Kentucky (37-2) vs. #2 Kansas (32-6): It’s
Monday night and time for the 2012 National Championship. We’ve gotten through March Madness, all the
crazy upsets, unpredictable drama and excitement with two teams on the brink of
reaching the pinnacle of College Basketball.
For Kentucky Coach John
Calipari, he is seeking that elusive title, the one that got away in 2008
when he was the Head Coach at Memphis and his Tigers blew what appeared to be a
safe lead in the closing moments against Bill
Self’s Kansas Jayhawks. Calipari’s
Cats are the prohibited favorite, taking on a Kansas team that rallied from 13
down in the Final Four on Saturday night to stun Ohio State. Kentucky got past in-state rival Louisville
in Saturday’s National Semifinal to set the stage for a fascinating clash
between the two winningest programs in College Basketball history.
There will be several future pros on the floor with all
five starters for Kentucky expected to go in the first round of the next NBA
Draft, headlined by the likely #1 and #2 picks in Anthony Davis (15.2PPG, 11.6RPG, 4.6BPG in NCAA Tournament) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist respectively. Kansas has their share as well with at least
three projected to be picked, highlighted by All-American forward Thomas Robinson (16.4PPG, 11.6RPG in
NCAA Tourney). These two teams met
earlier in the season at Madison Square Garden in a matchup where the scored
was tied at half-time, then Kentucky pulled away in the second half for a
Before we get to the analysis, Keys to Victory and pick,
let’s review the records of how my predictions have gone to this point in the
2012 NCAA Tournament.
Total: 49-13 (.790)
Round of 64: 22-10 with 13-3 on Day 1
and 9-7 on Day 2
Round of 32: 14-2
12 of 16 Sweet 16 Participants Predicted before start of NCAA Tournament
Sweet 16 Picks: 8-0
Elite Eight: 4-0
Final Four: 1-1
Keys to Victory: Kentucky
Defensive Rebounding: It
is imperative Kentucky limits Kansas to one shot and done. In Saturday’s win over Louisville, the
Cardinals got 16 offensive boards. The
Wildcats can’t let Kansas get that many second chance opportunities.
Maximize Transition Opportunities: Kansas
had 17 turnovers versus Ohio State and still won. Turn it over that many times versus Kentucky
and they’ll make you pay with terrific athletes and finishes like Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist,
Terrence Jones, point guard Marquis Teague and even shooting threats
in Doron Lamb, Darius Miller and Kyle
Wiltjer that will make you pay from the outside. Kentucky wants to push the pace, get the
score up and have those type of hustle and energy plays off dunks and 3’s that
Contain Robinson: He’s
Kansas’ best player and most dangerous in terms of scoring and rebounding. His strength in the low block gives him a
chance to maybe get Davis, arguably the nation’s best shot blocker, in foul
trouble. With him rebounding and junior
center Jeff Withey controlling the
paint as a shot blocker, Kansas’ defense on the front-line is mighty tough. But if Robinson finds it hard to score in the
paint, Kansas may be unable to keep up offensively.
Keys to Victory: Kansas
Survive that Early Punch: Kansas
has gotten down double-digits in this NCAA Tournament to the likes of Purdue
and Ohio State. They can’t afford to do
that in facing a giant like Kentucky, which overwhelms opponents with their
speed, size and athleticism. If they do
that and the longer they stick around, then their confidence will go up against
a Kentucky team made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores.
Control the Tempo: This
is huge because if this becomes a track meet, then Kansas’ chances of winning
are slim to none. Kentucky wants to get
out and run, push the pedal to the metal, and score as many easy baskets as
possible. For Kansas to be successful,
they have to milk the shot clock down, try to get someone in foul trouble for Kentucky
(preferably the interior force Davis), and slow the pace down to where it gets
the Wildcats out of their comfort zone.
This is where point guard Tyshawn
Taylor really becomes vital, being able to distribute and score.
Win the 3-Point Battle: In
College Basketball, the three-point shot is the great equalizer. It’s something that is overstated at times,
but also true. Kansas may not be able to
win the points in the paint battle.
However, if they can finish +9 or better in three-pointers, then it
enhances their odds of winning. Knowing
the shot blocking Kentucky has inside and length on the front-line that allows
them to rebound, their best source for points could come on perimeter jumpers
from Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford. It’ll just be a matter of taking them in
rhythm and knocking them down, enough so to keep Kentucky from building a substantial
lead and running away.
Pick: Kentucky 72, Kansas 61. It’s Kentucky’s time and Calipari’s time in
my opinion. His Wildcats bowed out to
UCONN in the Final Four a season ago on a night where foul shooting plagued
them, much like it did his ’08 Memphis squad.
This team has shot free-throws well for the most part, save their
Saturday night performance against Louisville.
I don’t see this game being all that close because Kentucky’s talent is
superior, and barring a lack of focus or really poor shooting stretch, they
have the ability with their lethal transition game to blow people away, even
the strongest of competition. On the
grand stage, expect their best effort.
Their versatility on the offensive end, unselfishness, shot blocking and
athleticism around the basket and commitment to defending should give even a
resilient, tough-minded Jayhawks bunch trouble.
At the end of the night, expect UK to claim its first title since 1998.