College Basketball Nation: Next Level

UConn, UK meet in unlikely title game

April, 6, 2014

For the first time ever, a 7-seed and 8-seed will meet in the national championship. It’s the highest combined seed total in a title game.

The Connecticut Huskies are the first 7-seed ever to reach the national championship.

The Kentucky Wildcats are the third 8-seed since the tournament expanded in 1985 to reach the title game (2011 Butler, 1985 Villanova).

Villanova is the only 7-seed or lower to win the national championship.

UConn defeated the Florida Gators to reach its fourth national championship, all since 1999.

UConn was led by DeAndre Daniels, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. He’s the first player with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in a national semifinal win since Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony in 2003.

The loss was Florida’s second against UConn this season. The Gators are 0-2 against UConn and 36-1 against everyone else.

UConn is now 7-1 in Final Four games, the best win percentage for any team with at least three games in the Final Four.

Only one of UConn’s 14 made field goals in the second half came outside the paint.

Florida was outscored 9-0 in transition in the second half. The Gators didn’t have a single transition opportunity in the second half.

Florida had just three assists, the fewest by any team in a Final Four game since assists became official in 1983-84.

Scottie Wilbekin struggled when he was guarded by UConn’s starting backcourt. He was 0-for-5 on field goals when guarded by Ryan Boatright and turned it over on three of four plays when guarded by Shabazz Napier.

The Huskies were at their best with Terrence Samuel on the court. In 18 minutes with Samuel on the court, they outscored Florida by 15 points and had 11 more points than they had in 22 minutes with Samuel on the bench.

Kevin Ollie is the first coach to reach the national championship within his first two seasons as a Division I head coach since Indiana’s Mike Davis in 2002.

Kentucky defeated Wisconsin to reach its 12th national championship, tied with UCLA for the most all time (not including UCLA’s vacated appearance in 1980).

Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison made a game-winning 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left, his third game-winning shot in the final minute in this NCAA tournament.

Aaron Harrison is 3-for-3 on game-tying and go-ahead 3-pointers in the final minute in the NCAA tournament after having zero such attempts in the regular season.

The Wildcats had 66 points from their freshmen, the most by a team’s freshmen in a Final Four game (Michigan had 61 in 1992).

John Calipari is now 18-2 in the NCAA tournament as Kentucky head coach.

Why UL & MSU should be No. 1 seeds

March, 16, 2014
It seems clear that Arizona, Florida and Wichita State will receive No. 1 seeds. But which team should be the 4th No. 1 seed?

Are choosing No. 1 seeds about who the best four teams are? Or are they about selecting the best 4 resumes using RPI data?

Using RPI data, Louisville doesn't have the best resume based solely on quality wins.

But there's certainly an argument that Louisville is one of the best four teams in college basketball, maybe even the best team.

Louisville has the best net efficiency in the country. Net efficiency is the difference in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions).

The Cardinals are the only team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Louisville ranks No. 4 in BPI, which takes into account scoring margin, opponent strength, pace, location and key players missing.

The Cardinals also rank No. 2 in KenPom rating. They rank in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, which take into account opponent strength.

Louisville has 19 wins by at least 20 points this season. No other team has more than 15 such wins.

The Cardinals have no bad losses, something that can't be said for Duke, Michigan and Villanova. Each of Louisville's five losses are by single digits against teams ranked in the top 50 in both BPI and RPI.

It's often mentioned that the NCAA selection committee evaluates how a team performs at full strength -- if that team is entering the NCAA Tournament at full strength.

If that's true, then Michigan State should be a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big Ten Tournament.

Michigan State is 13-3 with all of its key players (defined as top five players in minutes per game among players who have played at least half of their team's games): Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne.

Michigan State has the fifth-best BPI of any team with all of its key players.

The Spartans are 20-3 with Branden Dawson in the lineup (5-5 without him). Their only three losses with Dawson in the lineup are North Carolina, Illinois and Ohio State.

With all of their key players, the Spartans are 6-2 against the BPI top 50 and 8-3 against the BPI top 100.

Kansas, Arizona, Florida and Wichita State are the only teams that rank in the top five in RPI, BPI and KenPom.

