It's the first Monday in April, and that means it's time for the National Championship. Kentucky and Kansas have gotten here in completely different ways, but that's part of what makes tonight so much fun. UK is the unstoppable force, KU is the object that's sort of tumbled into this moment by accident.
It's more fun this way. Anyone playing Kentucky wears the underdog's hat, but with this Kansas team, it fits perfectly.
There are many interesting story lines to this game. Kentucky head coach John Calipari is looking to win his first national title. To do that he will need to beat the coach whose team defeated him in the 2008 title game, Kansas' Bill Self.
There's also a ton of top NBA prospects in this game, such as Wildcats big man Anthony Davis, who will look to impress on the game's biggest stage. In fact, Kentucky's Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - along with Kansas' Thomas Robinson - could be the number 1, 2 and 3 picks respectively.
It's UK vs. KU. Never call Kentucky "KU" -- Wildcats fans hate that mistake. Never call Kansas "UK" -- Jayhawks fans hate that, too. This is a solid match-up of two teams that met in November. Kentucky won that game 75-65, breaking open a game that was tied at 28 at halftime. Expect a similar tempo and rugged play inside in the rematch.
Even though this is a match-up of two potential lottery picks, the Jayhawks have a huge advantage with Robinson, who was, at times, the best player in the nation this season. If the Jayhawks are to win, Robinson must dominate against Jones and whoever else the Wildcats put on him. He figures to be guarded by Kentucky forward/center Anthony Davis some, too, but surely Jones will get the first crack defensively. Jones is a mediocre defender, but he has improved during his two seasons at Kentucky. Can Robinson guard Jones? Interesting question. If Jones plays well and they nullify each other, it'll make it that much tougher for Kansas to win.
It will be because the Wildcats control the paint defensively and force Kansas to beat them without an extraordinary effort from Robinson and guard Tyshawn Taylor. Robinson and Taylor account for more than 46 percent of Kansas' offense. In their first meeting, the Wildcats blocked 13 shots, limited the Jayhawks to 33.9 percent shooting and the Robinson/Taylor duo made only eight of 25 field-goal attempts. Davis, the national player of the year, blocked seven of those shots. He has only gotten better. In that first game, Kentucky guards Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague combined for 29 points and made 4 of 6 three-pointers. As always, their shooting, along with senior guard Darius Miller's outside touch, will mean much to the Wildcats' offense.
Kansas coach Bill Self was named the 2012 Naismith Men's College Basketball Coach of the Year, becoming the third different Jayhawks coach to win the honor. Kentucky's Davis winner of Wooden Award; The freshman, the man with one brow, is considered the nation's top player. He is the second freshman to win; Kevin Durant won it with Texas in 2007. Davis, who also was named The Associated Press Player of the Year Friday, is the first Kentucky player to receive the award, which is voted on by national college basketball media members. Kansas should have some success defensively, with Withey altering shots inside. The Jayhawks have limited opponents to 38 percent shooting this season. Then again, the Wildcats are even better, holding foes to 37.4 percent.
The role of a basketball coach is always a little murky, but Self deserves a lot of credit regardless. This Kansas team had no business getting this far, but they've been the most resilient team in the country all year long. You saw it in the Missouri game, and then all throughout the tournament. After a certain number of comebacks, it's not even coincidence anymore. That's just what this team does. And it's why Kentucky should be very careful tonight.
Former Duck Rob Closs, live from New Orleans, weighs in on tonight's match-up.
The AP Player of the Year looks unstoppable right now with his amazing athleticism and great shot-blocking ability. He was too much for Louisville to handle in the Final Four because the Cardinals had no one who could combat Davis' unique combo of tremendous size and guardlike athleticism.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F, Kentucky
He is a fantastic all-around talent who can score from the outside, in transition and any other way you can think of. He's a complete basketball player and a high-character kid.
Thomas Robinson, F, Kansas
Robinson is a really strong player who uses his size and high motor to out-battle more athletic players on the glass and inside the paint. His ability to take contact and still finish strong is extraordinary. He has a lot to gain in this matchup because a strong performance could solidify a top-three selection in the draft for him.
Tyshawn Taylor, G, Kansas
Taylor is shooting 24-of-64 from the field in the NCAA tournament and has only had one impressive shooting performance, which came in the Elite Eight against North Carolina, when he was 10-of-19. He's also missed all 20 of his shot attempts from beyond the three-point line. If Kansas wants to keep up with Kentucky's high-scoring offense, then Tyshawn Taylor must shoot well from the outside and stretch the floor by consistently knocking down shots.
It should prove to be an exciting one tonight in Naw-lins!