The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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NCAA Basketball

April 1, 2012

Final Four matchups

Kentucky vs. Kansas

8:23 CDT Monday night at the Superdome, New Orleans, CBS

ABOUT KENTUCKY (37-2): The top-ranked Wildcats defeated Louisville 69-61 in the national semifinals. The Wildcats lead in all-time NCAA Tournament victories with 110 and are second in championships with seven. They’re bidding for their first title since 1998. Freshman forward Anthony Davis has won every major award for player of the year, becoming the first Kentucky player to be so honored. If Kentucky wins, it will become the NCAA champion with the most victories .

ABOUT KANSAS (32-6): The No. 6 Jayhawks beat Ohio State 64-62 in the national semifinals. Kansas won the 2008 NCAA championship and is gunning for the fourth title in school history. Coach Bill Self has played three top-seeded teams in the NCAA and defeated them all, including North Carolina for the regional title last week. Self also is 2-0 against No. 1 ranked teams (North Carolina in 2008 and Florida in 2006). Kentucky leads the all-time series with Kansas 20-6 and beat KU 75-65 earlier this year, but Kansas won the previous three.

CENTER

23 Anthony Davis

6-10, 220, Fr.

14.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.6 blocks

5 Jeff Withey

7-0, 235, Jr.

9.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.6 blocks

The nation’s two best shot blockers match up. Withey has been terrific in postseason play, especially on defense. He has more blocks (27) than Davis (23) in the tournament. Davis became the first player since Kansas’ Danny Manning in 1988 to have at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a Final Four game. Davis rarely sees defenses and defenders this good.

Edge — Davis

POWER FORWARD

3 Terrence Jones

6-9, 252, So.

12.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg

0 Thomas Robinson

6-10, 237, Jr.

17.7 ppg, 11.7 rpg

It’s the first time since 1999 that the title game features consensus All-Americans on opposing teams with Robinson and Davis. Robinson hasn’t made more than half his shots in a game since Detroit, but he finds that his points and his presence open things for other Jayhawks. Jones struggled against Louisville with six points, but he had 15 in the victory over KU in November.

Edge— Robinson

WING

14 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

6-7, 232, Fr.

11.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg

24 Travis Releford

6-6, 210, Jr.

8.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 50.6 FG%

Releford is coming off his best NCAA game, with 15 points and four huge free throws late against Ohio State. He’s KU’s best wing defender and will have his hands full with Kidd-Gilchrist, who was the MVP of the East Regional. Releford is more of a three-point threat, with Kidd-Gilchrist stronger on the boards.

Edge — Kidd-Gilchrist

SHOOTING GUARD

20 Doron Lamb

6-4, 210, So.

13.5 ppg, 46.5% 3PT

15 Elijah Johnson

6-4, 195, Jr.

10.1 ppg, 3.6 apg, 43.5% 3PT/NCAA

Johnson has been invaluable to the Jayhawks in NCAA play. He’s been the best shooter, and he’s coming off the first double-double of his career with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Lamb is Kentucky’s top three-point threat, leading the team in attempts. He’s also an 82.5 percent free-throw shooter.

Edge — Lamb

POINT GUARD

25 Marquis Teague

6-2, 189, Fr.

9.9 ppg, 4.8 apg

10 Tyshawn Taylor

6-3, 185, Sr.

16.5 ppg, 4.8 apg, 37.7% 3PT

Even though he’s missed 23 straight three-point attempts, Taylor gets it done. He set the tone in Kansas’ second-half comeback victory over Ohio State, and although he’s not hitting from the outside, his shots inside the arc have been falling. Teague had eight points in the victory over Louisville and went for 24 in the second-round victory over Iowa State.

Edge — Taylor

BENCH

Senior Darrius Miller is a former starter who gives the Wildcats punch off the bench. He’s averaged 10.1 points and brings energy into games. Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-9 freshman, has buried his only three-point attempt in each of his last four games. Kevin Young brings energy and athletic ability into games at forward, and guard Conner Teahan knocked down a big three in the victory over the Buckeyes.

Edge — Kentucky

COACHING/INTANGIBLES

This marks the first time in 50 years that the national title game has produced a coaching rematch. Not since the 1962 title game, when Cincinnati’s Ed Jucker and Ohio State’s Fred Taylor met for the second straight year, has there been a rematch. The other occasion was KU’s Phog Allen losing twice to Indiana’s Branch McCracken (1940, 1953). Bill Self got the better of John Calipari in 2008, when Calipari coached Memphis. This is Self’s best coaching job.

Edge — Kansas

The Jayhawks have been living dangerously, needing big comebacks to win three of their five NCAA games. Falling behind Kentucky by double digits would not be advised. The Wildcats are wildly talented, and in Davis they have possibly one of college basketball’s top players over the last few years. Kansas is determined and plays excellent defense. Will that be enough Monday night? Kentucky wins, 70-65. But if it’s Kansas, mark it down as one of the greatest coaching jobs in NCAA Tournament history.

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