These last three weeks went pretty fast, right? As the calendar has turned to April we bid adieu to March Madness with its final hurrah. While the games on Saturday night were pretty exciting, this has sadly been one of the least exciting tournaments in recent years.
Without one buzzer-beater to look back on, the “One Shining Moment” montage at the end of tonight’s game won’t have much to showcase. More than anything else, I’ll remember the officiating in this tournament. Without the theater of players rising in final moments, it’s hard to ignore some of the blunders by referees. And that’s not even including the three properly called lane violations. Let’s hope tonight’s game allows us not to look back on the 2012 tournament as “the one with the lane violations.” Here’s to the teams striving for greatness tonight.
Is this game similar to the last time John Calipari and Bill Self coached against each other in a title game?
The 2008 matchup was one of the most memorable title games in recent years. Memphis, then coached by Calipari, missed their foul shots down the stretch and Mario Chalmers made a three at the buzzer to send it to overtime. Kansas would eventually win 75-68 in overtime, leaving Calipari to wonder what could’ve been. Few remember how good Memphis was that year because they lost in the title game, but they entered the title game with a 38-1 record and had breezed through the first five games of the tournament. Sound familiar? Kansas was also pretty highly regarded with future pros Chalmers, Brandon Rush, and Darrell Arthur on the roster. They had won the Big 12 regular season and tournament crowns. They were supposed to be there.
The major difference between the two games is Memphis was favored by 1.5 back then and Kentucky is favored by 6.5 points tonight. Both teams were incredibly talented in 2008, but there’s a clear talent advantage to Kentucky this year. While Kansas has had a successful season, they’ve overachieved thanks in part to the best coaching job of Bill Self’s career. The expectations haven’t been there all year for Kansas, taking a lot of pressure off Self and his team. His teams have wilted under pressure before, but he’s been able to instill an us-against-the-world mentality in this team. All the pressure is on Kentucky to win, which ironically is exactly what motivates this Kansas team.
Is this Kentucky team one of the best of all time?
There is a lot of NBA talent on this Kentucky team. They have three lottery picks in Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Terrence Jones. Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, and possibly Kyle Wiltjer will also play in the league. As great as they look on paper, this team would only be the 17th-best team since 1980 according to advanced metrics. We tend to forget how good certain teams were as time goes on, but teams that come to mind as being better are 1990 UNLV, 1992 Duke, 1996 Kentucky, 2001 Duke, and 2005 UNC. Ironically, 2008 Kansas sits sixth on this list. Obviously, Kentucky needs to win the national title in order to be in any conversation, but the thing that doesn’t elevate them to the previous group is guard play. Teague and Lamb are the worst players in the starting five, which is saying something because they’re pretty good. If the guard play was a little better, I think they’d be in the conversation.
Where does Kansas have an advantage over Kentucky?
If you’re a Kansas fan, you’re going to be looking for ways in which your team can beat Kentucky. Unlike some other teams, Kansas can compete with Kentucky in the PF and C spots. The reason Louisville was able to stay in Saturday night’s game was offensive rebounds. They were able to grab 16 offensive rebounds to create extra offensive possessions. This is partly due to Kidd-Gilchrist being in foul trouble and unable to help the two bigs on the offensive glass, but Self will likely make this a point of emphasis for his team. Kansas might only have a slight advantage at point guard with a major asterisk. Tyshawn Taylor has the ability to dominate a game, but he also has the ability to ruin it. If his mind is right, he could dominate the much younger Teague.
Which player will have a bigger impact on the game than you think?
Kansas is going to need to slow the game down and limit possessions if they want to stay in this contest. Assuming Kansas gets the tempo that they want, they’ll need to be able to score in the half court and the height of Anthony Davis should limit Thomas Robinson’s ability to be successful. (Robinson fouled out and only had 11 points in the first game between these teams.) Look for senior Elijah Johnson to step up as he has all tournament long because he has the best chance of being able to create scoring opportunities against his defender, likely Teague or Lamb. Johnson also cleaned the glass for ten rebounds on Saturday night, showing he can help his team in multiple ways.
How can the result be any different than when Kentucky beat Kansas 75-65 back in November?
Kansas hung around for a while in the first contest, but Kentucky eventually closed the game with ease. Kansas’ fans will argue that their team wasn’t at its best back then with players like Johnson and Withey massively improving since November. I have no argument for them there, but it’s not like Kentucky hasn’t improved either. Kentucky’s freshman were only playing in their second game of the season back then and Teague, Kidd-Gilchrist, and Anthony Davis have all improved since that game as well. Kansas definitely has a chance to win this game, but this is Kentucky’s game to lose. Ohio State and Purdue (and to an extent North Carolina and N.C. State) gave their games against Kansas away with poor play in the final minutes. Kentucky is better than that. They’ve been tested, they’ve responded, and they’ll respond again tonight.
Vegas Best Bets:
Kansas (+6.5) over Kentucky – Kentucky wins, but I think Kansas keeps it close given what we’ve seen from them in the last two months.
Kansas/Kentucky Under 137.5 – The expectation for two good teams is to go over, which is exactly what the thinking was on Saturday night when both games went under.