NEW ORLEANS -- Kansas coach Bill Self sat on a stage Sunday here at the Superdome and tried his best to acknowledge the greatness of Kentucky while also making it clear his Jayhawks are still plenty good enough to beat John Calipari's Wildcats.
In a seven-game series?
No, probably not.
But college basketball's national champion isn't crowned after a seven-game series spread over two weeks. In this sport it's just one 40-minute game played annually on the first Monday in April, and though Self agreed with the rest of the world that UK should be most people's pick he stopped short of eliminating his team from consideration a full day before tipoff.
"I truly believe in my heart we can beat anybody," Self said. "We may not be favored in a series. But in my heart I believe we can beat anybody."
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I can't wait to watch them try.
It's UK vs. KU for the championship.
Let's do the National Title Game Look Ahead.
The matchup: Kentucky vs. Kansas
Tipoff: 9:23 p.m. ET
Records: Kentucky 37-2, Kansas 32-6
Favorite: Kentucky (minus-6.5)
The first meeting
UK 75, KU 65 on 11/15/11 at New York's Madison Square Garden: The score was tied at halftime and Kentucky only won by 10 points when these two teams played earlier this season, but the truth is that the game wasn't close. The Wildcats led by double digits for all of the final 15 minutes and by as many as 17 in the second half while Thomas Robinson was held to 11 points. Afterward, KU's Tyshawn Taylor said this about Kentucky: "They're going to be really, really good once they get more practice and more reps. A lot of the guys are young still. I think they're going to be amazing."
UK and KU in the AP poll
Kentucky was No. 2 in the preseason poll. The Wildcats rose as high as No. 1, never dropped lower than fourth and entered the NCAA tournament ranked No. 1. Meantime, Kansas was No. 13 in the preseason poll. The Jayhawks rose as high as No. 3, never dropped lower than 17th and entered the NCAA tournament ranked No. 6.
Scout.com ranked Kentucky's five starters No. 1 (Anthony Davis), No. 6 (Michael-Kidd Gilchrist), No. 8 (Terrence Jones), No. 8 (Marquis Teague) and No. 28 (Doron Lamb) in their high school classes for an average ranking of 10.2. Scout.com ranked Kansas' five starters No. 24 (Thomas Robinson), No. 29 (Elijah Johnson), No. 35 (Jeff Withey), No. 57 (Travis Releford) and No. 83 (Tyshawn Taylor) for an average ranking of 45.6. Put another way, there are four former top 10 recruits in UK's starting lineup but zero former top 20 recruits in KU's starting lineup. When folks talk about a talent disparity, this is what they're talking about. Or this ...
DraftExpress.com projects five Kentucky players will be selected in June's NBA Draft. The site has Anthony Davis No. 1, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist No. 3, Terrence Jones No. 11, Doron Lamb No. 33 and Darius Miller No. 52. Marquis Teague is not listed because DraftExpress.com projects him to remain at UK another year. But if Teague entered this draft he'd obviously be picked somewhere, probably in the first round.
DraftExpress.com projects two Kansas players will be selected in June's NBA Draft. The site has Thomas Robinson No. 4 and Tyshawn Taylor No. 28. Jeff Withey is not listed because DraftExpress.com projects him to remain at KU another year. But if Withey entered this draft he'd obviously be picked somewhere, possibly in the first round.
Kentucky will win if ... Kentucky plays well. And it really is that simple. The Wildcats are just better than Kansas as a team and in terms of individual talent, and as long as they choose layups and dunks over perimeter jumpers they'll almost certainly give John Calipari his first national championship in his 20th season as a college head coach.
Kansas will win if ... Kansas goes right at Anthony Davis and prevents Kentucky from scoring in transition, and if Kentucky, as stated above, doesn't play all that well. In other words, KU playing well won't be enough on its own. The Jayhawks need the Wildcats to get out of character, and if they do then Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey are good enough to give Bill Self his second national title in five years.
The winner will be ... Kentucky.
I wrote back in January that I'd pick Kentucky to win the national title barring some sort of injury to Anthony Davis. That injury never happened. So there's no sense in changing now because Kentucky is just too good. The Wildcats are one of the most talented teams of the past 15 years and should be considered among the best if they do indeed put away Kansas late Monday to finish 38-2. They would have then beaten Florida three times, Kansas twice, Louisville twice and North Carolina once, and they would have lost just two games by a total of eight points. That's a pretty strong body of work.
Can Kansas win?
Yes, of course Kansas can win.
I agree with everything Bill Self said about this only being one game and how anything can happen in one game. But for Kentucky to lose a lot is gonna have to go right for KU and wrong for UK. And I just don't see this breaking that way given how Davis has been dominating lately. But we'll see.