With both Final Four games now complete, the 2012 National Championship Game is set.
Following a pair of terrific games on Saturday, top-ranked Kentucky will face Kansas for the title on Monday night.
Here is a quick rundown of the viewing information for the title game.
- Seeds & Region: #1 Kentucky (South) v #2 Kansas (Midwest)
- Kentucky-Kansas Date: Monday, April 2nd
- Kentucky-Kansas Tip Time: 9:23 ET
- Kentucky-Kansas Location: The Superdome in New Orleans
- Kentucky-Kansas TV: CBS
- Kentucky-Kansas Announcers: Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg, and Steve Kerr
- Kentucky-Kansas Point Spread: TBA
- Vivid Seats: National Championship Game Tickets
Kentucky-Kansas Preview and Prediction
Following wins in New Orleans on Saturday, Kentucky and Kansas will face off for the 2012 National Championship on Monday night. The Wildcats withstood a second half charge from Louisville to win by eight points, as Anthony Davis led the way with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks. Once again, Darius Miller came up with a number of key plays and finished with 13 points in the victory. The Jayhawks trailed by double digits late in the first half but used a fantastic second half to come away with a two-point win. Thomas Robinson led the way with 19 points, but KU also got 13 points and 10 rebounds from Elijah Johnson and seven blocks from Jeff Withey.
These two teams met way back in November with the Wildcats winning by 10 points in Madison Square Garden. The game was tied at the half, but Kentucky went on a run after the break and never relinquished the lead. Doron Lamb scored 17 points to lead five UK players with at least 12 points, while Tyshawn Taylor hit 15 free throws and had 22 points for Kansas.
Kentucky-Kansas By The Numbers
Both teams rank in the Top 20 in adjusted efficiency on both ends of the floor, and it will be strength on strength when Kentucky has the ball. Coming into Saturday’s games, the Wildcats ranked second offensively, while the Jayhawks came in fourth on defense.
In fact, Kentucky’s offense came in ranked in the Top 20 in three of the four factors. Impressive two-point shooting has propelled the Wildcats to a strong effective field goal percentage, but Kansas boasts the top-ranked two-point defense in the country. Much of the credit for that goes to the shot-blocking prowess of Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson, and that should make for a terrific frontcourt matchup against Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones. Kentucky also shoots well from long range, and the Jayhawks have struggled at times with three-point defense, so keep an eye on the perimeter shooting of Doron Lamb and Darius Miller.
Offensive rebounding has been another strength for the Wildcats, as they have rebounded nearly 38 percent of their misses this year. However, Thomas Robinson boasts the top defensive rebounding percentage in the country, and the Jayhawks have done a solid job on the glass as a team. Louisville limited Kentucky to just five offensive boards on Saturday, while Kansas surrendered 10 offensive rebounds to OSU. Between two-point defense and the battle on the glass, frontcourt play will be absolutely critical in this one.
In terms of turnovers, Kentucky doesn’t commit them at a high rate, and Kansas doesn’t force them all that often either. But the Jayhawks seem to have forced miscues at key times during the tournament, and some of their blocked shots often lead to run-outs and transition baskets as well.
When Kansas has the ball, they keys are fairly similar. The Jayhawks shoot over 53 percent on two-pointers, but the Wildcats boast one of the best two-point defenses in the country, thanks in large part to the top-ranked block percentage. Again, the inside matchups should be fantastic, and foul trouble could play a major role should one of the key participants draw a couple early whistles.
The Jayhawks have also done a decent job on the offensive glass, rebounding nearly 35 percent of their misses this year. Louisville grabbed 16 offensive boards against Kentucky on Saturday, and a similar effort from Kansas in the Championship Game would be huge for the underdogs from Lawrence. Outside of the usual suspects, keep an eye on Kevin Young, who boasts a strong offensive rebounding percentage and grabbed four offensive boards versus Ohio State.
While Kansas has been turnover prone at times this season, Kentucky doesn’t force many miscues, so don’t expect that to be a huge factor. Similarly, KU ranks just outside the Top 100 in free throw rate, while the Wildcats are among the best at keeping their opponents off the stripe.
Kentucky-Kansas Matchups and Prediction
Obviously much will be made of the frontcourt matchups, and rightfully so. Each team features one of the nation’s best shot-blockers, although Withey will have his hands full with Anthony Davis based on his mobility. By the same token, Thomas Robinson will put a tremendous amount of pressure on Terrence Jones defensively as well as on the glass. Again, foul trouble to any of these players would be huge, but I wouldn’t expect the game to be called all that closely on Monday.
