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Epilogue: The NCAA® Men’s Basketball Championship, or Calipari’s Revenge, You Choose

April 3, 2012

In the wake of Kentucky’s 67-59 NCAA® Championship victory over beaten-but-not-bowed Kansas it occurred to me, as Steinbeck once suggested, that you can have the best laid plans and still lose. If you had turned the argument I made for Kansas’ chances tonight into a scorecard, you would find more checks than blanks, more success than failure, yet it was ultimately insufficient.

Let’s review (refer to the article below as needed):

Robinson – He did his part.  Played 36 minutes, started off slowly and shot poorly overall (6-17), but brought energy and aggressiveness throughout, ending up with 18 points, 17 rebounds, 6-7 free throws, only 1 turnover and 2 fouls. Check.

Withey v. Davis – Jeff Withey blocked 4 shots, altered many others, and made life difficult for Kentucky inside during his 32 minutes, including bothering Anthony Davis into a 1-10 shooting night. That’s a Check. Problem was Davis gave better than he got from Withey (who was only 2-8 himself), and this year’s Final Four MOP dominated the game in a fashion not seen in decades, reflected in one of the strangest stat lines I’ve ever seen: 6 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 blocks, 3 steals and only 2 fouls.  Somewhere, Bill Russell was smiling.

Perimeter Shooting – Kansas was 5-11 from three (45.5%), hitting more than their 3.8 per game tournament average. Tyshawn Taylor finally hit a three as well, nailing his only attempt with 4:51 left in the Dance.  Kansas probably needed to shoot (and make) more threes, but perimeter shooting wasn’t Kansas’ problem tonight, their shooting inside the 3-point arc was; 35.5% from the field overall, 17-51 from inside the arc (33.3%), and only 10-15 from the line. I’ll mark this as a Check, at worst it’s a Push.

Shopping List – Five items on the list, and Kansas wishes they could go back to the store:

  • Be physical & clog driving lanes: Not so much in the first half (Kentucky scored 41 points), much better in the second (26 points, 18 of them from 3s or FTs). I’ll say Check based on Withey’s defense and Robinson’s energy.
  • Force turnovers from ball-handlers: Kentucky only had 11, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones only had 5 altogether.  Blank
  • Dominate the offensive boards: Kentucky outrebounded Kansas 39-34, tying 10-10 on the offensive boards. Blank
  • Get Kentucky in foul trouble: Only Terrence Jones (4) had more than 2 fouls, and while Anthony Davis sat out the last 1:34 in the first half with 2 fouls, he had none in the second.  Blank
  • Limit transition & turn Kentucky into a jump shooting team: Again, much better in the second half, allowing Kentucky only 4 points inside (a tip in by Lamb and a dunk by Jones off a steal) and few transition opportunities. Check

Defense – After allowing Kentucky to shoot 53.3% (16-30) in the first half, Kansas battened down the hatches and forced Kentucky to shoot 26.9% (7-26) in the second, and 41.1% for the game. That’s about six percentage points more than Kansas’ tournament average FG% defense of 35.3 entering the game, but more than 12 percentage points lower than Kentucky’s tournament average FG% of 53.7. Check

Closing The Game – Kansas followed their own script, falling behind by 18 in the first half, only to whittle the lead down to 5 with 1:37 left, ending a furious 13-3 run over the prior 3:14.  What was an uptempo nightmare for Kansas in the first half became the grinding half-court contest they wanted in the second half – Again, Kentucky was 7-26 from the field (!) in the second –  and Kansas continued their torrid defense in the last five minutes, as Kentucky went 1-5 and was outscored 15-8. Kansas was certainly within striking distance late, and despite Davis’ brilliance, the table had been set. So what happened? To me it was the prior five minute stretch that did Kansas in where they couldn’t make up any ground; With 10 minutes left they were down 16 and with 5 minutes left they were down 15. Then in the last five minutes Kentucky made enough free throws (5-7, unlike John Calipari’s 2008 Memphis squad) and played just enough defense (causing 3 turnovers and blocking 1 shot). Even during Kansas’ 13-3 run, Kentucky made sure none of those points were easy, as Kansas hit two contested threes, had another old-fashioned “and-1” three-point play, and hit four other free throws from fouls that prevented easy baskets.  Kansas just didn’t have enough to overcome their poor start in the end, drawing the ultimate Blank.

Self v. Calipari – Now the score is 1-1 in NCAA® Championship games.  And for Kentucky, that’s all that matters. At least once the couch fires in Lexington are put out.

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From → Basketball, Sports

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