Kansas has the No. 1 overall strength of schedule, the No. 1 non-conference strength of schedule, the most RPI top-50 wins of any team (12) and the most RPI top-100 wins (18).

The Jayhawks have no losses outside the RPI top 100.

Michigan has 10 wins against the RPI top 50. Only Kansas (12) and Arizona (11) have more.

If Virginia and Florida don't win their conference tournaments, Michigan could be the only "major conference" team to win its regular-season conference title outright and its conference tournament.

Duke has five wins against the RPI top 25, the most of any team. The Blue Devils have a head-to-head win against Michigan, another team competing for a No. 1 seed. They also have wins against Virginia and Syracuse.

Villanova has 16 wins against the RPI top 100. Only Kansas (18), Arizona (17) and Wisconsin (17) have more. The Wildcats have a head-to-head win against Kansas, another team that could potentially receive a No. 1 seed.

Key to OSU-MSU: Transition game

January, 7, 2014
For the first time in series history, Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans will meet as top-5 opponents (9 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN).

The AP Poll isn't the only ranking with both teams in the top five.

When the Buckeyes and Spartans meet tonight, the key matchup could be in transition.

Michigan State's transition offense ranks third in the country with 24.3 points per game. Ohio State's transition defense allows just 7.4 points per game, fourth-fewest of any team.

Michigan State transition offense
The Spartans transition offense is led by Gary Harris (6.2 PPG) and Keith Appling (5.3 PPG), who lead the Big Ten in transition scoring.

Michigan State looks to push the ball quickly and often, whether it's off a missed shot, a made shot, or a turnover. The Spartans average 21.5 transition plays per game, the third-most in the country.

Much of their success in transition has to do with their ability to finish well around the basket. The Spartans are shooting 63 percent at the rim this season, eight-best among all teams.

Here's an example of a successful Michigan State transition play and how it transpired:

1. Against Kentucky, Branden Dawson grabbed a defensive rebound in the middle of the paint. Once Dawson secured the rebound, it's evident that all five Kentucky players were turned towards the ball with their eyes on Dawson, while Denzel Valentine was already leaking out in the open court.

2. Without dribbling, Dawson threw the ball ahead to Valentine for an outlet pass over the mid-court line. At the same time, three Michigan State players were spaced out while sprinting down the court with two Kentucky defenders behind them.

3. When Valentine caught the outlet pass, Aaron Harrison was the only Kentucky player back on defense.

4. Dawson -- who originally grabbed the rebound and threw the outlet pass -- beat four Kentucky players down the court, creating a 2-on-1 fast break for the Spartans. Valentine took just one dribble and threw an alley-oop to Dawson for an easy dunk. The entire play lasted less than four seconds.

Ohio State transition defense
Something will have to give in East Lansing tonight, because the Buckeyes transition defense has been just as dominant as the Spartans transition offense this season.

The Buckeyes limit their opponents to just 8.9 transition plays per game, the 14th-fewest of any team. Not only do they limit transition opportunities but they are efficient defending in transition as well. They hold their opponents to the 11th-fewest points per transition play. Teams are shooting just 43 percent against them on those plays.

Let's take a look at an example of an Ohio State defensive transition play that ended with a turnover:

1. After a defensive rebound by Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton, he passed the ball ahead to Demetrius Jackson near mid-court.

2. By the time Jackson caught the outlet pass, four Ohio State defenders were already ahead of the ball. As Jackson dribbled down the right side of the court, the four Ohio State defenders closest to Jackson all appeared to have their eyes on Jackson.

3. As Jackson attacked the basket, all five Ohio State defenders had at least one foot in the paint.

4. Aaron Craft forced Jackson to leave his feet under the basket, and Shannon Scott intercepted the pass.

The tempo of the game could play a large part in the outcome as Ohio State tries to limit Michigan State's easy points.

The Buckeyes transition defense is a large part why they rank second in the country in defensive efficiency and haven't allowed 70 points in any game this season.
Let’s try this again.

The last time I offered a bunch of bold predictions, this happened.

I tried to explain my reasoning in this follow-up. Maybe it helped. Maybe it just made things worse.

