|A Kansas victory would be similar to UConn upset win over Duke in 1999, not like the|
stunning wins by NC State (vs. Houston in '83) and Villanova (vs. Georgetown in '85).
College basketball nation was blessed with two intense Final Four games on Saturday.
Kentucky played an average-at-best game yet "cruised" to a 69-61 win against Louisville while Kansas continued its habit of only playing for the final 20 minutes in a 13-point comeback win against Ohio State.
Despite Louisville and Kentucky actually being tied at 49 late in the second half, the game never felt that close. Kentucky didn't have the same energy it displayed against Indiana in the Sweet 16 or Baylor in the Elite 8. It was as if Kentucky knew it could win with a sub-par performance and wanted to save everything it had for Monday night. Due to the heaping pile of talent and lack of true shooting ability from Louisville, Kentucky was never not in control on its way to the 8-point triumph.
Kansas, on the other hand, had to give everything it had to climb back against Ohio State. The Buckeyes had an 11-point lead and the chance for the last shot at the end of the first half. That's when the momentum swung for good and the Buckeyes never recovered. Aaron Craft drove to the basket and missed an ill-advised shot with six seconds to play, leaving plenty of time for Kansas to get off a shot. Not only did the Jayhakws get off a shot, they executed a perfect 2-on-1 break and finished with a layup at the buzzer. The Ohio State lead was now single digits heading into the locker room. Naturally, Kansas still had to make shots but the difference came on defense where the Jayhawks locked down the Buckeyes. Ohio State started the half 0-for-8 from the field and Jared Sullinger regressed to shooting 3-pointers because Jeff Withey owned him around the basket. It all set up perfectly for Kansas to escape with a 64-62 victory.
It sets up a monumental showdown with plenty of storylines: Kentucky and Kansas, the NCAA's two winningest programs going head to head for the championship; Bill Self vs. John Calipari, round 2 (remember the 2008 clash?); Anthony Davis vs. Thomas Robinson. The list goes on and on.
But as I said with the national semifinals, but was somewhat off, the country is due for a disappointment. Kentucky played awful in an 8-point victory. Kansas has made it a habit of playing catchup. Add those two things together and it would be a big surprise if tonight's contest was a single-digit game. I think Kansas, like many other teams this year (Duke, Michigan State, Missouri) overachieved. It isn't to say the Jayhawks aren't a talented team - they are - but this isn't the No. 2 team in the country. It won an 8th-consecutive Big XII title this year, which would normally mean more but the conference the only other competitors were Missouri and Baylor, both of which are newbies to the big stage. The conference was down, so winning the Big XII is somewhere in between winning the ACC and the Pac-12.
I think Kansas poses a good matchup for Kentucky, as shown in a 75-65 Wildcat victory in the Champions Classic in November. That said, both teams have grown since that day, but no team has grown more than Kentucky.
Sure, Kansas has the edge at certain positions (power forward for sure), but no one will ever convince me Tyshawn Taylor is a championship point guard. In two games this year - Purdue and Ohio State - Taylor's stupidity almost cost his team a victory. Against Purdue, a handful of dribbles would have run out the clock and given Kansas a 1-point victory. Instead, Taylor dunked the ball and celebrated as if having a 3-point lead sealed the game. In fact, it gave Purdue a chance to send the game into overtime. Against Ohio State, Taylor made a great play stealing an inbound pass with a 3-point lead. Instead of dribbling out the clock or getting fouled with a chance to seal the game, Taylor tried to thread a one-hop bounce pass to a teammate driving to the basket. Apparently, a dunk would have been better than two free throws. Luckily, Kansas was smart enough to foul Ohio State on the inbound play so there wasn't a potential 3-pointer to send the game into overtime.
With someone I trust as much as the government running the show for Kansas, I can't in good conscience expect the Jayhawks to win. Keeping it close would be a moral victory these Jayhawks want no part of. That would, however, be the closest to a victory Kansas will see against until next November.
Kentucky is too good and John Calipari is destined to win his first title. Try and diminish the accomplishment all you want if you hate Calipari, but remember this: NBA-bound freshmen don't come to college wanting, let alone expecting, to play defense. Calipari has turned a bunch of gifted offensive players into a formidable defensive unit - in less than one year. That is one reason why this Kentucky team shouldn't be viewed as college's evil empire. This team is filled with good kids and a phenomenal coach who has what some would call a sketchy past. The fact remains, this is his best coaching job and it just coincides with the fact he has the country's best team.
If Kansas wins, it wouldn't be a 1983 NC State over Houston or 1985 Villanova over Georgetown upset; it would be more like 1999 when UConn upset Duke. Both team were No. 1 seeds that season, but Duke was a huge favorite in the game. UConn, however, was still a very, very good squad.
That's similar to this year's Kentucky and Kansas teams. Kentucky is the heavy favorite while Kansas (the top No. 2 seed in the tournament) is still good but just not on the same level. The Jayhawks can win, but it would take their best performance of the season and Kentucky's worst. I'm taking major foul trouble for Big Blue as well as putrid foul shooting (think like 7 of 20) and 3-point problems (1-for-13). Even that is no guarantee Kentucky would lose, but it would be the best chance for Kansas.
Pull for Kansas if you'd like, but know you'll be disappointed because there won't be an upset this time around.
Lexington, please celebrate responsibility this time.
KENTUCKY 76, KANSAS 62