At the start of this season – did you believe this team would be in the National Championship game in New Orleans? Be honest with yourself. You didn’t. Neither did I. I was here for the ride, just like you.
And yet, here we are. Less than 48 hours from a clash of basketball royalty when Kansas and Kentucky will collide for one final 2011-2012 college basketball game. The history between the two foes is well known, from their showdown in New York earlier this year back to the early ages of basketball. Their paths through college basketball’s record books are similar – multiple titles, numerous final fours, legendary hall of fame coaches.
Their two paths through the season, however, couldn’t be more different.
Kentucky, unanimously regarded as the most talented team in the country, waltzed through the season to the tune of just 2 losses. They feature Anthony Davis, the National Player of the Year. They have what will likely be the first two players drafted in the 2012 NBA Draft in Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They have other NBA hopefuls in Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and Marquis Teague – hell, that’s their entire lineup.
Kansas, on the other hand, came into the season in the midst of losing multiple NBA players and three recruits – Ben McLemore, Jamari Traylor, and Braeden Anderson – to eligibility issues. With just one returning starter – Tyshawn Taylor – Kansas quietly maneuvered through its regular season en route to a No. 2 seed and its 8th Big 12 championship in a row.
Kentucky came into the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and has walked through the madness with a robotic efficiency. The Wildcats looked like the most talented team yet again Saturday evening, dispatching Louisville 69-61 behind the stellar play of Anthony Davis (18pts, 14reb, 5blk). As Self said in his evening presser – “They have pros.”
Kansas, again in stark contrast to its championship opponent, struggled through its national semifinal game with Ohio State. Down big in the first half, the Jayhawks were disjointed, sluggish, and generally tight. As they’ve done numerous times through the season, the Kansas players came out with an edge on defense and immediately closed the gap on the Buckeyes.
Behind unanimous All-American selection Thomas Robinson’s 19 points and 8 rebounds and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jeff Withey’s 7 blocks, Kansas gritted yet another win. The Jayhawks won the game on the boards – with guard Elijah Johnson pulling down 10 – outrebounding Ohio State 42-30, including a few key offensive rebounds down the stretch.
The epic end to the 2011-2012 basketball season is here. A battle of blue-bloods awaits on Monday.
Do you believe it?