Kentucky and Kansas rank 1-2 on the list of all-time winningest Division I basketball programs, and the No. 1 Wildcats (37-2) are a clear favorite over Kansas (32-6) in tonight’s NCAA championship game at the Superdome. But four previous New Orleans finals have produced some of the most magical moments in NCAA history, and this has all the ingredients for another.
UK’s Anthony Davis vs. KU’s Jeff Withey
The 6-10 Davis is national player of the year as a freshman and the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, and he dominated Kentucky’s semifinal win over Louisville. He has more offensive game, but the 7-foot Withey is the second-best shot-blocker in the country and won’t make it easy for Davis.
UK’s Terrence Jones vs. KU’s Thomas Robinson
Robinson was runner-up in most player of the year polls, and he’s carrying a chip on his shoulder because he believes he’s done more than Davis. He must beat likely double-teaming by Jones and Davis, and Robinson’s rebounding is vital to KU. Jones had 15 points and seven rebounds vs. Kansas in November game.
UK’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. KU’s Travis Releford
Kidd-Gilchrist is just a freshman, but he projects as a high NBA lottery pick just behind Davis and dominated Releford in the November game at Madison Square Garden. He’s an energy source for the Wildcats, and Releford will have to focus on using his strength defensively to keep Kidd-Gilchrist away from the rim.
UK’s Doron Lamb vs. KU’s Elijah Johnson
Kentucky’s 24-7 second-half run in the first Kansas game included three straight threes from Lamb, who led the ’Cats with 17 points and is a .465 three-point shooter. Johnson has stepped up his game, as he did vs. Ohio State with 13 points and 10 rebounds. This could be the X factor.
UK’s Marquis Teague vs. KU’s Tyshawn Taylor
Controlling tempo will be a huge factor. Kentucky wants the explosive Teague to get to the basket and push the pace as he did against Louisville. Taylor played selfishly the first time against Kentucky and has become more of a distributor. Last time, he had zero turnovers to six by Teague.
Having 6-8 senior guard Darius Miller come off the bench with his size, leadership and scoring ability is a huge advantage for Kentucky. He doesn’t start, but often finishes. Freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer also is capable. Kansas relies primarily on senior guard Conner Teahan for a spark, but 6-8 Kevin Young also plays.
Calipari led No. 1 Memphis to the 2008 final, where he lost to Kansas in overtime after blowing a late lead and being outcoached by Self in the eyes of many critics. Calipari steadfastly has denied the importance of winning a title to his reputation as more of a recruiter. Self is the coach with the overachieving team that has displayed uncommon toughness.
Kentucky (37-2) vs. Kansas (32-6)
The Wildcats won the second game of the season over Kansas, 75-65, and led by as many as 17 points at Madison Square Garden. They are regarded as the most talented team in the nation. But Kansas has proved its resilience in comeback after comeback, including from double-digit deficits in the NCAA Tournament against Purdue, North Carolina State and Ohio State.
Kentucky 72, Kansas 66