But I’m back again for another round of bold predictions for the Sweet 16. Let’s see what happens:

  1. Florida Gulf Coast over Florida -- Given the Cinderella story that Andy Enfield’s program has penned thus far, this is not that bold. The Eagles have shattered every bracket in America. Dunk City is real. First, the Eagles defeated Georgetown, then they advanced to the Sweet 16 with a victory over San Diego State. But Florida is a different beast. Every win this season (28) was by double digits. The Gators are in the top three in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. But they’ve been vulnerable in close games. And the Eagles can keep things tight against the Gators. San Diego State was the first team to shoot better than 42 percent against the Eagles since Feb. 28. If FGCU maintains this defensive prowess, it will have a legit chance against the Gators. And let’s be honest: Destiny seems to be on the Eagles’ side. Enjoy the Elite Eight, fellas.
  2. Oregon-Louisville won’t be decided until the final minute -- The formula is simple on paper. The Ducks turn the ball over a lot. They led the Pac-12 in turnovers this season. In its third-round victory against Saint Louis, Oregon committed 18 turnovers. Louisville forces turnovers on 28 percent of its opponents’ possessions, second in the country, per Ken Pomeroy. An Oregon team that plays fast and reckless against a Louisville squad that feasts on similar foes? Clearly, the Cardinals have the edge. And that's a gigantic advantage. There’s really no debate for that. The amazing thing is that Oregon committed 36 turnovers and still defeated both Oklahoma State and Saint Louis by double digits. Numbers alone don’t tell the true story of Oregon basketball right now. The Ducks are dangerous. They’re a high-flying attack that makes mistakes but scores a bunch of points in the process. So even though Louisville is still my pick to win the national title, the Cardinals are going to play a nail-biter against the Ducks. And they won’t secure the win until the final seconds. Tough game for Rick Pitino’s team.
  3. [+] EnlargeBeilein
    Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsJohn Beilein has his team in top shape heading into the Sweet 16.
    Michigan to the Final Four -- I’ve learned my lesson about the Wolverines. My original predictions stated that John Beilein’s program would miss the Sweet 16. And then, the Wolverines were the most impressive team -- other than Louisville -- in the field in the first two rounds of the Big Dance. Plus, freshman Mitch McGary impressed and seemingly expanded the dimensions of Michigan’s potential. This is a Michigan team that has to be disrupted on some level to be defeated. And that’s not an easy task for a team that possesses the lowest turnover rate in the country. Just ask VCU. Kansas forced few turnovers against Western Kentucky and North Carolina. And it played three lukewarm halves in its two wins. The Jayhawks who advanced to the Sweet 16 resemble the same squad that lost to TCU and got crushed by Baylor. This is still a very talented squad. And that 19-5 run against the Tar Heels proved as much. But the Jayhawks have played too much average basketball in the tournament. That inconsistency will cost the Jayhawks against a Wolverines team that will beat KU, then knock off Florida Gulf Coast in the Elite Eight.
  4. Miami, too -- Entering the NCAA tournament, the knock against the Hurricanes was their lack of NCAA tournament experience. I think their game experience, however, was overlooked. This is a team with nine upperclassmen. It also helps that Jim Larranaga is a true coaching veteran. There was certainly controversy in the final minutes of the Canes' win over Illinois on Sunday. But Miami neutralized the Illini’s greatest weapon (Illinois went 7-for-27 from the 3-point line). I believe the Hurricanes will beat Marquette and Indiana will knock off Syracuse. That will set up a meeting with a Miami squad that hasn’t lost since early March. There will be so much pressure on the Hoosiers in that game. Tom Crean has been credited with the program’s revival. He has earned it. But now, Indiana enters the second weekend of the tournament and it's supposed to win two games. That’s the bar now. The Hoosiers have never faced those circumstances under Crean. The Hurricanes are not playing with that pressure. They have the length and talent (see Shane Larkin) to match Indiana. And I just think they’ll be the more relaxed squad, too. That will help in a game they'll win. Next stop: Atlanta.
  5. Ohio State will win both games in L.A. by 10 points or more -- The Los Angeles Regional is not exactly the field most anticipated once the pairings were announced on Selection Sunday. La Salle versus Wichita State and Ohio State versus Arizona can’t be what that city anticipated a few weeks ago. There’s certainly a sense of intrigue, however, with the fact the Explorers or Shockers will earn a shot at the Final Four. But I just think the Buckeyes are two steps above the remaining teams in the West Region. Check the stats. Ohio State has been the Big Ten’s best team overall for more than a month. It has the leadership of Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas. The Buckeyes aren't a two-man show, though. LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott and others have been crucial contributors, too. The Buckeyes are playing solid defense. And they’ve been one of America’s toughest teams for a lengthy stretch. Ohio State won’t have many struggles at Staples Center. It'll beat Arizona and the winner of La Salle-Wichita State by 10 or more points.

