Breaking down the NCAA Championship

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Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks with Kansas Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks with Kansas head coach Bill Self, right, during a television interview in New Orleans. (April 1, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Greg Logan Newsday columnist Greg Logan

Greg Logan is a college sports and boxing writer for Newsday.

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.

Center

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.

Edge: Kentucky
 

Power forward

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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.

Edge: Kansas

Small forward

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.

Edge Kentucky

Shooting guard

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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.

Edge: Kentucky

Point guard

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.

Edge: Kansas

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Bench

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.

Edge: Kentucky

Coaching

UK’s John Calipari vs. KU’s Bill Self

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.

Edge: Kansas

Intangibles

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.

Edge: Kansas

PREDICTION

Calipari avenged his 1996 NCAA semifinal loss to Rick Pitino on Saturday night, and now he can pay back Self for the 2008 title loss and get his first NCAA championship in the bargain.

Kentucky 72, Kansas 66

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