The two teams that are the best at preventing opponents from getting easy shots inside are in the National Title Game. Kansas ranks #1 and Kentucky ranks #2 at opponent two-point percentage, led by Jeff Withey for Kansas and Anthony Davis for Kentucky. Neither team plays a deep bench (Kentucky actually goes to its bench less frequently than Kansas). Kentucky has the advantage on offense with its perimeter shooting, otherwise, it is a pretty even matchup.
My five keys to the game are:
1. Foul Trouble for the Bigs. Kansas has to at least match minutes with Robinson and Withey against Kentucky’s big men. If they do not get at least 65 combined minutes out of the two, they have little chance. If Davis or Jones gets in foul trouble, though, and sits for any period, advantage swings to Kansas.
2. Can Kansas make any perimeter shots? Kansas has managed to reach the Final while shooting only 24% from three point range. Kentucky, meanwhile, has been at 42% while holding opponents to 27.5% from three in the tournament. All of those numbers are outside the season averages for those teams. Kansas averages 34.3% from three, while Kentucky makes 37.7% and allowed 31.6% over the course of the year. Kansas needs the tournament numbers to regress toward the mean for both teams, and come close to matching Kentucky from outside. They may have gotten by without it until now, but it they won’t win by shooting 24% or worse.
3. X-factors in Kevin Young and Kyle Wiltjer. Neither of these 7th men were involved at all in the earlier matchup, but will see more time tonight. Young is active and provides offensive rebounding and defense along the front line. Wiltjer provides height along the front line, and can step out and pull his defender away and make shots. With limited depth, these two will likely play an impact when they are pressed into action.
4. Jeff Withey versus Anthony Davis. Both are excellent shot blockers. They will likely draw each other. Can Withey provide some offensive presence to draw Davis’ attention? Will Davis pull Withey away and make shots, or generate opportunities when others drive to draw Withey over?
5. Tyshaun Taylor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The two starting players who present the matchup problems. Taylor couldn’t make shots in the first game, but drove to the basket and drew lots of fouls (15 of 17 from the line in the first matchup). Kidd-Gilchrist is the element offensively that Kansas doesn’t have.
Overall, I think Kansas has a chance if they stay out of foul trouble, and at least draw Kentucky on the offensive glass. Kentucky generally doesn’t force turnovers, but does break effectively off of the ones they get, plus bad shots out of the half court set. If Kansas can play a cleaner half than they played against Ohio State in the first half Saturday, this one is definitely in doubt.
Prediction: Kansas 69, Kentucky 68 (Kansas +6 1/2)