As my bracket shows, I predicted a Kentucky-Kansas final like a lot of other fans and it turns out we were correct. There’s a lot of detailed articles and previews about this game, so I’ll break down the individual matchups in this game loaded with NBA prospects.
PG: Marquis Teague vs. Tyshawn Taylor
Until the second half of this season, Tyshawn Taylor was considered by many to be an underachiever. He’s really come on and showed what he’s capable of the past months. During the tournament, however, Taylor has struggled mightily with his long range shot, going a stunning 0-20. Taylor has to knock down some shots form downtown for Kansas to cause on upset. He’s a terror on the defensive end and will be able to force Teague and Lamb into turnovers. Containing Teague’s penetration of the dribble is a key to Kansas’ defense and preventing easy buckets around the rim. Teague is hoping to build on his tournament momentum and get drafted and a statement game here could give him an Eric Bledsoe like stock boost into the first round. As talented as Teague is, experience trumps it on this stage.
SG: Doron Lamb vs. Elijah Johnson
Doron Lamb is a cold blooded scorer and a lights out shooter. Elijah Johnson is an athletic two way player who’s been a huge factor to Kansas’ success in this tourney. Johnson has made up for Tyler’s poor outside shooting and come up with numerous timely baskets for the Jayhawks throughout the season. Lamb is a bigger offensive threat but Johnson can’t be slept on and his athleticism and length could give Lamb some problems.
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Travis Releford
Releford is generally the odd man out in Kansas’ talented starting five while MKG is likely a top 3 pick in the upcoming draft. The relentless Gilchrist trumps Releford in nearly every facet of the game. The one thing Releford does do better than Gilchrist is shoot 3s and he’ll have to knock down a couple for the Jayhawks tonight.
PF: Terrence Jones vs. Thomas Robinson
In terms of offensive versatility, Jones is leaps and bounds ahead of Robinson. Who has a bigger impact on the game? Robinson, easily. The runner up for most national player of the year awards is a beast in the paint and always finds a way to leave his mark on a game. Jones has been known to drift through games but when he’s playing well, the Wildcats are nearly impossible to beat. Jones can make Robinson come out to the perimeter to defend him and use his advanced offensive moves to break down Kansas’ defense. The Jayhawks’ star player can’t afford to get into foul trouble as he did in their last matchup. Robinson has to get the better of this battle for the Jayhawks to cut down the nets.
C: Anthony Davis vs. Jeff Withey
Anthony Davis is the best player in the country, there’s not much to argue about that. This is the rare game, however, where Davis will meet his match in terms of shot blocking prowess. The 7 foot Withey did a great job against Davis in the first half of their encounter earlier this season. Davis managed to break free in the second half and got his offense going and blocked 7 shots along the way. Robinson and Withey have to make life difficult for Davis and put a body on him to prevent him from getting easy lobs around the rim and offensive rebounds. This could be the game where Withey firmly places himself on the NBA radar.
The bench battle:
The only real weakness Kentucky has is their depth, fortunately for them, the Jayhawks have essentially nothing on their bench. Darius Miller has been brilliant for the Wildcats in this tournament, providing the Wildcats with whatever they need in every game. He’s showing that he’s got a bright future as a role player in the NBA and a great locker room guy. Kansas doesn’t have anyone of Miller’s quality coming off the bench and he could be the x-factor to seal a Wildcat victory. Freshman Kyle Wiltjer had a few big buckets for Big Blue Nation in the last game and won’t be needed but can certainly boost the Wildcats with a few more. Connor Teahan is the only possible impact player for the Jayhawks. He was on the Jayhawks ’08 title team and has experience, be it on the sideline, on this stage. Knocking down 3s would be a tremendous boost for Kansas’ title hopes.
Coach: John Calipari vs. Bill Self
John Calipari looked primed to win his first ever NCAA title in 08 with Memphis until some crucial FT misses from Derrick Rose and a clutch 3 by Mario Chalmers gave Bill Self the honor. Calipari will do everything in his power to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself this year. Year after year, Coach Cal brings in the best recruits and follows through on his promise of sending them to the NBA. What’s even more impressive is how he turns these kids into winners and tough defenders with such little collegiate experience. Bill Self has done an incredible job coaching this blue collar Kansas team to the national championship game and truly believes his group has what it takes to win it all. Both guys are two of the best coaches in the game but when it comes to Xs and Os, I’ve got to give the nod to Bill Self.
Prediction: Kansas 70-68
I know I had Kentucky winning it all when brackets came out but my gut tells me that the Jayhawks take this one thanks to an inspired performance by Thomas Robinson and a clinical coaching job by Bill Self.