No. 1 overall seed Kentucky looks to finish off its season with a title while Kansas seeks its second championship since 2008.
Kansas. Kentucky. That is this year’s Final Four tournament championship game, ladies and gentleman. Who would have ever predicted that? No, really? Who really felt after 69 games and out of 68 teams we would be seeing a rematch of an earlier regular season matchup of Kentucky and Kansas?
OK, not exactly Rock Chalk, as they say, but this meeting between a No. 1 seed out of the South region and a No. 2 seed from the Midwest region is not too much of a surprise. When it is all said and done, there is no doubt that any winner of the NCAA tournament is loaded with talent. These teams are no exception, but before we get to that, let’s take a closer look how these squads got here.
A look at the Kentucky Wildcats before Monday’s championship game:
2011-12 Record: 37-2 (16-0 SEC)
Top Performer: Anthony Davis, 14.3 PPG, 10 RPG, 4.6 BPG
National Championships: 7
Last Championship: 1998 (def. Utah in title game, 78-69)
A look at the Kansas Jayhawks before Monday’s championship game:
2011-12 Record: 32-6 (16-2 Big 12)
Top Performer: Thomas Robinson, 17.9 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.1 SPG
National Championships: 3
Last Championship: 2008 (def. Memphis in title game, 75-68 in overtime)
Kentucky (37-2), with the arrival of Coach John Calipari, is notorious for having one-and-done players (one year of college hoops and off to the pros). Notably, this year’s national Player of the Year and surely NBA bound freshman Anthony Davis was a force on the defensive end for Kentucky. That seemed to be the latent reason Kentucky had such success in this season’s tournament with the Wildcats scoring at will. Kentucky put up 102 points in its regional semifinal round matchup with Indiana and at least 80 points in each of its first four tournament games.
However, the Wildcats showcased their defensive talents against Louisville, holding the Cardinals to just 34 percent shooting in the win that got Kentucky to the championship game.
The Jayhawks (32-6) have had a rollercoaster of a season. Coming back from seemingly insurmountable deficits all season, this past Saturday they continued their story. Kansas pulled off a comeback win after trailing by as many as 13 points in its Final Four matchup with defensive minded Ohio St.
With players such as Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, Kansas utilized a 1-2 punch that presents many matchup issues for its opponents. Three of the Jayhawks’ victories this tournament was by a combined total of 8 points. The only two clear wins were over their second round opponent, 15th-seeded Detroit University and a shorthanded North Carolina team without starting guard Kendall Marshall.
The Wildcat and Jayhawk championship will definitely be a grind-it-out game. This will be Kentucky’s 11th NCAA championship appearance and Kansas’ eighth. Coach Calipari will face Coach Bill Self for the second time in the title game, only this time with a different team. The result of that 2008 epic game had Self notching a 1-0 record over Calipari in championship games (Kansas defeated Memphis, 75-68 in overtime).
Kentucky has a size advantage and plays well on both ends of the court, but the Wildcats are a young, freshman-led squad that has a coach who has done it all but win the big one. Kansas has had two consistent players in Taylor and Robinson but will need more scoring to keep up with Kentucky’s firepower offense.
Kansas juniors Jeff Withey and Travis Releford will need to contribute against a team that easily posts five players with double digit points. Pointing out Kentucky’s stars would be noting a long list of players, however, the key factor in this matchup would be Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He will likely have the task of guarding Robinson and is the Wildcats’ most versatile player. Kidd-Gilchrist has exploded this tournament, averaging 24 points and 19 rebounds in his third- and fourth-round games. His ability to drive to the basket can get Kentucky easy buckets, put the Jayhawks in foul trouble and get him to the line where this Calipari-led team, unlike his 2008 Memphis team, sinks free throws.
Both teams have improved since their first matchup earlier this season, but in order for the Jayhawks to prove they are the more improved team they will have to pull off an upset.