Many college football fans out there don't like the college basketball postseason format, but even if you don't like the process, it's hard to argue too much with the result. A Kentucky-Kansas final is the sort of all-blue blood championship game that football has been putting on since 1992. The country apparently appreciates these name brand programs as ratings are nothing but up.
The teams don't just have good names; they also represent quality. Neither of them has a loss to a team that missed the NCAA Tournament. Kansas has Big 12 Player of the Year Thomas Robinson and another first-team All-Big 12 performer in Tyshawn Taylor. Kentucky has SEC Coach of the Year John Calipari, national Player of the Year Anthony Davis (also SEC Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year), Sixth Man of the Year Darius Miller, and another first-team All-SEC player in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Even though neither of these squads could beat the Charlotte Bobcats, it should be a whale of a game.
At least, we should all hope it's a whale of a game. I can't imagine a worse final than last year's stinker between UConn and Butler, when the former couldn't hit shots and the latter apparently completely ran out of gas. Even the past few carefully curated BCS national championship games haven't been that good; the last well-played close game was from the 2008 season and the last true classic was from the 2005 season. All you can do is line up a couple of good teams and hope for the best, and fortunately the tournament lined up some good ones here.
Kansas has a much more traditional makeup for a title contender. It has its superstars in Robinson and Taylor and some complimentary pieces around them. Kentucky is far more balanced, with five players averaging at least 10 points per game and another (Marquis Teague) just shy of that mark with 9.9 a game. KU knows who it will lean on to win the game, but that also means Kentucky knows who to try to shut down. UK is harder to stop because everyone contributes, but if shots aren't falling down the stretch, it's hard to know for sure who will step up and carry the team. Davis would be the obvious choice as the team's best player, but his offensive game is not terribly well developed yet.
It's hard to see Kentucky losing this game, just like it is difficult to see Kentucky losing any given game. UK did beat Kansas back at the very beginning of the season in November, but both teams have grown quite a bit since then. Indeed, this KU team will be the best one the Wildcats have faced since they took down UNC back in December, so it will require more of them than they've typically had to give throughout this calendar year.
For all the fancy analysis, this game comes down to two things. First, can Kansas weather the big run that Kentucky inevitably goes on in the second half of every game it plays? And second, can Kentucky make field goals in the final eight minutes of the game? I think the answer to both questions is "yes", but that still does mean UK will pull this one out.
The pick: Kentucky 70, Kansas 68