NEW ORLEANS - March has been a cruel month for 66 teams at the NCAA tournament.
April will gut one more and bring glory to the last school standing.
That’s going to be Kentucky. Here’s why:
Unless Kansas’ streaky shooters — hello Tyshawn Taylor — start hitting from outside, the Jayhawks will have to venture inside. Davis will be waiting and nobody is scarier to deal with on the way to the hoop.
Oh ya, at the other end, Davis will do what Jared Sullinger could not against Jeff Withey — go to work. Davis has a huge wingspan advantage over Sullinger, so Withey won’t be able to use his length against a player just as long who can jump a foot higher.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s minutes were limited in the semifinal because of some bogus offensive foul calls. No star player is harder on himself than “MKG” and it is a safe bet to expect him to come up with a massive effort. Yes, Kansas is an elite defensive team – that’s the reason why it is here — but it will have problems with this wrecking ball in transition.
Thomas Robinson is great, but Davis is better and Kidd-Gilchrist might be as well. Plus Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller each are arguably better than Kansas’ next-best players, Taylor and Withey.
Recent Calipari Final Four teams lost because they either were horrific from the line (Memphis against Kansas) or the field (John Wall’s Kentucky squad against West Virginia). This Kentucky group has gunners and, according to head coach John Calipari, this is the best free throw shooting team he has ever coached.
Experience? They’re a bunch of freshmen and sophomores you say, but bear with us.
Darius Miller’s played more games than anybody at Kentucky, Terrence Jones has last year to look back on and everybody else had to grow up quick in this tournament — particularly on Saturday against relentless Louisville.
The Cardinals, in particular, will prepare the Wildcats for a Kansas team that also prides itself on tough, scrappy defence, anchored by a standout shot-blocker in the middle.
Kentucky also beat up on Kansas earlier in the year, though, granted Kansas was a far inferior bunch at that point.
“They bullied us, they beat us and that’s all I remember. We had no chance the whole game,” Robinson recalled.
Kansas and Robinson will be better this time around, but Kentucky can use that game as a confidence-builder heading in.
WHY KANSAS BELIEVES?
Kansas thinks it can win because it has Bill Self, the Naismith winner as coach of the year who has won more games over the past six years than anybody in the NCAA.
As well, Robinson can put a team on his back and appears ready to have a huge effort: “If you want to be the best, you have to take down the best.”
Withey has gone from a non-factor (he averaged 6.3 minutes per game last season) to Kansas’ all-time single-season shot-blocking leader and will make Teague, Lamb and Miller think twice about coming inside.
If they can make the game ugly, they believe they have a shot:
“If we make other teams not play well, then we have a chance to win. If we allow (them) to be comfortable, play well, then we don’t,” Self said.
Few teams have been able to make Kentucky uncomfortable this season.
Kansas might do it for a bit on Monday, but it won’t be for long enough.
For the first time since 1998, Kentucky will be the king of college basketball.
SO MUCH TALENT THIS MARCH
The NCAA championship game is one of the biggest dates on the annual hoops calendar, but this year, basketball fans have an added treat.
After all, it is not very often that the sure-fire first overall NBA draft pick — Anthony Davis of Kentucky — and two other players expected to go in the top five — teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kansas forward Thomas Robinson all play in the biggest game of the year.
The trio might even go 1-2-3 and Kentucky’s Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague also will go in the first round if they declare, while Doron Lamb, Darius Miller and Jayhawks guard Tyshawn Taylor and centre Jeff Withey also could be selected.
That level of high-end talent in the title game has been a rarity over the past two decades.
The closest we have seen was back in 2007, when five of the top 10 picks (including No. 1 selection Greg Oden and No. 3 Al Horford and No. 4 Mike Conley Jr) met up.
In 2005, North Carolina took on Illinois and Tar Heels went No. 2 (Marvin Williams) and No. 5 (Raymond Felton), while Illinois star Deron Williams went No. 3.
UNC’s Sean May and Rashad McCants also went 13th and 14th, while Williams’ backcourt-mate, Luther Head, went 24th.