Records: Kentucky (37-2, 16-0 SEC), Kansas (32-6, 16-2 Big 12)
How Kentucky got here:
Second Round: Defeated No. 16 Western Kentucky 81-66.
Third Round: Defeated No. 8 Iowa State 87-71.
Sweet Sixteen: Defeated No. 4 Indiana 102-90.
Elite Eight: Defeated No. 3 Baylor 82-70.
Final Four: Defeated No. 4 Louisville 69-61.
How Kansas got here:
Second Round: Defeated No. 15 Detroit 65-50.
Third Round: Defeated No. 10 Purdue 63-60.
Sweet Sixteen: Defeated No. 11 North Carolina State 60-57.
Elite Eight: Defeated No. 1 North Carolina 80-67.
Final Four: Defeated No. 2 Ohio State 64-62.
Important facts about the game:
- The 9:23 p.m. ET start time is the latest start time of any major-sport title game.
- Kentucky defeated Kansas at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15, 75-65. It was the second game of the season for both teams.
- Kansas has only led at halftime in one of their NCAA Tournament games, and have been outscored by six points overall in first halves during the tournament.
- Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor, who had 22 points in that November loss to Kentucky, is 0-for-20 on three-point attempts in the NCAA Tournament.
- Kentucky's average margin of victory in the NCAA Tournament is 12.6 points per game. Kansas' is 7.2.
- Kentucky's head coach John Calipari lost to Kansas in the 2008 National Championship Game while coaching Memphis.
Kidd-Gilchrist is arguably the most talented player on Kentucky, which means he is inherently one of the most talented players in the nation. He can handle the ball, play in the post, rebound and defend four positions. The Wildcats are favorites in every sense of the word tonight (they are -6.5 points in Vegas), but one way Kansas can gain an advantage over Kentucky is if Kidd-Gilchrist disappears like he did the in the Wildcats' semifinal win over Louisville. Stuck in foul trouble for much of the game, the talented freshman (which could describe most of Kentucky's roster...) had just nine points, four rebounds and four turnovers. More importantly, he looked frustrated by his foul issues. Kansas will surely try to pester Kidd-Gilchrist, who will likely be guarded by Kansas' star forward Thomas Robinson.
Kansas' X-factor: Jeff Withey
Much has been made of Withey's wild ride--from Louisville commit, to Arizona non-player to Kansas benchwarmer, to Jayhawk shot-blocking machine--but for Kansas to have a shot tonight, Withey will have to have not a good, but a great game, both offensively and defensively. Withey will have the task of guarding National Player of the Year Anthony Davis, and if he ends up in foul trouble, Kansas will be in big, big trouble. You probably know by now that Withey is a shot-blocking extraordinaire--he actually blocks a higher percentage of shots than Kentucky's Anthony Davis and he swatted seven shots in the Jayhawks' semifinal win over Ohio State. But what he also does with his 7-foot frame and length is frustrate offensive players. Just ask Jared Sullinger of Ohio State. If Withey can annoy Davis in the same way, Kansas has a chance. Withey must also be a factor on offense. Because Davis will likely be guarding him, he must make his counterpart step up to him, so Davis can't just roam and block the shot of any comer.
Three things that will determine the winner:
1. Kansas' outside the shooting:
The bad news for Kansas is that they haven't really been able to hit the ocean from the beach all NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks are shooting just 24 percent on threes in the NCAAs. The good news is, they've made it to the finals, despite all the bricks. Now what if Kansas gets hot? Then all of a sudden they are incredibly dangerous. It could be Taylor, who is 0-for-20 in the tournament, it could be Elijah Johnson, who has arguably been KU's best player the past month or it could be the "three-point specialist," (he shot 34 percent on threes this year) off the bench, Connor Teahan.
2. Foul trouble:
Let's all hope the refs let them play tonight, because it'll be a damn shame if Davis, Robinson, Kidd-Gilchrist or Withey is jettisoned to the bench early with foul trouble. Neither team has great front-court depth, so if one squad's big guys are stuck on the pine for a long stretch, it'll create a great opportunity for the other team.
3. Foul shooting:
This is Bill Self versus John Calipari, so we have to mention foul shooting. After all, it was Calipari's squad's inability to hit free throws that cost him a National Championship against Self's Jayhawks in 2008. This isn't your average Calipari team, though. These Wildcats actually shot 72.5 percent on free throws in 2012, which is better than Kansas' 69.2 percent. While the '08 Memphis team gets most attention for its missed free throws, Kansas fans will remember that when the Jayhawks lost by three to Syracuse in the 2003 National Championship Game they shot just 12-for-30 on free throws.
So who ya got?