Kentucky beat Kansas 75-65 at Madison Square Garden back on November 15th. In that game, Kansas had a first half lead, and the game was tied at the half, but a second half surge by Kentucky put them up comfortably and the cruised to the 10 point win.
Anthony Davis had seven blocks. Thomas Robinson fouled out with less than four minutes remaining. Kentucky got at least 33 minutes out of all five starters, while Robinson and Withey played 27 and 25 minutes, respectively. Kentucky was hot in the second half and shot over 50% for the game while Kansas struggled from the field and only stayed in it due to foul shooting.
What can we take from that game? Far less than people probably think as we move toward the championship game tonight. This will be the ninth title game since 1980 where the teams had previously met in the regular season. In those eight prior matchups, the team that won the regular season matchups (Georgetown swept Villanova in 1985 and Oklahoma swept Kansas in 1988 in conference play) ended up winning only three of the eight title games.
- 2008: North Carolina beat Michigan State 98-63 in the regular season, won the title game 89-72
- 2007: Florida beat Ohio State 86-60 in the regular season, won the title game 84-75
- 2004: Georgia Tech beat Connecticut 77-61 in the regular season, lost the title game 82-73
- 1993: Michigan beat North Carolina 79-78 in the regular season, lost the title game 77-71
- 1992: Duke beat Michigan 88-85 in the regular season, won the title game 71-51
- 1988: Oklahoma beat Kansas 73-65 and 95-87 in the regular season, lost the title game 83-79
- 1985: Georgetown beat Villanova 52-50 and 57-50 in the regular season, lost the title game 66-64
- 1981: North Carolina beat Indiana 65-56 in the regular season, lost the title game 63-50
Does this mean Kentucky is actually in trouble? No, it just means we should probably look at the entire season and not just the results of one game. The “better” team as measured by simple rating system rank won six of the eight matchups (Villanova in 1985 and Kansas in 1988 being the upsets). The average result in the championship game, on average, was in line with the difference between the teams as measured by SRS over the whole season.
We saw something similar in the NFL, where Super Bowl rematches are now 6-7 for the team who won in the regular season, after the Giants won both against the Patriots. One matchup, even if it appears super relevant because it is the same jerseys, tells us way less than the season as a whole.
As a whole, Kentucky is still the favorite, though not as strongly as the bookmakers have set the line (up to a whopping 6.5 points in favor of Kentucky over Kansas). The simple rating system rating this year has Kentucky at +2.7 points over Kansas entering tonight’s game. Pomeroy has it at three points and 60% chance of a Kentucky victory. I’m wondering if that line difference is driven by the earlier result. As we’ve seen before, past performance head to head is no indication of future results.
I’ll have a breakdown of the game and matchups later, and I’ll mull my straight up pick for the game, but I will say this: Kansas +6.5 is pretty appealing. The Jayhawks are now 3-0 as underdogs at the Final Four under Bill Self, and what happened in November won’t matter when the ball is tipped tonight.