NCAA Championship Game 2012: Top 10 Biggest Questions Entering the Title Game
Kentucky vs. Kansas.
UK vs. KU.
Two of the most storied programs in college basketball will go at it in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
The Wildcats are playing for their eighth NCAA championship.
The Jayhawks have won three and would love to make it four.
There are a number of issues to be determined as we head towards Monday night's 9:23 ET tipoff.
Here are the top 10 biggest questions entering the 2012 title game:
10. Who Will Win the Battle of the Point Guards?
One of the key matchups in Monday's championship game is Tyshawn Taylor vs Marquis Teague.
The senior vs. the freshman.
During the 2011-12 season, Taylor averaged 17.3 PPG (while shooting 48.2 percent from the field); Teague averaged 9.4 PPG (while shooting 41.2 percent).
Neither of these floor leaders are known for their exceptional ball-management skills.
Both PGs averaged an identical 4.8 assists per game. Taylor averaged 3.5 TOs (1.4 assist/TO ratio) Teague averaged 2.8 TOs (1.7 assist/TO ratio).
On the defensive end, both Taylor and Teague apply aggressive on-ball pressure and look to disrupt their opponents' attempt to help their team get into their offensive sets.
In the five games leading up to Monday's game, Taylor has scored 58 points (11.6 PPG) and averaged 4.8 APG. Teague, on the other hand, has shot the ball well, scoring 66 points (13.2 PPG) and averaged five APG.
Both players are looking to use this game to demonstrate their abilities to attract attention by NBA scouts.
Though these two players' skills and style are similar, look for Tyshawn Taylor to win this critical matchup.
9. How Will Bill Self Try to Stop Anthony Davis?
Not many teams have been successful in stopping Anthony Davis this year.
He has been dominant all season, impacting games on both ends of the court.
Bill Self will have to come up with a doozy of a game plan to contain the long, athletic National Player of the Year award winner (He's already been named the AP, the Adolph Rupp, the John Wooden and the Oscar Robertson award winner).
Someone should send the Jayhawks the tape of the Kentucky-Georgia game from January 24th.
This was Davis' least productive game of the season.
While he still had 11 rebounds and five blocked shots, the Bulldogs held Davis to 1-of-2 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from the line.
If a combination of Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey and Kevin Young (off the bench) could restrict Davis to four points on Monday, you have to think that Kansas will improve its chances of beating Kentucky.
8. How Big of an Impact Will Jeff Withey Have on the Outcome of the Game?
The emergence of Jeff Withey as a force in the paint is a big reason why the Jayhawks will be playing for an NCAA championship on Monday night.
He has gone from a solid performer at the beginning of the season to a nuisance in the lane during March Madness 2012.
In the tournament games leading up to Monday night's contest, Withey has averaged 7.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.4 blocks.
Withey has made his biggest impact in the tournament so far with that last stat: blocked shots.
One might be tempted to say that the superior athleticism of Kentucky's frontcourt will minimize Withey's potential bearing on the outcome of the game.
As long as he is able to stay out of foul trouble, the seven-footer from San Diego should reduce the trouble that Davis, Jones and Kidd-Gilchrist stir up.
7. Will Either Team Set a Point-Differential Record for a 6-Win Champion?
For all of us "Stat Nerds"...
Of the teams that had to win six games to be able to cut down the nets, the 1996 Kentucky team beat its tournament opponents by the greatest number of points.
The Wildcats had a plus-129 point differential over the six victories that led to their winning the '96 title in East Rutherford, NJ.
Their dominating run looked like this:
- First Round: Kentucky 110, San Jose St 72
- Round of 32: Kentucky 84, Virginia Tech 60
- Sweet 16: Kentucky 101, Utah 70
- Elite Eight: Kentucky 83, Wake Forest 63
- National Semifinal: Kentucky 81, UMass 74
- Championship Game: Kentucky 76, Syracuse 67
So far in this year's tournament, in the five games that led up to Monday night, Kansas has a plus-36 point differential and Kentucky has a plus-51.
