UK v KU
It comes to a head tonight, the two winningest programs in college basketball history deciding the national championship. Even though this game will be discussed until there are no words left to discuss it with today, the analysis is pretty simple. Kentucky wants to get out in transition, Kansas wants to muck up the game by playing ugly—their words, not mine. What does that mean?
Kentucky has six first round draft picks, three of them could go in the lottery. They are the more talented of the two teams, so anything the Jayhawks can do to disrupt their rhythm will go a long way towards keeping them in this game. Fortunately, KU has made a living doing exactly that to opponents throughout the tournament. Everyone is going to be talking about Anthony Davis against Thomas Robinson but, save for a few switches, they’re not likely to be on each other. Coming off an individual win over Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Jeff Withey gets the matchup with the National Player of the Year. It’s a far tougher test, Davis is quick, incredibly long and more skilled than Sullinger. Davis and Ohio State block a ton of shots at the rim, but they didn’t rebound well against Louisville—that’s where KU has a chance to hurt them. Bill Self hopes that his team can hit a few early shots, but he’s counting on forty minutes of ‘glass eating’ and unyielding defense—without it he has little chance.
I’m not quite sure why some national pundits are wondering if Kansas can pull off ‘one of the greatest upsets in championship history’. Really? KU is just a 6 and a half point underdog and generally played right with the ‘Cats in their meeting in New York. The Jayhawks are a two seed which has been resilient all season, they’re tough and know how to win close games. Beyond that, I love KU’s maturity against Kentucky’s youth. How will the Wildcats deal with the pressure of expectations tonight—that’s always a factor for a favorite. With their youth, does UK appreciate the moment quite as much as the veteran Jayhawks who’ve struggled to get back on this stage since winning it all four years ago? Would I pick the ‘Hawks with my last ten bucks? Probably not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they won it.
I had an interesting chat with a KU player yesterday who told me the main difference between this and last year’s team was their chemistry. He admitted that the team that lost to VCU in the Elite Eight was more talented, but lamented what he called ‘a bad mix’. He used the term addition by subtraction as it related to the turnover in the program. I’ll leave you to read between the lines.
We’ll be on the air tonight at 7:30 with a strong local spin to the matchup, which includes five minutes with Bill Self. Thanks for the many kind words we received on our coverage down here, it’s gratifying when people recognize the effort.
The largest crowd to ever witness a Kansas basketball game saw a great one last night. 73,361 rock-chalked the Superdome as KU rallied from 13 points down to beat Ohio State in the Final Four. I’m not sure which was more impressive, the KU rally or the OSU’s band’s version of the Led Zeppelin tune Kashmir. I’ve never heard a pep band do Zeppelin before, it was awesome—but I’m sticking with the ‘Hawks as the story of the night.
We’ve become so expectant of Thomas Robinson that we take his 19 points and 8 rebounds almost for granted. But it’s his ability to be that productive when teams are trying to take him away that’s so impressive. TRob routinely draws the double-team and was even being tripled on occasion by the Buckeyes, that attention opened lanes for others and KU took advantage. Travis Relaford’s 15 points were huge, but the two he got just before the half may have been the biggest.
It’s always interesting to look at turning points in a close game. Ohio State dominated the first half and had built a 13 point lead, but Jeff Withey made a big defensive stop in the lane and the ensuing run out by Tyshawn Taylor and Relaford allowed the ‘Hawks to close the half on a 4-0 run. They retained the momentum to start the second scoring 13 of the first 17 points and the game was tight from there on.
We’re mesmerized by the images of Jayhawks fast breaks and lob dunks, but this team continues to win games with their grit. Jeff Withey is a great example of this. He won the battle with Buckeye All-American Jared Sullinger last night because he understood his role in the matchup. Points weren’t important for him—he collected only four. He did grab eight rebounds, but it was his seven blocked shots that resonated loudly. Six of those blocks came against Sullinger who was hounded into 5-19 shooting. You look at Withey now and see the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year, but going into the season Bill Self was just hoping to get good minutes from him. The Kansas coach admits that he never saw this type of season coming from Withey. That it has is one of the big reasons that KU is playing for the national championship.
KU has lead at the half just once in five games in the tournament and that was against Detroit. Relaford’s 15 points were an NCAA Tourney high for him and was his best output since his season-high 28 points against Oklahoma on January 7. Elijah Johnson had 11 of his 13 points after halftime and with ten rebounds registered his first career double-double—great timing.
Heading over for Sunday interviews, check back later for observations.
March 30, 2012
Why, I wondered, is New Orleans referred to as the Big Easy? It turns out that there’s plenty of speculation, but the one I like best was inspired by the city’s relaxed attitude toward alcohol consumption during the Prohibition. Believe me folks, there’s not much here to prohibit you from doing whatever the imagination conjures.
The Jayhawks beat the Buckeyes by 11 in Lawrence three months ago. Ohio State was without All-American Jared Sullinger, a fact that OSU head coach Thad Motta calls—‘a blessing in disguise’. His contention is that with 18 points and 10 rebounds out of the lineup—it forced other elements of his team to step forward. Deshaun Thomas did exactly that and the 6’7” forward has been challenging Sullinger for scoring honors the rest of the season.
KU enjoys a size advantage in the front line matchups, with Jeff Withey on Sullinger and Thomas Robinson on Thomas. That’s an advantage in height, giving away 35 pounds--Withey’s battle with Suillinger will be interesting. The other matchup to keep your eye on is Tyshawn Taylor on OSU’s Aaron Craft. Bill Self calls craft one of the best on ball defenders in the country, especially the way he digs when the ball goes low. Taylor still has a tendency to turn it over , Craft and Ohio State feast on turnovers.
It’s not sexy, although that’s in the eyes of the beholder, but Kansas is in the Final Four because of its defense. The ‘Hawks are barely shooting 40 percent for the Tournament, down nine percent from the regular season. But they’re holding opponents to just 36 percent and 58 points a game. Kansas staying stingy --equals staying in the tourney. Bill Self says that you can expect very few easy baskets in this game and that gaining a higher percentage of loose balls will be telling. In other words, there’s not much to choose from between these teams.
You bet I’ve been bead searching on Bourbon Street, what a den of inequities—but how fun. Not once has anyone asked to see my chest—I’m so disappointed.