NEW ORLEANS — To be the best, you've got to beat the best.
Unfortunately for first-year head coach Hubert Davis and the North Carolina Tar Heels, beating two bests in the span of 48 hours was asking just a little too much, falling 72-69 to 2022 national champion Kansas on Monday night in the Superdome.
The first best UNC conquered was the GOAT on Saturday. After the emotional high of ending Mike Krzyzewski's career and securing those eternal bragging rights over loathed rival Duke, there were questions of whether the Tar Heels might be headed for a bit of a letdown game Monday night.
Could you imagine that?
Not getting fired up for a national championship game?
Those theories were, of course, ludicrous.
UNC did seem to come out a wee bit sluggish, quickly falling behind 7-0. But the Tar Heels rallied in a huge way, outscoring Kansas 40-18 for the rest of the half. By the break, Armando Bacot had already become the first player in NCAA tournament history to record six double-doubles in a single dance.
But Kansas wasn't fazed.
Hell, David McCormack was smiling at halftime.
"He was looking at me, and I was like, 'Why are you smiling, dude? We're down 15,'" Christian Braun said. "He was telling me, like, 'Keep your head up, keep going, we'll be all right.'"
And that type of confidence can only come from having a head coach who is—with Coach K officially Former Coach K—the Greatest of Right Now.
We'll have to dedicate some of the offseason to working on that acronym. GORN is nowhere near as cool as GOAT. But however you want to abbreviate it, Bill Self is now the cream of the crop of active coaches.
Self already had one heck of a resume worthy of Krzyzewski's abdicated throne. He started his career by turning around both Oral Roberts and Tulsa in the blink of an eye. Self then immediately led Illinois to a No. 1 seed in year No. 1 there and set the table for Bruce Weber to thrive right away. And then there's the constant success he has had at Kansas.
The run of 14 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles was absurd. His active streak of 21 consecutive NCAA tournaments as a No. 4 seed or better is equally preposterous. (Would be 22 if there had been a dance in 2020.)
The man hasn't finished a season with a winning percentage below .700 since the original The Matrix came out in March 1999.
Really, all that was missing was multiple rings.
"I do feel that, as many good teams as we've had over time, that we could have had more than one (title)," Self said. "The expectations are such where being good is OK, but it's not enough. Nobody's ever put pressure on me that we've got to win another one, but I think I put pressure on myself, knowing that this place deserves more than what we've won."
Now that he has two national titles, Self joins Jay Wright and Rick Pitino as the only active coaches in that club. And considering Wright's success has been largely contained to the past decade and Pitino's has been marred by multiple scandals, it's almost undeniable that Self is the new No. 1.
To finally get that elusive second title, he merely needed to pull off one of the most improbable second-half comebacks of all time—a fitting final bit of madness from the tournament that put little ol' Saint Peter's on the map.
Per NCAA's media coordinator David Worlock, no team had ever come back from a halftime deficit of more than 10 points to win a national championship, nor had there ever been a Final Four victor which trailed by more than 11 at the intermission.
And per UNC's Sports Information Director Steve Kirschner, the Tar Heels were 46-0 all time when leading by double digits at halftime in the NCAA tournament. The largest halftime lead they had ever blown in the dance was—interestingly enough—against Kansas and Self in the Round of 32 in 2013, when a 30-21 UNC lead turned into a 70-58 Jayhawks victory.
As he did in that game nearly one decade ago and as he had done several times this season—most notably at Kansas State in mid-January and against Miami in the Elite Eight—Self seemingly made all the right adjustments and said all the right things at halftime.
"There wasn't much inspiration," Self said. "I did tell them before the half was over, I said, 'Which would be harder, being down nine with two minutes left [the deficit Kansas faced against Memphis before winning the 2008 championship] or being down 15 with 20?' And they all said being down nine with two minutes left. So we can do this."
And they sure came out with a fire against the battered and bruised Tar Heels, seemingly determined to run them right out of the Superdome.
Brady Manek took an inadvertent elbow to the head from David McCormack early in the first half and perhaps should have been in some sort of concussion protocol. (He didn't even come out of the game.)
Caleb Love rolled an ankle early in the second half and clearly wasn't himself after that. He shot 4-of-18 in the second half alone.
Bacot was already playing on a bad wheel from a rolled ankle in the previous game against Duke, and he did not look the same in the second half as he did in the first. (And then rolled it again in the game's final minute.)
Throw in Leaky Black's foul trouble and UNC's "Iron Five" oxidized into rust right before our eyes.
That opened the door and the Jayhawks seized the day, forcing the issue with transition buckets. They couldn't get anything close to the rim to fall in the first half, but a few fast-break buckets sure did instill them with some confidence over the final 20 minutes.
And to that end, Dajuan Harris was the unsung hero, as he had been all season long for the Jayhawks.
"It was Dajuan," Ochai Agbaji said. "He sparked it in the second half. Coach said it in the locker room. Just his defensive pressure rubbed off on everyone else, and that's where we got that momentum from on the defensive end. Everything else fell in place."
Even Puff Johnson coming off the bench and leaving it all on the floor to the tune of 11 points, six rebounds and a few not-so-dry heaves wasn't enough for the Tar Heels to weather the storm. They had a chance to send it to overtime, but Love's step-back three missed the mark, followed by the explosion of red and blue confetti.
Credit to Davis and the Heels, though. What an amazing run by a team that overcame several months of mediocrity to hit its stride at the proverbial right time. He wasn't quite able to join Steve Fisher as the only first-year head coach to win a national championship, but between what Davis and Arizona's Tommy Lloyd accomplished in 2021-22, let's just say the bar for what's possible for future first-year coaches (*cough* Jon Scheyer at Duke *cough*) has been raised.
However, Self loaded the wagon and raised a bar of his own.
Who knows if anything will ever come of the allegations and violations levied against Self and Kansas in recent years? But that's a concern for another day.
For now, consider this our toast (of Remy Martin, of course) to the new king of men's college hoops: Bill Self.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.