NCAA Championship Game Predictions: Kansas vs Kentucky
Sunday, April 01, 2012
by Mike Stewart
Kentucky Wildcats is the favorite, loaded with next-level talent throughout the lineup - and even on the bench. Kansas Jayhawks is the surprise contender, the team that won its eighth consecutive regular-season conference title in what was supposed to be a "down" year.
They both made it to New Orleans and survived hard-fought national semifinals to meet for the championship in a rematch of Kansas coach Bill Self and Kentucky coach John Calipari, whose Memphis team lost to Self's Jayhawks in the 2008 title game.
The title tilt will feature two of the nation's best big men - and two finalists for the national player of the year award - in Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis and Kansas junior Thomas Robinson, as well as two of the best defensive teams in the country.
Kansas Jayhawks (32-6): The Jayhawks are in the national championship game for the eighth time - the first since 2008 - and this appearance might be their most unlikely since the group nicknamed "Danny and the Miracles" won it all as a No. 6 seed in 1988. Senior guard Tyshawn Taylor (16.5 ppg, 4.8 apg) was the only full-time starter returning for Self at the start of the season, and though it was apparent Robinson (17.7 ppg, 11.7 rpg) had the skills to develop into a dominant post presence, the rest of Kansas' lineup was in flux. But 7-foot center Jeff Withey (9.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) emerged as an excellent defender - with seven blocks against Ohio State on Saturday he has a school-record 136 this season - and juniors Elijah Johnson (10.1 ppg, 3.6 apg) and Travis Releford (8.6 ppg) have teamed with Taylor to become a dynamic backcourt group.
Kentucky Wildcats (37-2): College basketball's all-time leader with 2,089 wins is in the national championship game for the 11th time, but amazingly the first since winning the title in 1998. The Wildcats showed they were beatable by losing the SEC tournament title game to Vanderbilt, but they've looked anything but through five games in the NCAA tournament. Saturday's 69-61 win over Louisville was Kentucky's closest test yet, but it was never really in doubt despite swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist playing only 23 minutes because of foul trouble and the Cardinals owning a surprising 40-33 rebounding edge. The freshman phenom Davis led the way with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. Davis needs two blocks to match the national freshman record of 182 set by Marshall's Hassan Whiteside in 2010.
1. With 26 double-doubles, Robinson leads the nation and has surpassed Drew Gooden for the Kansas single-season record. With 20 double-doubles, Davis has matched DeMarcus Cousins for the Kentucky freshman record.
2. Johnson had 13 points and 10 rebounds against Ohio State for his first career double-double. He scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, helping Kansas rally from a 13-point first-half deficit.
3. Kansas has led at halftime in only one of its five games in the tournament. The Jayhawks rallied from halftime deficits against Ohio State, N.C. State and Purdue and was tied at half against North Carolina. Kentucky is 31-0 when leading at halftime.
NCAA BASKETBALL PREDICTION: Kentucky 76, Kansas 65.
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