10 top water-cooler facts on 138-point game

November, 21, 2012
The world is abuzz talking about the unfathomable 138-point game by some kid from a college in rural Iowa.

That kid's name is Jack Taylor from Grinnell and here are our 10 best, most water-cooler-worthy nuggets we could find on his one-of-a-kind game.

1. With his 138 points, Taylor's scoring average rose from 23.5 PPG to 61.7 PPG. He had scored a total of 47 points in Grinnell's first two games of the season. He was 6-34 from three-point range in those games.

2. If you were to take away his 71 three-point attempts and his 10 free-throw attempts in Tuesday night's game, Taylor still would have scored 50 points on 25-37 shooting.

3. Taylor had 80 points in the second half alone. The last Division-I team to score that many in a second half was VMI on November 29, 2010 when they scored 85 against Central Pennsylvania College.

4. Taylor played 36 minutes, averaging exactly 3 FGA per minute. He missed 56 shots, which matches the most misses by any D-I team this season (North Carolina A&T was 10-66 vs. Cincinnati on November 18).

5. If Taylor went scoreless in his next six games, he'd still be averaging more than 20 PPG on the season (20.6).

6. Taylor hoisted 108 shots while his teammates combined for just 28 shots. His teammates shot 57 percent on those shots while he shot 48 percent.

7. Taylor used 69 percent of his team's possessions. In Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, he used 47 percent of his team's possessions. In Kobe Bryant's 81-point game, he used 51 percent of the Lakers' possessions.

8. In the two highest-scoring games of his NBA career, Michael Jordan combined for 133 points (69 in 1990 and 64 in 1993).

9. Faith Baptist Bible turned the ball over on 41 percent of its possessions and had two players with 15 turnovers or more each. It had four players with turnover percentages over 60 percent.

10. Faith Baptist Bible's David Larson scored 70 points on 34-of-44 shooting, which might be more impressive than Taylor's 138 points on 108 shot attempts. Floor percentage is a stat that measures how many of the player’s possessions resulted in him scoring at least one point. Larson's floor percentage was 70 percent while Taylor's was "only" 63.

Contributions by Jason McCallum, Dean Oliver, Ryan Feldman and others within ESPN Stats & Information Group.

Texas isn't too big for De'Andre Haskins

November, 20, 2012
Player of the Night: De’Andre Haskins
Four years removed from playing in Division I, Haskins led Division II Chaminade to an improbable 86-73 upset of the Texas Longhorns in the Maui Invitational. The former Valparaiso guard put up a career-high 32 points and nine rebounds to give Chaminade its seventh win in 83 games at the Maui Invitational. Haskins didn’t score until nearly nine minutes into the game and had just five points at halftime. Two of Chaminade’s wins have come at the expense of Texas head coach Rick Barnes. In 1991, Barnes' Providence squad lost to Chaminade.

Stat Sheet Stuffer: Otto Porter
Porter did a little bit of everything in leading Georgetown to a 78-70 win against the No. 11 UCLA Bruins. He finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and three steals. Porter, a sophomore, is just the fourth power conference player with 15 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and five assists in a game over the past 10 seasons. Joining Porter on that list are Ekpe Udoh, Geoff McDermott and Luke Harangody. The last Georgetown player to reach all of those levels in a game was Michael Sweetney in 2002-03.

Freshman of the Night: Brandon Ashley
Ashley scored 20 points on 6-of-6 shooting and added 10 rebounds as Arizona topped Long Beach State 94-72. Ashley is the only freshman over the past 15 seasons from a power six conference with a 20-10 game in which he didn’t miss a field goal. The 16th ranked recruit in the ESPN 100, Ashley is the first player on that list with a 20-10 game, and just the fourth freshman nationally. Chase Budinger and Derrick Williams are the only other Wildcats to post a 20-10 game as a freshman over the past 10 seasons.

