National Championship Game Showcases Rare Treat: The Nation’s Two Best PlayersPosted by EJacoby on April 2nd, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
This year’s National Championship game not only features the two winningest programs in college basketball history, but from a more tangible matchup standpoint it also pits the two best players in the country against one another. After Kentucky dispatched of Louisville on Saturday and Kansas survived the physical battle against Ohio State, we now get that rare matchup – Anthony Davis against Thomas Robinson in the National Title game. Why hasn’t this pairing received a flood of media attention? When’s the last time the country’s two National Player of the Year frontrunners faced off in the finals? And will these two interior forces even guard each other during the game? We attempt to answer these questions to prepare you for one of the many great stories to track during tonight’s National Championship.
Think it’s a given that the National Title game produces stud players facing one another? Remember how difficult it is to advance this far in the NCAA Tournament, and history proves how rare the opportunity is. Monday’s game will mark just the fourth time since 1979 that two first team All-Americans face off in the National Championship, and that simply encompasses any of the five best players in any given season. With Davis and Robinson, we are talking about the two leading vote-getters for National Player of the Year; two players that have gone toe-to-toe all season to decide the best and most valuable player in all of college basketball. Magic Johnson (Michigan State) against Larry Bird (Indiana State) in the 1979 National Championship game is the benchmark example of the scenario, and that matchup is still famous as one of the great individual battles in college history. The most recent matchup between All-Americans came in 1999 between Elton Brand (Duke) and Richard Hamilton (Connecticut), which is another good one but certainly does not resonate as strongly as Magic vs. Bird, and Hamilton was not a consensus Player of the Year candidate. It’s still unknown what kind of legacy, if any, Davis vs. Robinson will leave, but both players are forwards that are likely to be drafted in the top five of the upcoming NBA Draft, with Davis a near-lock for the #1 pick. The narrative of comparison between these two players truly begins on Monday night.
The national media tends to eat up stories like this, but there isn’t as much buzz about Davis vs. Robinson as you might expect, for a variety of reasons. First of all, there are more dominant stories that take precedence on Monday night, such as the sideline war between John Calipari and Bill Self, the same two coaches who met in the 2008 National Title game. Also, these two players have already squared off this season when Kentucky defeated Kansas in November, and they aren’t expected to guard each other one-on-one this time around. “They’re not going to be matched up against each other besides emergency switches,” notes Kansas coach Self. Throw in the fact that the freshman Davis walked away with nearly every regular-season award from the year while Robinson somehow winds up empty-handed after a phenomenal season, and that likely ends a lot of the national hype surrounding this competition. But that’s not what this matchup is about; it’s simply special that two All-Americans, who’ve been the best players in the country from day one, highlight the players to watch in the National Title game. The game between powerhouses UK and KU is a basketball purist’s fantasy, but casual fans should be thrilled about watching the game’s two best players go at it.
Expect to see Anthony Davis, widely regarded as the best defender in the nation, matched up on Kansas’ Jeff Withey. This scenario makes the most sense since Withey is too tall to be checked by anyone but Davis, plus the Kansas big man is not a go-to offensive player so Davis will have plenty of opportunity to roam for blocked shots through help defense, which he excels at. Robinson, then, will leave the shot-blocker Withey on Davis while he will match up with Terrence Jones, a player whose size and skill makes the most sense to check one-on-one. Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that this game between physical, athletic teams will feature a war in the paint. Davis and Robinson will be exchanging plenty of blows while fighting for paint and rebound position. Also two of the most electrifying dunkers in the country, you are likely to see several highlight plays at the rim between Robinson and Davis.
Kansas probably needs a 20-point, 10-rebound kind of game out of Robinson if it wants to win this game, whereas Davis just needs to keep altering shots defensively and running the floor on offense to make his impact. Robinson will constantly be getting the ball in the post to go to work, either looking for his own jump hooks and post moves or setting up opportunities for others in the offense. Davis, meanwhile, just needs to stay active offensively looking to grab offensive rebounds and getting open for lob passes. He has improved his one-on-one game to be able to make plays off the dribble going to the basket, but Kentucky doesn’t call for Davis to get up 15 shots per game like Robinson must. Defensively is where Kentucky relies on Davis, and his impact on that end is one of the greatest the college game has ever seen. For a matchup between star forwards, it’s quite a contrast in terms of stylistic game play. That’s just one of the many aspects that will make the Thomas Robinson-Anthony Davis storyline so fun to watch on Monday night.