Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.
College basketball fans, this is it. A champion will be crowned tonight in front of 70,000+ people packed into the Superdome. Savor it because this beautiful sport of ours won’t be seen again for seven long and painful months. Between tonight and early November, many things will happen. Baseball and football will begin new seasons. The NBA will end one season and begin another. A long, hot summer will come and go. A presidential election will be held. All of this before we see another college basketball game that matters, after tonight’s phenomenal finale of course.
#1 Kentucky vs. #2 Kansas – National Championship (at New Orleans, LA) – 9:23 PM ET on CBS
It’s not often when the consensus top two players meet in the final game of the season, but that’s exactly what we have as Anthony Davis and Kentucky face Thomas Robinson and Kansas. You could make an argument that Bill Self and John Calipari are the best coaches in the sport as well, matched up in a battle between the two winningest programs in NCAA history. This has the makings of a special night, one that might trump them all in terms of the pregame storylines. Kentucky enters the game as a solid favorite (six points in Las Vegas) and won the first meeting by 10 points on November 15 at Madison Square Garden. Who had that as the national championship preview after watching it? Maybe you had the Kentucky half, but you certainly did not have the Kansas half of the equation. Plenty has changed since then, but there are a few things we can glean from that game. Kansas jumped out to an early lead before Kentucky rallied to tie it at the half and took control after the break. The Wildcats shot 51% but committed 19 turnovers (25.6% of possessions, their fifth highest total of the season). There were 45 fouls called in the game and Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor went to the line 17 times as a result. Kentucky’s defense was outstanding, limiting Kansas to 34% shooting and 4-15 from deep. The Wildcats blocked 13 shots (seven courtesy of Davis) and won the game in comfortable fashion.
Tonight’s contest is a matchup between two elite defensive teams, tied for the national lead in defensive two-point percentage (39.8%). The battles at the power forward and center positions are absolutely fantastic. Davis and Terrence Jones go up against Jeff Withey and Robinson, four outstanding defensive players and three who can change the game offensively as well. Robinson is the best defensive rebounder in the nation while Davis and Withey are the top two shot blockers. Jones can electrify the crowd with his athleticism and can also stretch his game to the three-point line. Kentucky is the more talented team, but Kansas has shown an incredible level of grit and toughness throughout the season, never more so than in the NCAA Tournament. Overcoming deficits against Purdue and Ohio State, plus putting away NC State and North Carolina late in the game has shown us this Kansas team is no fluke. The Jayhawks have absolutely nothing to lose in this game and are the more experienced team by a wide margin. On the other hand, Kentucky has one more game to go in order to live up to the preseason expectation of winning the program’s eighth national championship.