Scorer of the Night: C.J. McCollum
Just another 35-point effort for McCollum, as Lehigh rolled to an 82-67 win against Fairfield. The nation’s leading active scorer had 36 points in Lehigh’s season opener against Baylor. Over the past five years, the only other players with multiple 35-point efforts in November were Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham (2011-12), Washington State’s Klay Thompson (2009-10), Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks (2008-09) and Davidson’s Stephen Curry (2008-09).

Strange Stat Line of the Night: Martins Abele
In Duquesne’s 90-88 win against James Madison, the 7-footer from Latvia made his presence known in the box score despite playing just five minutes. Abele managed three blocks and five personal fouls. Since 2000, only two other players have fouled out in five minutes or fewer and also blocked three shots. In January 2001, Maryland’s Chris Wilcox did it against Wake Forest. A month later, Rutgers’ Eugene Dabney did so against Georgetown.

Duke readies for reloaded Wildcats

November, 13, 2012
(The No. 9 Duke Blue Devils face the defending national champion No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday at 9:30 ET on ESPN.)

Kentucky had six players -- including all five starters -- drafted in the first two rounds of the 2012 NBA draft. That’s the most for any school in the first two rounds of a draft in the common draft era.

So how are the Wildcats ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll?

That lofty ranking reflects head coach John Calipari's ability to recruit wave after wave of the nation's most highly regarded high school talent to Lexington. He had the No. 2 recruiting class of 2012, according to ESPN 100, and that might have been a "down" year because Kentucky had the No. 1 ranked class in 2009, 2010, 2011 and currently has the top-ranked class for 2013. This year’s class is the fourth straight year that Calipari has at least four of the top 100 recruits in the country.

That recruiting success is paying off on the the court. Calipari has won 103 games in three-plus seasons at Kentucky. The Wildcats’ 103 wins are the most in Division I since Calipari took over in Lexington. (The only other school with at least 100 wins is Kansas.) Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke have the third-most wins over that span with 95.

Kyle Wiltjer is the only returning player for Kentucky who averaged more than five minutes per game last season. Wiltjer shot 45.8 percent on catch-and-shoot plays last season, good for fifth in the SEC.

Largely because of the talent around him, Wiltjer excelled on unguarded catch-and-shoot plays, attempting 45 of his 71 catch-and-shoot field goals while unguarded. When he was unguarded last season, Wiltjer shot better than 50 percent from the floor and 50 percent behind the 3-point line. When guarded, Wiltjer’s shooting percentage dropped to 34.6 and made only 36 percent of his 3s.

While Kentucky lost all five starters from last season, Duke lost just one -- Austin Rivers.

Senior Mason Plumlee had three offensive rebounds in Duke’s season-opening win against Georgia State. Last season he ranked fifth in the ACC averaging 2.9 offensive rebounds per game. The question this season will be can he convert those offensive boards into points?

According to, Plumlee shot 41.7 percent on put-back plays in 2011-12, which ranked 57th out of 66 ACC players with at least 10 such plays.

On the perimeter for Duke, Seth Curry is one of the league’s best deep threats. Since joining the Blue Devils in the 2010-11 season, Curry has made 128 3-point field goals, which ranks fifth among ACC players.

This is the earliest the Blue Devils have faced a team ranked in the top three since Nov. 12, 1999, when they lost to No. 1 Connecticut. Duke has lost four straight games against AP Top 3 teams and does not have a nonconference win over a top-three opponent since a 97-66 win over No. 2 Texas in December of 2005.

The Wildcats have won a Division I record 2,091 games. They are one of three Division I teams with at least 2,000 wins and Duke could be the fourth member of that club if it can win 28 more games this season.

Kentucky leads the all-time series 11-8, but Duke has won six of the past seven, including four of five with Krzyzewski as Duke’s head coach.) Three of the past four meetings were decided by three points or fewer.

UConn could struggle down low vs MSU

November, 9, 2012
When the Michigan State Spartans and Connecticut Huskies open up the season today, the Huskies will have their hands full.

