by Gus Elvin
We are down to the last college basketball game of the season as after 5 months of basketball we are down to just 2 teams and 1 game. Those 2 teams, Kansas and Kentucky are 2 of the most prestigious and historic college basketball programs and will take center stage Monday night in New Orleans. It has been another amazing college basketball season, filled with surprises, intrigue and drama and Monday night either Kentucky or Kansas will be left standing as the NCAA Champion. I have thoroughly enjoyed this college basketball season and it has been a privilege to follow and cover college basketball all season long. In the coming weeks I will be releasing early projections for next year, an NBA Draft preview, and much more so just because the games are over, don’t think that out coverage at TSHQ will stop, so stay tuned and I hope you all enjoy the game. Well here it is my final game preview of the season as #1 seed Kentucky takes on 2nd seeded Kansas.
*9:23pm #1 Kentucky vs. #2 Kansas(New Orleans, La)- In the NCAA final top seeded Kentucky looks to take that next step in their 3rd year under John Calipari, while Kansas looks for a storybook ending to a season that started with a lot of skepticism. The Wildcats’ who were the heavy favorite since the brackets were released on Selection Sunday, have run through the field so far and enter this game with an impressive 37-2 record. Kentucky success has been largely due to their young guns, as 6 of their 7 rotation players are either freshmen or sophomores led by Anthony Davis. Davis the #1 recruit, entering the season has been even better than advertised, as he leads the Wildcats in scoring (14.3ppg), rebounding (10rpg) and also leads the nation in blocks at 4.6bpg. Davis, who was named the Wooden Award winner over the weekend, has been the most influential player we have seen in the college game over the last few years as his length and skillset on both ends make him such a game changer. Davis makes the biggest impact on the defensive end where he not only blocks just under 5 shots a game, but also alters so many more and deters opponents from driving to the basket. Davis is joined in the frontcourt by 2 more future 1st round picks as Michael Kidd- Gilchrist (11.9ppg, 7.5rpg) and Terrence Jones (12.4ppg, 7.2rpg). These 2 alongside Davis give the Wildcats one of the strongest frontcourts in the country as the 3 combine to average 29 points, and are the major reason UK ranks 15th in the nation in rebounding. Kentucky is by no means dependent on their frontcourt though, as the Wildcats can stroke it from the perimeter led by Doron Lamb and Darius Miller. UK as a team shoots an impressive 39 percent from 3-point range but Lamb(13.5ppg) shoots far better than that number connecting on 47 percent 3’s, while Miller shoots a very strong 38% from downtown. Basically, Kentucky lacks a glaring weakness as this team has a very strong frontcourt headlined by Davis and MKD but also can fill it up from 3-point range (39%). Kentucky is also a very unselfish team, as despite their youth this group always makes the extra pass and is willing to sacrifice individual stats for team success. This group knows how to win and with 1 more win they would become NCAA Champs and finally give Coach Cal that elusive 1st National title. The team that stands in their way is no slouch, or can hardly be called a true underdog as the Kansas Jayhawks have an illustrious college basketball history and are an impressive 32-6 on the season. That record is even more impressive when you consider what the “experts” said in the preseason, as Kansas was expected to fall off after losing 3 players to the NBA and their top 3 freshmen to eligibility concerns. Despite all that preseason adversity the Jayhawks have persevered and now improbably sit just 1 game away from being crowned National Champions. Bill Self who was named National Coach of the Year deserves a lot of credit for the job he has done with this Jayhawk team as he has guided this very shorthanded roster to a Big 12 regular season title. On the court the Jayhawks are led by their 2 stars Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Robinson (17.9ppg, 11.8rpg) a National Player of the Year candidate, has been a force this season as a junior, after playing a secondary role the last 2 years behind the Morris twins. Robinson a terrific athlete will need to be big against UK for the Jayhawks to have a chance as in the 1st matchup between these 2 teams, he was held to 11 points and 12 rebounds, largely due to foul trouble. The other key cog for KU is Taylor, the senior point guard who has blossomed this season as both a scorer and facilitator. Taylor, who averages 17.3points and 4.8 assists, has really matured this season after a well-publicized 3 year struggle with Coach Bill Self. Taylor this season has not only pulled himself out of Bill Self’s doghouse but has emerged as one of the best guards in the entire nation as the electric point guard can explode at any time. As good as Kansas’ duo of Robinson and Taylor are, the key to this game will be how Kansas’ role players perform. Players like Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey and Travis Releford will all need to play big as Kansas is definitely an underdog against #1 Kentucky. Johnson is one guy to watch as the former high school star from Nevada has had a huge tournament averaging 13.4ppg and 5rpg in 5 tournament games. Withey will also be a huge key as his shot blocking (3.3bpg) and matchup with Anthony Davis, could have a large impact on who wins this game. In the end as much as I want Kansas to pull this off, I think Kentucky has enough balance and talent to pull this thing off and get Coach Calipari his 1st National title. Anthony Davis will be the difference as his presence on defense and his ability to finish above the rim on offense help UK to their 8th NCAA title.
X-Factor: Jeff Withey/ Elijah Johnson, Kansas- Like I said these 2 role players will need to come up big for the Jayhawks as both will be relied on for secondary scoring and stout defense. Johnson who can be explosive will need to be a spark for KU as his ability to hit the 3(34%) and his athleticism make him the true wildcard in this game. Withey on the other hand will not need to be a scoring machine but will need to chip in here and there, and more importantly battle with Davis on both ends of the floor. If Kansas is to win, Johnson and Withey will have to be factors as Robinson and Taylor, as good as they are, cannot win this thing all by themselves.
Last Word: Kentucky much to my chagrin gets it done as their tremendous balance and talent level overwhelms an undermanned Kansas team. The Jayhawks will keep this close because of the play of Robinson and Taylor but in the end they just don’t have the depth or balance to pull off the upset over top-seeded Kentucky. John Calipari shows the one and done system can work as he will win his 1st NCAA title on the strength of his freshmen frontcourt of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.