Monday, April 2, 2012

NCAA Tournament Reaches Its Pinnacle Tonight

While my blogging has been lagging in recent days/weeks, I've still had the chance to catch most of the NCAA Tournament.  It has been an exciting one this year, and tonight's game will be for all the marbles between Kentucky and Kansas, college basketball's two winningest programs.  Let's take a look at how we got here and also preview tonight's contest. 

Kentucky had to go through Western Kentucky, Iowa State, Indiana, Baylor, and finally in-state rival Louisville to reach the championship game.  The first two were easy, but the game against Indiana was their first true test.  They beat the Hoosiers 102-90 as both teams played a wildly up-tempo pace.  The Wildcats were too much on the offensive glass and slowed down the Hoosiers just enough to earn the victory.  They took on the Baylor Bears, who had been playing well, in the Elite 8.  It was a complete domination of the Bears, and the Wildcats went on to win despite a few injury scares with Anthony Davis.  The Wildcats then faced Louisville in New Orleans Saturday night, a matchup that had the whole state of Kentucky hyped up in the days leading up to it.  The Cardinals scratched and clawed back in the second half to tie the game with about nine minutes left, but Kentucky was just too much in the end, holding on to win 69-61. 

Kansas had to beat Detroit, Purdue, NC State, North Carolina, and Ohio State to reach the title game.  Only in one of those games (vs. Detroit) did KU lead at half.  They showed amazing resiliency and played some great second halfs, especially on the defensive end.  In the game vs. UNC, they pulled away late and really shut down the Tar Heels in the second half.  The Final 4 matchup against Ohio State was a thriller, as Kansas overcame a 13-point first half deficit to come back and beat the Buckeyes 64-62.  Withey and Robinson limited Sullinger to 5-19 shooting from the floor, and guys like Releford and  Johnson played huge roles in the Jayhawks' victory.  The Jayhawks haven't always looked pretty getting wins this year or in the tournament, but Bill Self is on the verge of a second national title if his Jayhawks were to win tonight. 

Other great games this tournament that I have not discussed in my blog posts: The VCU-IU game was a great one as Indiana edged out Shaka Smart's squad on a late Will Sheehey bucket to lift the Hoosiers 63-61.  Ohio reached the Sweet 16 and nearly beat Roy Williams and UNC, falling 73-65 in overtime.  Ohio had chances to win in regulation, but the Tar Heels had too much firepower in overtime for the Bobcats.  Wisconsin gave Syracuse all it could handle, but they fell 64-63 to the Orange with some very questionable decision making in the final seconds.  The Badgers had the Cuse on the ropes, but they choked in a big situation.  In the Elite 8, Louisville closed on a 23-8 run to beat Florida and advance to the Final 4.  Florida went ice cold in the closing minutes, and the Cardinals surged to victory in the closing minutes. 

Looking ahead to tonight, I expect to see a great game.  Not to brag, but I did have Kentucky and Kansas in the title game, with Kentucky winning this one.  I look for a key matchup to be Anthony Davis vs. Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson.  The battle inside will be a good one and may decide the outcome of this one.  However, I think how Johnson and Releford for Kansas play may make the biggest difference in the outcome.  Kansas will need multiple guys in double figures to have a chance, and these guys need to bring their best.  Kentucky is simply too skilled for Kansas to win with just Robinson and Taylor doing all of the scoring.  Kansas needs to continue to hang in the game late and hope the young Wildcats wilt under the biggest pressure stage.  With a win, Bill Self will continue to add to his legacy as one of the great coaches of all time.  With a win, Calipari will get his first title and start to establish himself as an all-time great.  I am taking Kentucky in this one.  The Wildcats will cut down the nets and prove to be the best in the country this year.

Who do you have winning this one?  Will it be the dominant Wildcats or the resilient Jayhawks?

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