. “They have great coaches also. But we don’t need anyone to talk about us.”