Michigan State has an imposing duo down low of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix along with small forward Branden Dawson. Does UConn have the manpower to compete with the Spartans around the basket?

Payne, Nix and Dawson all ranked in the top eight of the Big Ten last season in offensive rebound percentage. Dawson, who grabbed 13.3 percent of available offensive rebounds, led the conference.

The Spartans led the Big Ten in offensive rebound percentage and points in the paint per game last season.

UConn ranked 284th in the country in defensive rebound percentage last season. The Huskies lost their top two (Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi) and four of their top five defensive rebounders by percentage.

On the other end of the court, Payne led the Big Ten in block percentage -- he blocked 6.9 percent of opponents' field-goal attempts while he was on the court -- and Dawson ranked eighth.

UConn doesn’t have much down low. Their four returning frontcourt players -- Enosch Wolf, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander -- combined for eight post-up points last season. And all four of those players drew fewer than three fouls per game, so getting the MSU big men into foul trouble may be a difficult task.

If the Huskies won't be able to compete around the basket, how will they compete with the Spartans?

UConn will rely heavily on their backcourt trio of Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier and freshman Omar Calhoun. Boatright and Napier each took more than 20 percent of the Huskies' shots when they were on the court last season.

Keith Appling will be the key defensively for the Spartans. He'll be responsible for matching up with one of those guards. Last season, Appling held opponents below 30 percent shooting. Appling, Nix and Dawson were all in the top five in the Big Ten in fewest points per play allowed among the 82 players to defend at least 100 plays.

Of the 125 players nationally to defend at least 250 plays last season, Appling held opponents to the 12th-fewest points per play.

The combination of the Spartans' size and talent down low and their defense will make Kevin Ollie's debut an uphill battle for UConn.

Kentucky runs away with national title

April, 3, 2012

Richard Mackson/US Presswire
Anthony Davis cuts down the nets after winning most outstanding player and leading Kentucky to its eighth national championship with a game that no player has ever had in the NCAA tournament.

The Kentucky Wildcats outscored the Kansas Jayhawks 20-9 in transition, the sixth straight game Kentucky outscored its opponent in transition and the fifth time in six tournament games it scored 20 transition points.

The win gives the Wildcats their eighth national championship, second only to UCLA (11), and their 38th win of the season, the most ever in men’s Division I basketball. (Memphis went 38-2 in 2008 but later had all its wins vacated because of NCAA violations.)

No. 1 seeds improve to 7-2 against No. 2 seeds in the national title game since seeding began in 1979. Kentucky is the second top overall seed to win the title since the overall seeding began in 2004 (Florida was the first, in 2007).

Anthony Davis finished with 6 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 blocks, 3 steals. He’s the first player in NCAA tournament history to reach those marks in a single game.

He’s the fourth freshman to be named most outstanding player in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, and first since Carmelo Anthony in 2003.

He scored just 24 points in the Final Four, the fewest by the Most Outstanding Player since Patrick Ewing scored 18 en route to Georgetown's national title in 1984. Only three other players have scored fewer points in the Final Four and won the award.

Davis blocked six shots and altered two more -- both of them on attempts by Jeff Withey -- tying Joakim Noah in 2006 for the most blocks in a national championship game. He also set the freshman record with 186 blocks in a season.

He blocked or altered 18.2 percent of Kentucky's opponents' 2-point field-goal attempts during the tournament, including 15.7 percent against Kansas on Monday. Davis finished tied for the second-most blocks (29) ever in a single tournament and altered an additional 28 shots.

The Wildcats blocked 11 shots as a team, the most ever in the national championship game. The previous record was 10 by 2011 UConn and 2006 Florida.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the third national title game featuring a rematch between coaches who had previously met in the national title game, and the first in 50 years. John Calipari is the first of the three coaches to lose the first matchup and win the rematch.

Kansas shot a season-worst 33.3 percent on 2-point field goals, including just 11-for-25 on dunks and layups (44 percent). The Jayhawks shot 36.4 percent inside the arc earlier this season against the Wildcats, their second-worst 2-point field goal percentage in a game this season.

Thomas Robinson finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds, just the sixth player in the past 40 years -- and third from Kansas -- to put up a line like that in the title game. Nick Collison, Ed O’Bannon, Danny Manning, Akeem Olajuwon and Bill Walton are the others.

