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National Championship Preview: Kentucky vs. Kansas

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In what looks more like a David vs. Goliath matchup than a pairing of two of college basketball’s most storied franchises, Kansas will take on Kentucky for the national championship and the privilege of headlining “One Shining Moment”.

We all know how Kentucky got here, they were, and have been the best team in college basketball all year long. In the age of bracket prediction, anyone who didn’t slot Kentucky into the final game must not have watched a single game this season. They are absolutely loaded. They have 6 McDonald’s All-Americans and the best player on the court in Anthony Davis.

On the other hand, how Kansas got here is a mystery, even to them. They were dominated by Purdue… but won. They lost all momentum against NC State… but won. They were in a dogfight with a more talented UNC squad… and won. Ohio State put on a clinic in the first half and held a 13 point lead on numerous occasions… still, when the buzzer sounded, Kansas was victorious. Much like UConn last year, This was supposed to be an NIT year for Kansas. Also, much like UConn, no one told them that, and they now sit one game away from delivering a 2nd National Championship to coach Bill Self.

Key Players:

Kentucky   Kansas  
       
Marquis Teague 6’2, FR, 10 ppg/ 5 apg Tyshawn Taylor 6’3, SR, 17 ppg / 5 apg
Doron Lamb 6’4, SO, 13 ppg Elijah Johnson 6’4, JR, 9 ppg / 3 rpg
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 6’7, FR, 12 ppg / 8 rpg Travis Releford 6’6, JR, 9 ppg / 4 rpg
Terrence Jones 6’9, SO, 12 ppg / 7 rpg Thomas Robinson 6’10, JR, 18 ppg / 12 rpg
Anthony Davis 6’10, FR, 14 ppg / 10rpg Jeff Withey 7’0, JR, 9 ppg / 6 rpg
Darius Miller 6’8, SR, 10 ppg Conner Teahen 6’6, SR, 6 ppg / 2 rpg

From a talent standpoint this should be a double-digit win for the Wildcats. After all they have the aforementioned 6 McDonald’s All-Americans to the Jayhawks’ none. They have lottery picks galore and boast the Naismith award winner and near-lock for #1 overall pick in the NBA draft, Anthony Davis. If they are lacking in one thing though, it’s something that Kansas has in spades, experience. The Wildcats have become a one-and-done factory. Coach John Calipari recruits the best prospects toLexington, rides them as far as he can for a year, and then sends them off into the NBA. Four out of their top six are freshmen, with the two grizzled veterans in Lamb and Miller being sophomores. In contrast, Kansas plays with four juniors and two seniors led by senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor.

Breaking down the game, neither team likes to get too deep in the shot clock. This should be a fast-paced and exciting but sometimes sloppy game. Both teams can score, but both teams can also really defend. Fast paced offenses against solid defenses usually run into trouble with turnovers and bad decisions. I would expect this to be a game of runs with more than a fair share of points in transition.

For Kansas to have a chance, they have to change their gameplan so far this tournament… meaning they can’t afford to take a half to find themselves. Center Jeff Withey must also continue to play wayyy above his head and make the lane inaccessible for the Wildcats. Tyshawn Taylor must also play like a senior, limit mental and physical mistakes, and maybe hit a 3-pointer in the tournament (0.00% (0-20) so far). They also need to bang the glass like they did against the Buckeyes where they won the rebounding battle by 11. Without second chance opportunities, it may be a long night for KU.  It also wouldn’t hurt if Davis and/or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist spent extended periods of time on the bench in foul trouble. In short, almost everything needs to break right for them to have a chance. It’s a long-shot, but there is a chance.

For Kentucky to win, they have to continue doing what they have been doing and not get lazy on offense. They were controlling the Louisville game before nearly giving it away thanks to poor shot selection and awful free throw shooting. If Kentucky plays their game, they will win. If they play like a bunch of freshman, they may still win, but… that’s a recipe for disaster. They also need to hope that Coach John Calipari isn’t actually cursed for the sins of his past. This year marks his fourth Final Four appearance (two vacated due to violations), but he has yet to cut down the nets despite having the 2008 National Championship game against Kansas wrapped up (since vacated).

So who is going to win? Kentucky should win easily, but then again Kansas should’ve been sent packing weeks ago. I won’t count the Jayhawks out, but I think Kentucky has too much talent in this one.

Kentucky 73 – Kansas 65

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