Monday's NCAA Tournament title-game between Kentucky and Kansas will be as star-studded as any in recent memory. With the likes of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor all (likely) bound for the 2012 NBA Draft, it can be easy to forget that the matchup in New Orleans will actually be a traditional, five-on-five affair.
Nor will John Calipari and Bill Self be suiting up for their respective squads, contrary to popular belief.
Which, of course, means that there will be other players (or, should I say, student-athletes) who affect the outcome of the game. Call them X-factors if you want, or sleepers or whatever you please.
Just make sure you call these three guys by name when they make their presences felt at the Superdome.
Think Thomas Robinson and Anthony Davis will be going toe-to-toe in an All-Amercan extravaganza? Think again!
Okay, so maybe Davis will put his freakishly long arms to good use against Robinson on the defensive end.
But, on the flip side, Davis will most likely see himself defended not by Robinson, but by Jeff Withey. The lanky, seven-foot San Diegoite/San Diegoan/San Diegan has been a revelation in the middle for KU during the Big Dance, swatting shots left and right like he's got a unibrow and he's out for vengeance.
Withey tied the Final Four record for blocks in a game with seven rejections against Ohio State and will once again be patrolling the paint, all the while giving UK a taste of its own defensive medicine.
Just as Robinson dominates the conversation for KU up front, so too has Tyshawn Taylor taken all the attention in the back court.
Well, not so much taken as been given, though Elijah Johnson has done plenty to carve out a comfortable place in Taylor's shadow. The Las Vegas native has been steady in support of Taylor during the tourney, averaging 13.4 points throughout and chipping in a career-high 10 rebounds in the win over Ohio State.
Johnson will have his work cut out for him dealing with Kentucky's Doron Lamb, but if he's able to make timely plays and do the dirty work on the perimeter, the Jayhawks may yet pull out another title at Calipari's expense.
Funny thing, too, since Cal's best shot at shoring up his resume may depend on a player he didn't recruit to Lexington.
Darius Miller is the last of a dying breed for Big Blue—a link to the ill-fated Billy Gillespie regime at Kentucky. The 6'8 senior has been a staple of Coach Cal's tenure in Bluegrass Country, taking his influence to the next level with 13 points per game amidst March Madness.
But, now that the calendar has turned to April, Miller's freshmen and sophomore running 'mates will look to him more than ever for guidance and leadership under pressure. Should any (or all) of the Wildcats' studs fall flat on the sport's biggest stage, it'll be up to Miller to pick up the slack.
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