63 teams have come and gone. Now only two remain and no one can doubt that these two earned the right to the national championship.
Both Memphis and Kansas handily dispatched their Final Four opponents on Saturday. The Tigers shut down Kevin Love inside and the rest of the Bruins outside for an easy 78-63 victory over UCLA. Kansas blitzed the Tar Heels early and late - with an 18-0 first half run and a 13-0 second half finish - to slaughter a disorganized and disheveled North Carolina team, 84-66.
Both teams had their fright moments in the respective second halves. UCLA pulled to within five points of Memphis before the Tigers put them down for good and Kansas was a 28-point lead shrink to just four as the Carolinians took advantage of Jayhawk overconfidence and sloppy play.
In the end, both games were slaughterhouse variety basketball, with the better, stronger, faster, bigger players taking out the unprepared, overmatched teams which could not find answers. It sets up one of the best college basketball finales of recent memory.
Memphis (38-1) -2 vs. Kansas (36-3)
In Memphis, John Calipari has assembled and coached a team that has consistently outplayed every comer and overcome every obstacle to achieve an NCAA first: 38 wins in a season. But for a 2-point loss to Tennessee, this team would be 39-0. They'll have their chance to win a first-ever title for Memphis on Monday night.
Kansas is obviously the more storied program. College hoops starts and ends in Jayhawk territory. Kansas, however, has only two national championships to show for its efforts, in 1952 and 1988. The current squad has compiled an outstanding 36-3 record and looks poised to hang a third championship banner from the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.
In examining the two teams, both appear capable of winning, but despite being 2-point underdogs, Kansas looks like the more formidable foe because of four key factors: speed, defense, bench strength and post play.
The Jayhawks actually outran North Carolina in Saturday's semi-final, no easy task there, and are the 12th-highest scoring team in the country, at 80.7 points per game. You don't have to go far down the list to find Memphis however, at #14, with 80.2 points per outing. The Jayhawks have a better defensive presence, with active hands looking for steals constantly. The Kansas players can finish as well, though Memphis also has great finishers on the break.
In team rebounding, Memphis gets a slight edge, at 40.8, to the Jayhawks' 38.7 per game. Kansas leads in assists, 18.1 (3rd in the nation) to 16.0 for Memphis.
Kansas has two weapons on their bench which may prove to be telling in this final game matchup. Guard Sherron Collins and forward Cole Aldrich both made key contributions in Kansas' win over the Tar Heels. Collins scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, while Aldrich - a freshman and former McDonald's All American - was sensational with 7 rebounds (4 offensive) and 8 points in 17 minutes.
While the high scorers for each team - Kansas' Brandon Rush and Memphis' Chris Douglas-Roberts - will likely neutralize each other, it will be a matchup worth watching. But inside, monstrous Joey Dorsey will have his hands full dealing with the likes of Darrell Arthur, Darrell Jackson, Aldrich and Sasha Kaun. They're all big, strong and active. Expect Kansas to dominate the lane and the boards.
A couple of caveats: Davidson, which Kansas ousted to reach the Final Four, played all but one of the four finalists this season tough, losing close games to North Carolina and UCLA during the season. The one team that did not have Davidson on their schedule was Memphis, and it could have meaning one way or another. Also, when comparing stats, it should be noted that Kansas played in the rough and tumble Big 12, while Memphis dominated the relatively weak Conference-USA.
With advantages in speed, scoring, bench strength and defense, coach Bill Self should elevate himself to the elite ranks of college coaching. In five years as Kansas head coach he's proven himself a master game-planner and courtside coach.
Prediction: Kansas 82 Memphis 74