The University of Kentucky is favored by 6 1/2 points over the University of Kansas in a championship showdown between programs that rank 1-2 for the most wins in college basketball history.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s tournament concludes its three-week run tonight, with the title game between the Wildcats (37-2) and Jayhawks (32-6) scheduled to tip off at 9:21 p.m. Eastern time in New Orleans.
Kentucky has 2,091 wins -- the most in NCAA history -- and its seven basketball championships rank second to the 11 won by the University of California, Los Angeles. Kansas’s 2,070 wins rank second to Kentucky and the Jayhawks’ three titles are tied for sixth all-time. While the schools have a combined 18 championship game appearances dating back to 1940, this is the first time they’ll square off for the NCAA title.
“I dreamed about it as soon as I saw the brackets,” Kansas coach Bill Self said yesterday at a news conference. “I said, ‘How cool would it be to play Kentucky in the finals?’ From a historic standpoint, I think that’s really cool.”
Self, 49, led the Jayhawks to an NCAA championship in 2008 with an overtime victory against a University of Memphis team that was coached by John Calipari, who now leads Kentucky.
Calipari, 53, has 546 career wins -- including the most victories of any college coach over the past seven seasons -- yet is still seeking his first title.
“I’m not worried about it,” Calipari said. “If my legacy is decided on one game, it won’t be me deciding it, it will be everybody else. I’m just trying to coach a game and do the best job I can for these kids.”
Calipari would get a $350,000 bonus if the Wildcats prevail in their first championship game appearance since winning the 1998 title. Self collects a $200,000 championship bonus if the Jayhawks beat a Kentucky squad that features three freshmen and two sophomores among its starting five.
“They’ve been the best team in the country basically from start to finish with maybe the exception of a week here or a week there,” Self said. “They’re way beyond their years. They’ve got six pros, three of them probably lottery picks.”
Kentucky’s 6-foot-10 forward Anthony Davis, the national player of the year, is projected as the No. 1 pick in this year’s National Basketball Association draft, according to NBAdraft.net. Fellow Wildcats freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is projected to be taken second, while the Wildcats’ other starters -- Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague -- may also be first-round picks, according to NBAdraft.net.
Kansas Draft Prospects
Kansas junior forward Thomas Robinson is projected to be taken third overall, while senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor and 7-foot center Jeff Withey are probable second-round picks.
“They probably got the best five, six, seven guys, on paper anyway,” Taylor said of the Wildcats. “They’re really talented. We have to defend, we have to be tough, rebound the ball, and we have to get good shots. If we do that, take care of the ball, limit their transition, we’re right in the ballgame.”
Kentucky has a 7-3 record all-time in the NCAA tournament title game, while Kansas is 3-5.
The schools are meeting for the second time this season, with tonight’s game coming 4 1/2 months after Kentucky beat Kansas 75-65 in a Nov. 15 matchup at New York’s Madison Square Garden. It was the second game of the season for both teams.
“They’re here for a reason,” Kentucky senior guard Darius Miller said of the Jayhawks. “They beat a lot of good teams and they’re capable of beating us, too. We got to be ready to come out and be ready to play the whole 40 minutes, trying to do what we’ve been doing all year.”