Monday, April 2, 2012

NCAA Basketball Championship Game - New Orleans, Louisiana

#2 Kansas (32-6) vs. #1 Kentucky (37-2)

It is Bill Self vs. John Calipari, and no it is not 2008, it is 2012. Like in 2008, Self is leading his underdog Kansas Jayhawks, while Calipari is coaching the favorite, except this time his team is Kentucky and not Memphis. This is a rematch from November 15 when Kentucky manhandled Kansas, 75-65. Both teams have vastly improved since then, so don't put too much stock into that result.

Kentucky got Louisville's best shot but were able to hang on to a 69-61 victory. The Wildcats shot uncharacteristically poorly from the free throw line, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist struggled but they still found ways to win.

Kansas put in what has become a typical performance for them in this Tournament. They played an awful first half, then played like a completely different team in the second half, rallying to defeat Ohio State, 64-62. Thomas Robinson led Kansas with 19 points and Jeff Withey dominated with 7 blocks.

Kentucky is clearly the best team in college basketball and if they play even average should defeat Kansas. However, if they play closer to the level they played Saturday against Louisville this game will become exciting. A better team would have beaten Kentucky and it is a shame Ohio State choked away their game against Kansas because I believe they are a team that could take down the Wildcats. I don't think Kansas can afford another slow start and expect to be able to come back against Kentucky. They have to play more like the Kansas team that came strong out of the gates against North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

The matchup to watch tonight will be Anthony Davis against Thomas Robinson, perhaps the best and second best players in the country. Their first matchup was basically a stalemate, Robinson was able to get rebounds but didn't score much, while Davis did a little bit of everything. You don't get to see many battles of big men anymore, so this will have an old school feel. Withey will also guard Davis at times but I think Kansas has to try to stick Robinson on Davis to match his athleticism. Tyshawn Taylor was the leading scorer for Kansas in that game, but his recent play suggests an encore performance is unlikely. He has shot poorly throughout the Tournament, and had just 10 points and 5 turnovers against Ohio State. Kansas guard Travis Releford doesn't always get talked about but his steady play is a major reason Kansas has gotten this far. If the battle of the big men becomes a wash then the game will come down to Taylor, Releford, and Elijah Johnson versus Darius Miller, Marquis Teague, and a player that killed Kansas the first time Doron Lamb. Kansas isn't very deep as the only two that usually get off the bench are G Conner Teahan, and F Kevin Young. Neither will do much scoring and Young plays for his defense. Terrence Jones and Kidd-Gilchrist have the size to take advantage of some matchups the Jayhawks will throw at them and I wouldn't be surprised if they both have big games. Especially Kidd-Gilchrist who will want to atone for his struggles in the Final Four.

The difference in this game may end up being the three. Kansas shot just 34% from three point land this season, while the Wildcats shot 38%. Also, Kentucky is just more talented and deep than Kansas and I think that will eventually overwhelm the Jayhawks. I think Kansas will come out playing well and give themselves hope, but then at around the ten minute mark in the second half, they will begin to fatigue and that is when Kentucky will take over the game. Calipari will finally have his national championship and the Wildcats will be champions for the first time since 1998.

Prediction: Kentucky 69, Kansas 59

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