And while the frontcourt battle will get the pre-game headlines, the backcourt matchups should be impressive as well. For Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor has struggled with his shooting but has come up with key plays and has 23 assists over the last four games, including nine dimes against OSU in the Final Four. Elijah Johnson is playing his best basketball of the season and has reached double figures in all five tournament games.
For the Wildcats, the three-headed monster of Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller has consistently performed well. Teague has just eight points in each of the last two games, but he tallied 38 points against Iowa State and Indiana. Lamb has reached double figures in each contest with Saturday’s 10-point performance his lowest output of the tournament. As for Miller, the senior has routinely made clutch plays, scoring 19 points against both Iowa State and Indiana to go with 13 in the win over Louisville. John Calipari has done a nice job of mixing and matching these guys depending on who has the hot hand.
On the wing, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist managed just nine points for Kentucky on Saturday, but I would expect a bounce back performance from him based on how well he had played leading up to the Final Four. Kansas will need Travis Releford to come up big once again following his 15-point, 6-rebound effort versus Ohio State. Releford and reserve Kevin Young will be tasked with trying to contain MKG, which will be a tall order.
The coaching matchup between Calipari and Bill Self should be a great one as well, but brace yourselves for plenty of references to their matchup in the 2008 National Championship Game.
I picked Kentucky to win the tournament before it started, and nothing I have seen since then has caused me to back off of that prediction. For Kansas to win, it will be imperative to get either Davis or Jones in foul trouble, and the Jayhawks will also need to pound the offensive glass as Louisville did on Saturday. However, I think Withey will struggle to defend Anthony Davis, and as I predicted initially, Kidd-Gilchrist will be a difference maker with his relentless attitude and strength.
Kansas Jayhawks Team Capsule
- Conference: Big 12
- Record: 27-6 (16-2 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 9-1
- Record vs. Tournament Teams: 12-6
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Baylor (2), Georgetown, Iowa State, Kansas State (2), Long Beach State, Missouri, Ohio State, South Florida, Texas (2)
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Baylor, Davidson, Duke, Iowa State, Kentucky, Missouri
- Player to Watch: Thomas Robinson (6’9” F, Jr.) – 17.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.0 bpg, 53.1 FG%
Kansas Bottoms Line:
Despite losing a number of key contributors from last season’s team, the Jayhawks refused to relinquish their stranglehold on the Big 12 and won the league by two full games.
Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson is a double-double machine who is relentless on both ends of the floor. His 31.6 defensive rebounding percentage is the best in the country, and he has proved adept at getting opposing defenders into foul trouble. The other key offensive weapon is guard Tyshawn Taylor, who averages 17.3 points and a team-high 4.8 assists while hitting 43.5 percent from deep. Center Jeff Withey has come up big for the Jayhawks on multiple occasions and always impacts the game with his rebounding and shot-blocking prowess.
Overall, Kansas ranks in the Top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and their two-point shooting and two-point defense are also among the nation’s best. They have also done a solid job of getting to the line and competing on the glass.
Kentucky Wildcats Team Capsule
- Conference: SEC
- Record: 32-2 (16-0 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 9-1
- Record vs. Tournament Teams: 11-2
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Alabama, Florida (3), Kansas, Lamar, Louisville, Loyola (MD), North Carolina, Vanderbilt (2)
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Indiana, Vanderbilt
- Player to Watch: Anthony Davis (6’11″ F, Fr.) – 14.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 4.6 bpg, 1.4 spg, 64.3 FG%
Kentucky Bottoms Line:
The Wildcats earned the overall top seed and will be picked by most pundits to win it all – and rightfully so. Kentucky finished in the Top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and steamrolled all comers in the SEC. On offense, the Wildcats are in the Top 25 in two-point shooting, turnover rate, and offensive rebounding percentage and have a number of offensive weapons.
In all, six players score at least 9.4 points per game, led by freshman phenom Anthony Davis who is a strong candidate for National Player of the Year. He averaged a double-double and shoots a high percentage, but his shot-blocking ability is a game-changer on the defensive end. Fellow frosh Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a fiery, do-it-all competitor who will do whatever it takes to win. Sophomore Terrence Jones gives the Wildcats yet another talented frontcourt player, and if he brings his A-game, look out. The backcourt features freshman Marquis Teague, who has really improved at the point over the course of the season, and lights out shooter Doron Lamb, who hits over 45 percent from beyond the arc.
For all the discussion about Kentucky’s weapons on offense, they are just as impressive on defense. They boast the top-ranked block percentage, two-point defense, and effective field goal percentage defense to go with a Top 10 opponents’ free throw rate.