Kansas vs. Villanova is overshadowed by Duke vs. UNC at Final Four, but would get top billing every other year

NEW ORLEANS – At 9:21 a.m. Thursday morning, The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street was empty, but certainly not closed. This is the French Quarter known for, among other things, bars that never close.

“We stay open as late as there is business,” said Trish Wilson, the lone bartender at the establishment on the corner of Bourbon Street and Bienville, who has been serving patrons since 1807.

Wilson has been in his current job for 22 years. That would include throwing drinks during two of the five Final Fours played in this city (2003, 2012). She has seen Super Bowls, college bowl games, Shrovetide and random weekday nights where a carpet salesman from Akron can be blown up somewhere that once served pirates.

Football is more of her thing, but at this point in this town, Wilson is just as good at asking about this Final Four, which in terms of hype might as well be the amazing two.

“I think Duke is in,” Wilson guessed when asked.

Reminding that North Carolina is the opposition, Wilson added, “I do not know the other two … Is anyone from Texas?”

Uh no. This is where we are two days from the tipoff of one of the most anticipated Final Fours in recent times. It is at least one of the most regal. Four bluebloods that – to emphasize the point – actually have blue as a team color.

But for those who are a little aware of the process, the Duke-Carolina semifinals resonate. To the point that Saturday’s first semifinal between Villanova and Kansas almost seems like an undercard.

“The undercard here would get more attention than anything we’ve ever had before,” Kansas Coach Bill Self said Thursday. “I do not look at it that way at all. Most of the attention and probably rightly so would be on the second game because it’s Duke-Carolina. Coach K’s last game and all that stuff. We’re on. I do not think anyone here is flying under any radar. “

Only Duke-Carolina could make it to a national semifinal featuring Kansas in its 16th Final Four and Villanova in its seventh. Five of them have come since 1985. Wildcats Coach Jay Wright won two championships in three years (2016, 2018).

“We never strive to be one of those programs,” Wright said of Duke and Carolina. “We fight the urge to try to be like them because we’re just so different. Be the best Villanova we can be. But when people from outside connect us with them or count us as part of their heritage and tradition, have great respect for them. ”

Self is already a Hall of Fame coach coming after his 16th regular season conference title in Kansas. He started his career at KU as a graduate assistant under Larry Brown in 1985 and 1986.

“I saw firsthand how it could be there,” Self said. “I’m the caretaker of the most historic program ever. It means something extra when you stop and think about [James] Naismith, [Phog] Allen, [Adolph] Rupp and [Wilt] Chamberlain. “

All in all, this makes for a Final Four, which is one to drool over.

“I do not know that too many people are talking about [Villanova] and Kansas right now, “Self told reporters.” And that’s great for me personally. But I think this could be just as expected and just as well attended and as much seen as maybe any Final Four ever. “

On Canal Street on Thursday, members of the North Carolina band were well aware of the implications. Tar Heels everywhere already have a lifetime memory tucked away in the depressions of the happy part of their brain. In what should be Mike Krzyzewski’s final game against North Carolina, Duke lost 94-81 on March 5th.

In a sad aftermath, Krzyzewksi proclaimed: “Today was unacceptable …”

T-shirts immediately appeared on campus in North Carolina and read “94-81, acceptable.”

“I feel like we have nothing to lose,” said UNC senior Jennings Dixon, one of those band members, from Raleigh, NC. Even if they are, it’s amazing. “

There’s something about it. Hubert Davis is in his first year replacing Roy Williams as coach of Tar Heels. He has the rest of his life to create a legacy. It would be nice to start giving Coach K losses in his last two meetings with Tar Heels.

“I understand we have a skewed perspective because we live seven miles from our opponent,” said Eric Montross, a former Carolina two-time All-American and color analyst on his broadcast for the past 17 years. “We hear it all year round. For nine months of the year, it’s Carolina-Duke. Now it’s just expanded to this place.

“I’ve been here. I’ve played in these Final Fours. You come here and there’s no undercard. The national media, the fans, might have that impression. For those who have played at the moment, this is the top.”

A highlight that for the loser will be devastating. Kansas has its own motive for revenge. The Wildcats blew the Jayhawks out 95-79 in the 2018 Final Four. Kansas had a rich history with Duke and Carolina, and vice versa. Roy Williams trained at both KU and Carolina. KU and Duke have met each other 13 times, all with Krzyzewski coach. Duke beat Kansas for the national championship in 1991 in Williams’ first Final Four.

What are the odds for Carolina and Duke, who have met 257 times but never in the tournament. Davis was at a scout meeting in 1982 when Tar Heels won the first of two national championships in this city. The next one came in 1993, when Davis was in the NBA.

“I remember feeling two strong emotions,” Davis said. “Joy and happiness because they won, but also sorrow because I wanted to be there.”

Davis was by Williams’ side in 2017 when Carolina last won it all. But it’s different. He was an assistant coach at the time. Before his first training day as a goalkeeper for the North Carolina flame, he put a picture of the Superdome in the players’ closets.

And then there’s the Krzyzewski farewell tour that seems to hover over this entire Final Four. Former Providence coach Pete Gillen once famously said, “Duke is Duke. They’re more on TV than the Leave It To Beaver iterations.” The K-color, which has been endless, could provide one of the sport’s best finishes. It would be with Krzyzewski winning it all in his last match, consolidating his place as perhaps the match’s best coach.

“That’s why I want to play Duke and beat them,” said Kansas Superfan Don Pfannenstiel, class in 1974. “There’s too much attention on Krzyzewski. Good grief. That’s all I hear.

Did anyone say super? Pfannenstiel has committed to commemorating all 16 of Bill Selfs home losses in the coach’s 19 years at KU. But why dwell on the negative? Kansas’ season returned after the last of these losses, to Kentucky on January 28th. Since then, the Jayhawks have been 15-3 with all the losses away from home.

A friend told Pfannenstiel: “It’s a solution. They want Duke to win.” No word on who “they” are, but it is known that the friend is a Missouri candidate. So completely disregard that conspiracy theory.

Perhaps the overriding theme for this Final Four should be New Orleans itself. It has survived hurricanes, COVID-19, and continues to bounce back.

“The Final Four in New Orleans is fun because everyone gathers in one place,” Pfannenstiel said. “After the match, you know where everyone wants to be. They want to be in the French Quarter on Bourbon Street.”

Once you are there, ask for Trish. She will gladly fill your glass and fill you – as best she can.

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