Calipari's second shot at Self will go much better than his first

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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NEW ORLEANS -- Bill Self never anticipated this, another shot at John Calipari in the national championship game. Not this year.

The last time we saw a Calipari-Self matchup on the final Monday night was back in 2008. It was when Cal's Memphis team, one led by all-world point guard Derrick Rose, fretted away a nine-point lead with 2:12 remaining in regulation. There was Mario Chalmers draining that picturesque 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left to send the game to overtime and an eventual national championship.

Calipari walked off the court with no shortage of regret.

"It's something that probably haunts him [Calipari] every single night," said Kansas senior guard Conner Teahan, who sat on the final spot on the bench that night. "But this is a completely different team."

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Both are completely different.

Self admitted, following his team's latest come-from-behind win, that "this Kentucky team is better than that [2008] Memphis team." He also readily admits this Kansas group can't hold a candle to that Jayhawks squad in terms of talent. Sherron Collins came off the bench that season and Cole Aldrich only logged four minutes in the national title contest, one of the best March Madness games of the decade. This time Self and the Jayhawks will be thoroughly overmatched by Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the rest of the 'Cats.

Kansas escaped yet again with a victory in the NCAA tournament, this time coming from 13 down against Ohio State. It's been a pattern for this team, one based on resiliency and mental toughness. There was the fortunate win against Purdue in the third round, the three-point squeaker over N.C. State in the Sweet 16 and a victory over a Kendall Marshall-less North Carolina team that was far closer than the final score indicated.

But Self won't have enough bullets to go up against this Calipari team.

He's got a group that's forced to go with a pair of former walk-ons in Teahan and Justin Wesley as two of his top reserves off the bench.

"I never saw this coming," Kansas star Thomas Robinson admitted after the 64-62 win on Saturday night. "I never thought last June that we'd end up in the championship game."

No one did.

That was after the Morris Twins -- Marcus and Markieff -- along with Josh Selby all bolted. Starters Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed both graduated. Then three incoming freshmen were deemed ineligible -- including projected starter Ben McLemore.

"We flew under the radar all year," Self admitted.

"We knew we had some problems," Kansas assistant Joe Dooley added.

The Jayhawks will go into Monday night's contest as the heavy underdogs, especially after Kentucky overwhelmed Kansas in the second half back in November at Madison Square Garden. In that game, Kansas star Thomas Robinson was visibly frustrated after the loss, seeing constant double-teams for the first time in his college career.

Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor has been playing as well as any floor leader in the country over the last couple months and Robinson finished a close second to Davis for National Player of the Year honors, but Kentucky is a completely different team as well. They had four freshmen all playing in their second career games and still won by double-figures.

"They already cleaned our clock once," Self said.

Calipari has been waiting for this for four years. Revenge against Self. He may not admit it, but there have likely been more than a few nightmares of his team not fouling before the Chalmers dagger. He's been regarded as the elite recruiter, but has been questioned as an X's and O's guy, largely because of his inability to hang a banner.

He'll get another opportunity -- and this time it won't be a fair fight. Self will be bringing a steak knife to a sword fight while Calipari wields a machete.

"We know they have a lot more talent," Teahan said. "But talent doesn't always win games."

Kansas has shown that for much of the season, pulling away for the Big 12 regular-season title and now pulling the ultimate shocker by advancing to the national championship game.

But this is where it likely ends for Self and the Jayhawks.

"It hasn't hit me," Robinson said. "I'm still in shock."

Self vs. Calipari. Part II.

Only this time Self will be missing more than just Chalmers.

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