Kansas vs Kentucky
For the second time in four years, Coach Bill Self and Coach John Calipari will battle for the National Championship. Self got the best of Coach Cal the first time around in overtime as Mario Chalmers hit a miracle shot to tie it in regulation and Derrick Rose missed two free throws that would have put it away.
It’s a bit of a different story this time around. Kentucky is far and away the best team in the tournament and has more talent up and down the roster than Kansas. I believe that this is the best team that Calipari has ever coached, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist look like they will go No. 1 and No. 2 in the 2012 NBA draft. Kansas is not going to beat Kentucky from a talent or depth standpoint, the Jayhawks are going to have to win the game from lockdown defense, similar to what they did to Ohio State in the second half of the Final 4 game yesterday. KU will hope that their chamionship experience level will matter the most on the biggest stage and expose the youth and inexperience of three elite freshmen and a pair of super sophomores.
No. 1 Kentucky beat No. 16 Western Kentucky 81-65; No. 8 Iowa State 87-71; No. 4 Indiana 102-90; No. 3 Baylor 82-70; No. 4 Louisville 69-61 and looked dominant every step of the way even though they looked almost beatable against Louisville.
No. 2 Kansas beat No. 15 Detroit 65-50; No. 10 Purdue 63-60; No. 11 North Carolina State 60-57; No. 1 North Carolina 80-67; No. 2 Ohio State 64-62 and haven’t played a really good game in the tournament yet besides the UNC game. The Jayhawks have gotten off to a terrible start in nearly every game, but have hung their hats on defense and come from behind wins.
This comes down to the well coached, battle-tested, defensive minded Kansas team that never expected to get this far against the loaded all-star Kentucky team that has looked absolutely unbeatable for most of the season.
Keys for Kansas:
Jeff Withey has to keep owning the paint. Withey has blocked 27 shots in the NCAA Tournament including 7 yesterday as he sent back anything that Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas tried to get up. His ability to protect the rim is a huge part of why the Jayhawks are still dancing.
Senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor needs to have a good game and make smart decisions. His best game of the NCAA tournament came against UNC as he went for 22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals. Bill Self is looking for him to disrupt the game for Maqruis Teague and force turnovers while limiting turnovers even if his shot isn’t falling.
Thomas Robinson needs to be dominant, but when the double teams come Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford have to be X-factors on offense and score to ball. Both came up with key buckets yesterday in KU’s 2-point win when the team was struggling to find offense.
The Jayhawks have to force the action and be aggressive from the very start of the game. They need to find transition buckets and really bring it to Kentucky instead of coming out timid like against Ohio State. KU can’t afford to get behind early.
Keys for Kentucky:
The biggest factor for UK is Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis staying on the court and out of foul trouble. They are a much different team without either one of these two impacting the game on defense.
They need to make Thomas Robinson chase Terrance Jones around and try to exploit some things from the perimeter rather than try to take it right at Withey and Robinson. Doron Lamb has to be a factor and hit shots from the outside as well as they rest of the perimeter guys because buckets inside won’t come easy.
Marquis Teague has to play big time smart basketball at the point guard position against a 4-year starting championship caliber point guard in Taylor who has been here before. Ketucky’s youth hasn’t shown yet this season, but they haven’t played for a National Championship yet either.