Winners and Losers of the 2022 Men's Final Four

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2022

Winners and Losers of the 2022 Men's Final Four

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The matchup for the 2022 NCAA men's basketball championship game is set following Saturday's Final Four action from the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.

    Kansas led wire-to-wire in an 81-65 victory over Villanova in the first game of the day. Center David McCormack (25 points, 10-of-12 shooting) had arguably his best game of the season, and All-American Ochai Agbaji (21 points, 6-of-7 3PT) had his best game of the tournament. Villanova star Collin Gillespie wrapped up his storied college career with a team-high 17 points.

    That was followed by arguably the most anticipated NCAA tournament game of all time.

    For the first time ever, Duke and North Carolina brought the sport's greatest rivalry into the NCAA tournament, and the game was everything fans could have hoped for and more.

    The back-and-forth contest ended in an 81-77 victory for the No. 8 seed Tar Heels, with Caleb Love providing the dagger when he drilled a three-pointer with 28 seconds to play to put North Carolina up by four points.

    Love led four Tar Heels in double-figures with 28 points, while Armando Bacot (11 points, 21 rebounds) had yet another double-double inside. In what will almost certainly be his final game in a Duke uniform, future NBA lottery pick Paolo Banchero poured in 20 points for the Blue Devils.

    Let's take a quick run through the biggest winners and losers of the day beyond just what the scoreboard showed after the final buzzer sounded.

Winner: A Hot Start from Ochai Agbaji Set the Tone Early

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    Ochai Agbaji
    Ochai AgbajiJamie Squire/Getty Images

    Heading into Saturday's game, Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji had not quite looked like the player who won Big 12 Player of the Year and was a first-team All-American.

    The 6'5" senior averaged 18.9 points per game with an impressive 18 20-point performance in 33 games heading into March Madness. However, he had a lackluster showing through his first four games of this year's NCAA tournament, averaging 12.3 points and posting a season-low five points against Providence in the Sweet Sixteen.

    He came out firing against Villanova, drilling four early three-pointers to help propel the Jayhawks to a 19-8 lead with 11:48 to play in the first half. He hit two more threes before his first miss of the night, finishing with 21 points on an extremely efficient 6-of-8 shooting night.

    While he had his struggles to start the tournament, Agbaji once again proved on Saturday that he's the type of player who can lead his team to victory.

Loser: Villanova's Perimeter Defense

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    A slow tempo, strong three-point shooting and grind-it-out defense have been the calling card of the Villanova Wildcats during their run of success over the past decade.

    They allowed more than 80 points in a game just five times during the regular season, going 2-3 when their defense could not control the tempo.

    Make that 2-4.

    The Jayhawks poured in 81 points on a blistering 53.7 percent shooting from the field to punch their ticket to the title game, and time and again, they capitalized on wide-open looks on the perimeter by connecting on 13 of 24 attempts from beyond the arc. 

    It was just the ninth time in 38 games the Wildcats have surrendered double-digit three-pointers to an opponent, and the 54.2 percent the Jayhawks shot was easily the best percentage of the bunch in those high-volume perimeter shooting games.

    It would be easy to look at the box score and call it a hot shooting night for Kansas, but the Villanova defense failed to close out on shooters all night.

    The next guy on this list deserves a lot of credit for that.

Winner: David McCormack's Best Game of the Season

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    Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

    It's no secret that the Jayhawks are a different team when David McCormack is on top of his game.

    The Kansas roster is loaded with guard talent, but McCormack is capable of adding a completely different dimension to their offense when he is commanding attention in the paint.

    He did just that with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting during the first half, and while he spent the last few minutes of the half on the bench with two fouls, it was clear going into halftime that Villanova was going to need to find a way to slow the Kansas big man if it wanted to get back into the game.

    Instead, it was more of the same in the second half.

    The 6'10", 250-pound senior finished with a season-high 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line, flipping the script after he was limited to single-digit points in three of the team's first four NCAA tournament games.

    More of the same in the title game will put the Jayhawks in a great position to raise a banner.

Winner: The Caleb Love Show

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Caleb Love didn't score his first points on Saturday night until the 4:32 mark in the first half.

    He went into halftime with six points on 3-of-8 shooting and 0-of-4 from beyond the arc as he was largely a non-factor in a game that Duke led 37-34 heading into the break.

    The 6'4" sophomore knocked down a pair of threes early in the second half, and that seemed to ignite his offensive game. He went on to finish with a game-high 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting, and he delivered one of the biggest shots in North Carolina history down the stretch.

    With the Tar Heels leading by one, he buried a three with 28 seconds left on the clock to make it a two-possession game. He then knocked down three of four free throws when the Blue Devils started fouling to seal the victory.

    His 28-point outburst was his second-highest scoring game of the season, behind only his 30-point explosion against UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen.

    With another strong game against Kansas on Monday, he could walk away with NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors.

Loser: Coach K's Storybook Ending Falls Short

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    Coach K
    Coach KChris Graythen/Getty Images

    It was 15,100 days ago that Mike Krzyzewski won his first game as the head coach of the Duke Blue Devils.

    His legendary career wraps up two days short of what could have been the storybook ending, with Coach K riding off into the sunset following the national title game.

    The Hall of Fame coach did a masterful job navigating two quick fouls from center Mark Williams, getting some big minutes from Theo John and riding the hot hand of Trevor Keels for 30 minutes and 19 points off the bench.

    In many ways, Duke is the New York Yankees of college basketball—an easy team to root against, thanks to their consistent success. Still, the sport won't be the same without one of the all-time great coaches roaming the sidelines at Cameron Indoor.

    Congrats on a great run, Coach K!

Winner: The Ultimate Rivalry Game

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    Caleb Love
    Caleb LoveBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

    There was no way Duke vs. North Carolina in the Final Four was going to live up to the hype and expectations, right?

    The best rivalry in college basketball took center stage on Saturday night, and for the first time in 258 meetings and more than a century's worth of basketball, they were squaring off under the bright lights of March Madness.

    It was everything a college basketball fan could have hoped for and more.

    A pair of RJ Davis free throws with 1:01 gave the Tar Heels a 75-74 lead, and after a pair of missed free throws from Duke's Mark Williams, Caleb Love came down and hit a dagger three on the other end of the floor to secure the North Carolina victory.

    The game saw 18 lead changes, and neither team led by more than seven points at any time in a back-and-forth contest for the ages.

    We saw the absolute best the NCAA tournament had to offer on Saturday night, and against all odds, the Duke vs. North Carolina matchup exceeded expectations.