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National Championship: Keys to the Game

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

It’s Kentucky vs. Kansas for the national title. Here are three keys for both teams in tonight’s game.

National Championship: Keys to the Game

The NCAA Tournament finally comes to and end tonight in a game that could very well turn out to be a classic: #1 Kentucky vs. #2 Kansas for the national championship.  These two teams are both playing at an extremely high level right now and both have superstar-quality players.  Kansas and Kentucky actually played very early on in the season, with the Wildcats coming out on top 75-65.  That was a long time ago, though, and both of these teams are much different.  Here are three keys for both teams in tonight's game.

For Kentucky:

1) Get the fast break going.  Kansas' interior pairing of Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey is a stifling combination defensively.  Robinson is the best defensive rebounder in the country and Withey trailed only Kentucky's Anthony Davis in blocks this season.  So how do you attack them?  Don't let them set up.  Kentucky loves to get out in the fast break, and doing that effectively will help prevent Kansas' defense from getting set.

Kentucky has the players to get out and run: Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can all fly in the open court, especially Teague.  Using the transition game will be a great way to get quick buckets and neutralize the impact of Robinson and Withey on defense.

2) Establish the bigs outside.  Another way to neutralize the effectiveness of Withey and Robinson on the interior is to draw them away from the basket.  Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones are both more than capable of operating on the perimeter, whether it be taking outside shots or moving the ball.  Kentucky has size elsewhere (Kidd-Gilchrist and Darius Miller can both create mismatches down low) that you don't necessarily need either big in the paint to effectively run the offense.

Something like this is similar to what the Stanford women did last night against Baylor's Brittney Griner.  Stanford used their center at the top of the key and posted up other players, keeping Griner and her giant wingspan out of the paint.  Davis and Jones can easily make that high-low pass, but they can definitely make that shot if given enough space.

3) Make Tyshawn Taylor beat you.  If I'm John Calipari, the one guy I don't want beating me is Thomas Robinson.  Therefore, I try and put the onus on Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas' senior guard.  Taylor has really only had one good game this tournament (the Elite Eight game against UNC where he went for 22 points).  Aside from that, he is shooting just 38% from the field and is an astonishing 0-20 from three in the tournament.

Therefore, I sag off of Taylor and encourage him to let it fly from the perimeter.  Based on his shooting of late, you can expect some long misses to fuel the break and you keep the ball out of Robinson's hands.  Even if Taylor does catch fire, he likely won't be able to do enough to carry Kansas on his own.

For Kansas:

1) Dictate the pace.  We know Kentucky is going to want to run.  Kansas can play an uptempo style, as evidenced by that great first half against UNC, but you don't want to get in a foot race with Kentucky (ask Indiana how that went).  Kansas would be better off trying to slow the game down and limiting Kentucky possessions.  

There are a few ways you can do this.  The first is to take care of the ball, since turnovers fuel the fast break.  The second is to not rely on the perimeter shot for offense, since long misses are just as bad as turnovers are concerned (looking at you, Tyshawn).  Third is to just make shots, since being forced to take the ball out slows down teams.  That last one hasn't always deterred Kentucky from getting out on the break, though.  

2) Go at Anthony Davis.  This seems like backwards logic, since Davis is one of the best interior defenders in all of college basketball.  Davis is the best shot-blocker in the nation, and is especially talented at blocking and disrupting shots without drawing fouls.  But I think that both Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey have the size and strength to be able to go after Davis down low.  If they can body him up in the paint and maybe get him in foul trouble, Kentucky's interior presence is severely limited.

3) Trust the role players.  Kansas has shown during the tournament that they are more than just Thomas Robinson.  Withey is starting to become a household name because of his impact on defense, and we all know what Taylor can do.  But juniors Travis Relaford and Elijah Johnson are really coming into their own these last three weeks.  

Both players have shot well (54% for Johnson, 50% for Relaford) and provided great help when needed elsewhere.  Johnson has picked up a lot of the scoring burden during Taylor's struggles, while Relaford has recorded two steals in each of his last three games.  Both players have performed admirably in the clutch too, not shying away from the spotlight.  While they might not be as talented Kentucky's stars, they are the kind of players that really fill out a team and can propel them to surprising results.

The Prediction: Kentucky 67 - Kansas 62

A part of me really thinks that Kansas can pull off the upset.  Every time I've counted them out, they somehow come back and pull through.  But they haven't done so against a team like Kentucky.  The Wildcats just have too much firepower for the Jayhawks to handle, and John Calipari is going to finally get his national championship tonight.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to the NCAA Tournament National Championship Game.

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