So it all has come to this. The winningest program in college basketball history against the second winningest. Guido versus opie. The best freshman versus a scrappy bunch of less talented (although still incredibly talented) “upperclassmen”. So why don’t I care?
This is the culmination of the NCAA Men’s Basketball season. After months of preseason tournaments, intraconference battles, and the arduous whittling away of a field of 68 by winning and surviving this is what we are left with. It may just be the fact that the NCAA tournament is more known for its exciting first two weekends, filled with upsets and heartbreak. By the time the championship game comes around – disregarding whether your team has already lost or even made the tourney field at all – we might be more anxious that it’s finally ending moreso than finally crowning a champion.
There also might be the sense that, while both programs have the first and second most wins in the history of college basketball, Kansas does not feel like it should belong. Instead of having two true goliaths we have one in Kentucky and an above average, by their standards at least, Kansas team. That seems like it would make for a great story right? The more talented young upstart Kentucky against the less talented but scrappier Kansas. But then you realize it’s Kansas. They should be a goliath but they aren’t, and haven’t been at all this year. You can’t truly root for them as the underdog because, more seasons than not, they are the team that everyone wants to beat. This isn’t the plucky (I know right, who doesn’t love some really cliched sports terms) Butler squad going up against Duke or UConn, this is Kansas. This is the school that hired the man that invented basketball as its first coach.
With each passing year Kentucky and by extension John Calipari become less hateable. Sure he builds his teams around getting the best high school seniors every year. He has taken a chance that most coaches are unwilling to do, knowing full well that most of his recruits every year won’t be on the team for longer than their first year. However, this isn’t four years ago. Calipari is not seen as the evil coach who doesn’t care about his players or his team more than a shrewd strategist who is using the system in place to his full benefit. Had this game happened when Calipari first became the head coach at Kentucky everyone would be on his back for “ruining” college basketball, now they either begrudgingly accept his philosophy or even applaud it.
Not to mention that this particular Kentucky team is actually likeable. How could you hate Anthony Davis? He’s just a goofy looking freshman who seems to be sired by one of the Potatoheads (whether it was Mr. or Mrs. remains a mystery). Davis doesn’t think he’s great, doesn’t flaunt his greatness, and is actually great in the most selfless aspect of the game, defense. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, while having some swagger, doesn’t overly flaunt it either. You can tell he’s hustling every play and is trying to impose his will on his opponents and the game. The only guy to dislike on this team is the still insane Terrence Jones, but now that he is playing third or fourth fiddle (unlike last year where he was 1A to Brandon Knight’s 1B) it isn’t nearly as bad.
On the flip side it isn’t as if Kansas incredibly loveable. Aside from the big name school factor it isn’t like they don’t have NBA caliber players on this team. Thomas Robinson has played his way into being a top 8 selection in the upcoming NBA draft. Both Tyshawn Taylor and Jeff Whithey will end up on NBA rosters and probably as solid bench guys for years to come. They might not have the top tier talent of this year’s Kentucky but they definitely aren’t lacking either.
Kentucky vs. Kansas. Kansas vs. Kentucky. Due to the fact they both don’t offer juggernaut squads and you can’t route for Kansas because they are underdogs (even though they will be for this game, they aren’t a true underdog) the game seems more humdrum than anything. We won’t be witnessing anything exciting this year. Sorry Kentucky and Kansas, the only way you can make this game memorable is by making it a good one. Here’s to hoping.
My prediction: Kentucky 75 – Kansas 67 with Kentucky controlling throughout.