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College Basketball

This Is All So Much Better When It’s Not About The Coaches

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - APRIL 04: The Kansas Jayhawks celebrate after defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels 72-69 during the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament National Championship at Caesars Superdome on April 04, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

So many people had gone to such lengths to make this NCAA Men’s Tournament about Mike Krzyzewski that it would require extraordinary events to make the weekend not be about him, or worse, about his most ardent defenders.

But in the end, in a Final Four of bluebloods and too-familiar faces, there was a development so mighty that it eventually scrubbed the Krzyzewski narrative from everyone's memories, or to be more accurate, fears. It was called the games.

Monday's championship game between Kansas and North Carolina was effervescent enough to break, at least for the moment, the hegemony of CoachWorld. The Jayhawks rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit to win, 72-69, which was noteworthy enough, but the drama of the evening—the slow build that led to Carolina's late first-half blitz and Kansas' post-halftime response—made all the things that can make college sports hinky seem, well, at least a few feet away. The game even overcame the tyranny of seeding, as North Carolina never really looked like an eight and Kansas never truly approached their billing as a one. It was just a game between weirdly conjoined equals that met all the standards of Saturday's Carolina-Krzy… err, Duke game, which was its own delight for more reasons than the outcome.

The only really NCAA note to the whole thing was when organization president and Play-Doh canister Mark Emmert congratulated the "Kansas City Jayhawks" during the trophy presentation. There is a level of comfort in knowing that the people in charge can occasionally fail in their one true responsibility: ruining a perfectly enjoyable event with their own ritual fecklessness. "Kansas City?" Really, Buckethead?

Fortunately, everything else worked better than it normally does. Even the network broadcast itself, which usually ladles on the admiration for the creeping mold of bureaucracy, did the basketball game instead of the hagiography and was rewarded for its focus with games worth the bother. Some folks might even have forgotten why they hated Krzyzewski all these years by the end of the show.

Oh, there's still the usual trap door that can spring and drop the whole experience down a few floors. Maybe Bill Self's dodgier career highlights, the ones that have made his recruiting of interest to the FBI, will ruin this story in the end (the NCAA's investigation into Adidas reps and their role in the KU program is more than a year old), but the game … no, the games stood tall and emitted waves of proper entertainment. So if you remain a true believer, hold on to last night, and Saturday, and anything associated with Saint Peter's. Joy was made and fun was had. You may need those memories soon enough.

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