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Kentucky and Kansas square-off with coaching bragging rights on the line

Zamarripa is a junior news-Internet and English double major and can be contacted at eduardo.tamezzamarripa@drake.edu.

And then there were two: Kentucky and Kansas. This is what this madness has left us with. Two of the most prestigious college basketball squads in the country will square off with plenty of story lines surrounding both teams.

For Kentucky, this is its chance to restore some of the luster it lost in the last decade. Granted, head coach John Calipari has done a magnificent job revitalizing this program, taking them to the Elite Eight two years ago and to the Final Four last season. But Kentucky hasn’t won a title since 1998 and, more importantly, Calipari has never won a title — ever.

Ever since the NBA changed its rules back in 2005, the rule that says players have to wait at least one year after graduating high school before entering the NBA draft, Calipari has made a living out of recruiting amazing classes studded with legitimate professional potential. Calipari has always been an exceptional recruiter, but this rule change allowed him to create incoming classes like we’ve never seen before.

He did it in Memphis, and he’s done it in Kentucky with three different classes already. Calipari has become the master of the one-and-done phenomenon in college basketball. No one has been able to amass so much talent and youth and make it work like coach Cal. But the reality is that Calipari still has never won a ring. It doesn’t matter if he had Derrick Rose or DeMarcus Cousins or John Wall; until he wins a ring, the consensus will be that you can’t win a national championship with raw, young talent.

However, this is the best team Calipari has ever had, probably because sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb decided to stay an extra year. Both would have been drafted last year if they had declared for the draft after making the Final Four their freshmen seasons. Add savvy senior Darius Miller and the incredible talent of freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, and you have yourself a team that has gone 37-2, earned the overall No.1 seed in the tournament and was head and shoulders the best team in the country all year.

But then there’s Kansas, and it should not be taken lightly. The Jayhawks have rallied around this year under a bizarre “underdog” mantra. It’s bizarre because Kansas is a contender every year, and this team is loaded with upperclassmen. But if head coach Bill Self wanted to pull the underdog card, so be it. Maybe this team overachieved a little bit. But the fact is this team was a lot better than people gave them credit for all year. And they are definitely no underdog. Kansas needed extra motivation, though. The players needed to play with a chip on their shoulders after bowing out to mid-majors in the last two years (cue: Northern Iowa and VCU).

Either way, Self has done a tremendous job with this team. His coaching abilities have been plunged into the spotlight this tournament. First, by driving North Carolina insane with their disguised zone and then by frustrating Jared Sullinger and Ohio State to a come-from-behind victory. Calipari has a lot riding in this game, but so does Self. If Self can win his second title, he would join that special club of multiple NCAA championships. Winning a championship is incredibly difficult. Winning two championships is damn near impossible.

Don’t get me wrong; I know Cal and Self really want this win for their respective teams. But Calipari and Self really want this one to improve their own personal coaching pedigrees. So who has the edge tonight?

Kentucky plays stifling defense. On the wings, the Wildcats can be as aggressive as they want with Davis back there guarding the paint. On offense, they just have so many options, and they play a very unselfish brand of basketball. They can dribble-drive, they can finish, they can be physical and they can get to the line.

Kansas does a lot of good things on offense. They run the high-low as good as anyone on the country. They like to play inside-out with Thomas Robinson commanding the paint. When you have a player as talented as Robinson, it really changes how effectively you can run your offensive sets. On defense, Jeff Withey has really emerged in the second half of this season to form a terrific defensive front court with Robinson.

Look, Kentucky is by far the more talented team.. You can make the argument that Robinson and Withey will cancel out Davis and Jones. But it will be all about the guards tonight. If Kansas wants to win, they need to find a way to limit Kidd-Gilchrist, and they need to make sure to keep him (and Teague, Miller and Lamb) out of the lane. If you think that’s an easy task, ask Louisville (a terrific defensive team) how hard that is. Kansas will also need to pound the offensive glass. Kentucky’s eagerness to block shots leaves them exposed to offensive rebounds on the weak side, and that was problematic for them against Louisville. You can also full-court press Kentucky and force some turnovers. That’s where you can try and limit Kentucky’s potential.

In the end, Kentucky has too much talent, and Davis has been phenomenal this tournament. My prediction:

Kentucky 72, Kansas 66


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