We’re used to NCAA Tournament players becoming heroes in seconds, but somehow there were no winning buzzer-beaters in the entire 2022 men’s tournament. We need to fix that next year.) Instead, Kansas left its legacy in minutes. With 11 minutes left in Monday night’s national championship game, the Jayhawks trailed North Carolina by three points. With 10 minutes remaining, they were leading by six after going 9-0 up and lasting just 54 seconds:
The headline is Kansas pulled off the biggest second-half comeback in NCAA Men’s Championship history, overcoming a 15-point halftime deficit to beat North Carolina 72-69 to win the first. program’s national championship since 2008. But the comeback didn’t even take the whole half. The Jayhawks cut the Tar Heels’ 15-point lead to less than 10 in the first three minutes of the second half. They tied the game with 10:53 remaining. If the men’s varsity hoops had quarterbacks, Kansas would have erased that 15-point deficit late in the third.
It is often said that basketball is a racing game. (Seriously, basketball announcers and writers will say that at random intervals during their days. I said that while ordering a slice of pizza last week. I couldn’t help it.) In February, college basketball statistician Evan Miyakawa decided to pair this aphorism with an algorithm, and I discovered something that sounds like either a breakthrough or the most obvious thing you’ve ever heard : a team that has more points 10-0 than its opponent in a given match wins this match 82% of the time. It is extremely difficult to win if you let your opponent score 10 points in a row. Miyakawa called these races “kill shots” and started tracking them during that season.
The “Kill Shot”: Tracking double-digit scores in games (10-0 or better) over the course of the season.
A team with more points scored than the opponent wins 82% of the time. Here’s the landscape of the top 75 teams in terms of points scored and points conceded pic.twitter.com/QdrCKNrekh
— Evan Miyakawa (@EvanMiya) February 18, 2022
Maybe Monday’s game disproves Miyakawa’s theory: after all, Kansas has never had a 10-0 run, just an 8-0 run and a 9-0 run, while the UNC went 16-0 in the first half. But Kansas championship history is a month-long run streak: Since the end of the regular season, Kansas has chained seven runs of at least 10 unanswered points in nine games. He had three such runs in the Big 12 Tournament to win the league championship and one in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Texas Southern. He had two of those runs in the Elite Eight against Miami, as Kansas beat the Hurricanes 47-15 in the second half to turn a six-point halftime deficit into a 26-point victory. He started his Final Four match against Villanova on a 10-0 run and held on for a comfortable 16-point victory.
These Kansas races were perfect storms. Despite racing to a big early lead, North Carolina looked doomed for most of the second half. The Tar Heels thrive on offensive rebounds, but Kansas lives in transition. UNC’s quest to dominate the offensive glass has left it vulnerable to easy transition buckets. The Jayhawks scored eight points on those possessions in the second half alone:
North Carolina was also doomed by its limited depth, as first-year head coach Hubert Davis played his starters for more than 35 minutes in most of the team’s NCAA Tournament games. This was compounded by a brutal streak of injury luck. Star center Armando Bacot suffered an ankle injury in the final minutes of the team’s Final Four win over Duke; he never looked 100% in the title match and aggravated the injury in the dying minutes on Monday. Forward Brady Manek took a massive elbow to the skull early against Kansas, and point guard Caleb Love appeared to pinch his ankle. Reserve guard Puff Johnson – playing partly through injuries elsewhere – was hit in the stomach and vomited on the pitch, a development shown on deeply unpleasant slow-motion replays on the show. A short bench and varying ailments aren’t a great recipe for following Kansas’ top-down style. As the championship game reached its final moments, the Jayhawks felt inevitable.
Kansas entered this tournament as the most consistent program in men’s college basketball in two ways. The first is that he always comes to the event with a great resume. While other blue bloods like Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina will occasionally sprinkle slack seasons, even missing the NCAA Tournament in some years, Kansas won 14 consecutive Big 12 titles in the regular season between 2005 and 2018. It won a top-4 seed in every NCAA tournament since 2001. Many believed the Jayhawks should be the first seed in the 2020 men’s tournament, which was canceled due to COVID.
The other way Kansas has been consistent is by losing in the NCAA Tournament. Despite all those great seasons and all those high seeds, the Jayhawks hadn’t won a national championship since their famous 2008 win over Derrick Rose and Memphis. It’s not like they’re strangled artists: They’ve made Final Fours, Elite Eights, and even the 2012 national title game. just didn’t reach the top of the mountain. The Jayhawks had been on the wrong side of iconic March moments, like Ali Farokhmanesh’s dagger in 2010 and Trey Burke’s buzzer-beater in 2013. They’d lost to eventual national champions, like Kentucky in 2012 and Villanova in 2016, and had been upset by underdogs like VCU and Wichita State. There was no reliable trend in Kansas’ NCAA Tournament losses. It was just a constant casualty of a 68-team single-elimination tournament.
But this Kansas team was built differently than some previous ones. Like other blue bloods, Kansas tends to land some of the nation’s most sought-after recruits: Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson, Joel Embiid, and more. In the 14 years since their last national title, the Jayhawks have signed 16 players rated consensus five-star rookies by 247Sports, and three more are expected to arrive in the class of 2022. One way or another, nothing of these players were part of this championship list. The Jayhawks’ best players in the tournament were guard Ochai Agbaji and forward David McCormack, the third- and fourth-highest rated prospects, respectively, in the team’s 2018 class. That crop was headlined by Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson, who both left school in 2020. Kansas’ ongoing NCAA case stems from 2018 violations involving rookie Billy Preston, who left the program without playing in just one game, and Silvio de Sousa, who traded and played for UT-Chattanooga this season.
This Kansas team was also consistent in a way that the old Kansas teams were not. Seven of the nine Jayhawks who appeared in the national title game were juniors or seniors; the only freshman to appear against UNC was forward KJ Adams, who took the field for three minutes. Looks like the key to winning national championships in the modern era is roster stability: The Jayhawks are the third straight men’s national champion to have a roster with no five-star rookies but plenty of upperclass men .
That consistency helped Kansas win the national championship with a rare type of inconsistency: the ability to land knockout hits with devastating points. Perhaps it comes from the defensive cohesion of five players who have spent years playing side by side; maybe the Jayhawks have built an intuitive understanding of how to maximize their teammates’ strengths when they come out on break. Maybe it’s just the mental toughness that comes with experience, allowing the Jayhawks to keep their wits about their darkest moments and grasp when other teams are struggling.
The Jayhawks didn’t look like the best team for this entire NCAA tournament. They didn’t even look like the best team in the first half of Monday’s game. The Jayhawks’ glow sometimes only lasted a few minutes at a time, but now it’s enough to last all eternity.