NCAA National Championship Game:
Kansas Jayhawks vs. Kentucky Wildcats -6
It doesn’t get much better than this. After a thrilling NCAA Tournament full of close games and outstanding matchups, we are left with two of the best teams in the country and two of the most storied programs in the history of basketball squaring off to crown the national champ.
Kentucky is a prohibitive favorite and has an overwhelming feel of dominance about them, despite the fact they are playing the #5 team in the nation, the champions of the Big 12 and a team that has a Top 5 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. That isn’t a knock on Kansas. Rather it is a reflection of the awesome collection of talent, stifling defense and athletic dominance possessed by the Wildcats.
For Kentucky, it all starts with Wooden Award winner Anthony Davis. The 6’11’ freshman put on an absolute clinic Saturday night against Louisville, dazzling with sweeping hook shots with his off hand, spectacular alley-oops, dribbling the ball up court with aplomb, and of course blocking shots under the hoops and out on the perimeter. There is nothing this incredible freshman can’t do on the court, but what impressed me the most – he dominated Saturday night… and only took eight shots. Eight. That’s it.
And while Davis might be garnering the most attention (Bob Knight called him a “young Bill Russell” yesterday), he is not even close to a one-man show. In fact, you could make the compelling argument he is not one of the three best offensive players on his own team. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist carried UK for stretches in the Indiana game while Davis sat the bench in foul trouble. In the Final Four against Louisville, the situation was almost exactly reversed, with Kidd-Gilchrist suffering from foul trouble. And don’t forget about Terrance Jones. The 6’9’’ swingman with the feathery jump shot and bubbling intensity would have been a lottery pick last season yet decided to come back for another year of Coach Cal’s tutelage. He has slid to third billing in the newspapers, but his NBA stock hasn’t slid a bit as most mock drafts have him in the 8 -12 range.
It is so easy to write a thousand words about Kentucky, in my opinion the best college basketball team of the last decade, right on par with Carolina’s 04-05 edition and on a level with the Duke teams at the turn of the millennium. Yes they are young, but college basketball has changed with the one and done rule. Being young and good usually means you are at a talent advantage of teams with more “experience.” Kentucky is proof of just this phenomenon.
I don’t want to give short shrift to Kansas. They can win this game, but they are going to have to have a few huge factors play out in their favor. First, Jeff Withey is going to have to continue his defensive brilliance to fluster Davis, but more importantly, he is going to have to be a little more assertive offensively to draw a foul or two early on him. He can’t fade away or pump fake and be pretty. It doesn’t work. Davis is too disciplined and adept at blocking shots in the air rather than out of the hand. He is going to have to go into his body and hope for some quick whistles. Tyshawn Taylor is going to need to pressure the ball when it is in Teague’s hands and hope he gets a little loose with it as he did for brief stretches against Louisville, and T-Rob is going to have to play like a guy who wants to take back the Naismith Award from Anthony Davis.
Lastly, Bill Self is going to need the ghost of Championship Game’s past to haunt Kentucky players at the foul line. Calipari’s Memphis squad with Derek Rose famously went 1 of 5 from the line in the final 1:15, setting up a comeback capped by Mario Chalmers’ dramatic overtime-forcing three pointer (and subsequent Kansas victory). It is possible, after all Kentucky was just 11 of 20 from the line against Louisville after being spectacular earlier in the tourney from the charity strip (see: 35 of 37 against IU).
That’s a lot of “maybes” and “ifs”. When it comes to wagering, I like to deal in “likely” and “probably”. The likely outcome is that Kentucky is too good, too athletic, too deep, too diverse in point of offensive attack and frankly just too talented for Kansas to deal with. T-Rob and Tyshawn can compete on an even plane. Withey will hold his own and Elijah Robinson can possibly contribute. The rest of the Jayhawks are markedly outclassed.
I like Calipari and his NBA roster to cut down the nets tonight, and though like most people, I’d love to see a good game, I just don’t see Kansas being able to give it to them tonight. Give me Kentucky to win the crown and cover the six point line.
Free Pick: Kentucky Wildcats -6