Well, that was fun. In a duel between the Rockefellers and the Carnegies, Kansas defeated North Carolina Monday night to claim yet another national basketball championship and some more hardware for an already crowded trophy case.
And the rich get richer.
This was your father’s Final Four — a collection of blue bloods who have been ruling the sport pretty much forever. It was the haves vs. the haves — North Carolina, Kansas, Duke and Villanova. It was basketball’s version of Bohemian Grove. The peasant class was excluded from this highbrow gathering.
There were so many familiar faces at the Final Four that it felt like a TV rerun. Hey, honey, change the channel, we’ve seen this one.
Who did you cheer for — Walmart, Google, Amazon or IBM?
North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and Villanova have appeared in the Final Four a combined total of 60 times. They rank fi rst, tied for third, fifth and tied for 10th, respectively, in the most Final Four berths.
They have won 18 national championships among them — North Carolina 6, Duke 5, Kansas 4, Villanova 3. In the last 22 years, these teams have won 10 national championships. Each school has won at least two titles during that time.
Kansas won title No. 4 just nine days after surpassing Kentucky as the winningest team in NCAA history by claiming its 2,354th victory. No. 3 is North Carolina. No. 4 is Duke. Villanova, a relatively new member of the blue bloods, is 19th. This foursome has collected about 8,700 wins.
There were plenty of reminders of their heritage. Roy Williams was sitting in the crowd. He led Kansas to four Final Fours and then one-upped himself by leading North Carolina to five Final Fours. Former Kansas superstar Danny Manning was there, too. Kansas officials asked him to speak to the team via a video to show the team before Monday’s championship game.
“The opportunity to play on Monday night in April is why you dream and why you choose to be a Jayhawk,” Manning told the team. “Tonight, this group of Jayhawks aim to go from mortal to immortal. From slightly remembered to never forgotten.”
Not that there’s any pressure, boys.
They also asked Paul Pierce, another legendary alum, to speak to the team before the game.
“You all have a chance to do something special, that’s gonna last forever. That’s gonna last forever. They’re gonna talk about it forever,” Pierce said. “You all represent guys like me who didn’t have a chance to play in this game.”
The Jayhawks did everything except call the late Wilt Chamberlain to come back from the other side for a pep talk.
Duke didn’t need to look any farther than its head coach for a reminder of what it meant to be basketball royalty. Coach Mike Krzyzewski was coaching the final game of his career and that became the major storyline of the Final Four. He was making his 13th appearance in the Final Four, five of them resulting in national championships. He was denied a sixth title, but five ought to be enough for one man.
Anyway, college basketball, like college football, is controlled largely by a relatively small ruling class. There have been 83 Final Fours — or 332 Final Four berths. Almost half of them (157 slots) have been claimed by 16 teams. It’s difficult to top the old established families.
There were no Cinderellas in the Final Four this year. In the past there was Loyola-Chicago (2018), South Carolina (2017), Wichita State (2013), Butler (2010, 2011), VCU (2011), George Mason (2006), and Utah (1998). This year Saint Peter’s, a No. 15 seed with an enrollment of less than 3,000, came within one game of advancing to the Final Four, losing to North Carolina in the Elite Eight round. Gonzaga — can we still call the Bulldogs a Cinderella team? — fell short, as usual. The Bulldogs have climbed to the No. 1 ranking five times in the last six years and still haven’t won a championship.
Hardly a year goes by that at least one member of this year’s Final Four doesn’t return to the Final Four. It’s almost considered a failure if they fall short of that mark. Yet there are many reputable programs that have never qualified for one Final Four — Missouri, Utah State, Tennessee, Alabama, Xavier, BYU, Miami (Ohio), Boston College, Arizona State, New Mexico, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, etc.
“You all represent family, you represent the culture and you all represent a tradition,” Pierce told the team.
On Monday, the Jayhawks added another trophy to the family collection.