So for either team to get anywhere close to beating the '96 Kentucky team's mark, this year's championship game would have to be a ridiculous record-breaking blowout.
This record is 100 percent safe.
6. Who Could Be an Unexpected Hero in Monday's Game?
Sometimes, the big stars don't end up being the heroes in big games.
Occasionally, a less-than-likely player steps up and has the game of a lifetime.
In 2009, on a team that featured Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington stepped up in both the national semifinal game and the title game, winning the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player award.
For Kentucky, Terrence Jones might be that unexpected hero.
Don't get me wrong, Jones is no second-tier player on the Wildcats roster.
But with all of the attention that Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have received this year and during the tournament, it might be a surprise for Jones to lead the way if UK wins it all.
On the other side, Elijah Johnson could be that surprising star for Kansas.
He is already having a good tournament, averaging 13.4 PPG and five RPG.
Johnson was a key ingredient to the Jayhawks' success against Ohio State, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
5. Does Defense Really Win Championships?
One big reason that these two teams are playing for the 2012 NCAA championship is their ability to stop their opponents on defense.
During the regular season, Kentucky was the No. 1 team in field-goal defense, only allowing its opponents to shoot 37.5 percent from the floor.
Additionally, the Wildcats were also the No. 1 shot-blocking team in the country, throwing back an NCAA-record 326 shots this season.
Before you think that defense is an area where Kentucky holds a significant advantage over Kansas, think again.
Kansas was the No. 3 team in field-goal defense, only allowing its opponents to shoot 38 percent from the floor.
ESPN Stats and Information reports that Kansas is holding opponents to 19.5 percent shooting (8-of-41) in the final five minutes of the NCAA tournament, the lowest percentage of any team that advanced to the Round of 32.
The biggest reason that Kansas could upset Kentucky on Monday night is its ability to challenge every shot and make life generally miserable for the Wildcats.
4. How Big Would It Be for John Calipari to Finally Get This Win?
John Calipari has had success everywhere he has coached in college basketball.
While he has been in the middle of more than his fair share of controversy during his various coaching stops, you have to at least acknowledge his accomplishments.
He has now won over 500 games as a college coach.
Calipari is also one of only two coaches to direct three different schools to a Final Four (1996, UMass; 2008, Memphis; 2011 and 2012, Kentucky).
He has been honored as National Coach of the Year three times.
But he has never won the big one.
If Kentucky wins on Monday night, Calipari will move into a different category of coaches.
Up until now, Coach Cal's career is missing the validation of this ultimate accomplishment for college coaches: winning an NCAA championship.
A win on Monday night would change that.
3. How Big Would It Be If John Calipari Comes Up Short Again?
More than a few people question John Calipari's ability to win the big one.
As a college coach, Calipari has 17 20-win seasons and seven 30-win seasons (both figures take into consideration vacated wins).
He is the only coach to lead three different programs to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
For many fans and commentators, though, all of these W's are worthless without winning it all during March Madness.
If Kansas beats Kentucky in the Big Easy on Monday night, Calipari will further cement his reputation of being a coach who, when the bright lights are on, can't get it done.
2. If Kansas Wins, Would It Be One of the Biggest Upsets in Title Game History?
In a word...No.
If KU beats UK, it would not come even close to the magnitude of Villanova's shocking seismic win over Georgetown in the 1985 championship game.
For some people, Rollie Massimino's squad's win was pretty close to a sports miracle.
Kansas taking down Kentucky would go down as a huge surprise and a big upset, but nothing close to Nova's defeat of John Thompson's "world-beaters."
1. Who Will Win on Monday Night?
Even with the various pressures that Kentucky will play under on Monday night, the Wildcats will still come out on top.
For the school, it will be NCAA championship No. 8.
For John Calipari, a huge monkey will be off of his back.
And because of his performance, Anthony Davis will be named the 2012 Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
Not exactly the most gutsy pick, but he will most likely be the one who does the most to help his team to this all-important victory.