Withey had just 5 points, but added 7 rebounds and 4 blocks, passing Noah for the most blocks in a single NCAA tournament (31).

Kansas lost in the national title game for the sixth time, tied with Duke for the most ever.

KU defense steps up late in tournament

April, 2, 2012
This is the eighth time in the past 30 seasons that there has been a rematch of a regular-season meeting in the championship game. The past two times it has happened, the team that won the regular-season meeting won the national title. (Kentucky defeated Kansas by 10 points in November.)

Kansas has been a second-half team in its past four tournament games, holding the opposition to 24 points per game on 24.2 percent shooting from the field, compared to 37.5 ppg and 49.1 percent field shooting in the first half.

The Jayhawks were even stingier in the final five minutes of their past two games. Kansas outscored Ohio State 13-7 in the final five minutes of the game Saturday, holding the Buckeyes to 2-of-10 shooting during this stretch. It was the fifth straight game in which a Kansas opponent shot less than 30 percent in the final five minutes, including 0-for-7 by North Carolina in the Midwest Region final.

Overall, the Jayhawks are holding the opposition to 19.5 percent shooting (8-for-41) in the final five minutes of tournament games, the lowest percentage of any team that advanced to the round of 32. In addition, Kansas has trailed at halftime in three of its wins in the tournament (Purdue, NC State and Ohio State). In the previous eight tournaments under Bill Self, the Jayhawks were 0-5 after trailing at halftime.

Kentucky’s key in the tournament has been its transition offense. The Wildcats lead the tournament field with 112 transition points (22.4 ppg) and have scored 62.5 percent of these points off missed shots, the second-highest percentage among teams to advance to the Sweet 16.

Kentucky has outscored all five opponents in transition during the tournament. The Wildcats entered the tournament with a 7.4 per-game transition differential, 13th best in the nation.

Kentucky is shooting 8-for-11 (72.7 percent) from 3-point range in transition, including a tournament-high four makes by Doron Lamb.

Davis, Withey will host block party in final

April, 1, 2012
For the first time, all three Final Four games will be regular-season rematches. Kentucky beat Kansas, 75-65, at Madison Square Garden back on Nov. 15.

Monday’s national championship game will be the third meeting between the Wildcats and Jayhawks in the NCAA tournament. In 1999, Kentucky beat Kansas in the Round of 32, 92-88. Kansas won the other meeting in 2007, 88-76, also in the Round of 32.

Kentucky was the selection committee’s top overall seed, marking only the third time since 2004 -- when the committee began ranking the four No. 1 seeds -- that the top overall seed reached the title game. In 2005, Illinois lost in the final and the 2007 Florida Gators won the national championship.

Kansas head coach Bill Self won his first title four years ago, beating John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this will be the first time in exactly 50 years (and third time overall) that the national title game will feature a rematch between coaches who have previously met in the national title game.

In 1962, Cincinnati's Ed Jucker beat Ohio State's Fred Taylor for the second straight season. In 1953, Indiana's Branch McCracken beat Phog Allen of Kansas -- just as he had done in 1940.

There will be two AP First-Team, All-Americans on the court Monday: Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis and Kansas junior Thomas Robinson. Since seeding began in 1979, this will be only the fourth national championship game with two First-Team All-Americans on the court, and the first time since 1999 (Duke’s Elton Brand and Connecticut’s Richard Hamilton).

Davis, the AP Player of the Year, has blocked 11 shots in Kentucky's last two games. This season he has 180 blocked shots, two shy of Hassan Whiteside’s freshman single-season record set in 2009-10.

For the 2012 Men’s Basketball Championship, Davis has blocked 18 shots in the paint and altered another 23.

Davis also is one of only three players, along with Joakim Noah (2006) and Kevin Love (2008), to score at least 75 points, grab 50 rebounds and block at least 20 shots in a single NCAA tournament (since blocked shots became an official stat in 1985-86).

In this tournament, however, Davis has been outdone by Kansas’ Jeff Withey, who blocked a Final Four record seven shots against Ohio State. What’s more, Withey kept each of his blocked shots in bounds, and has kept all but 15 of his 136 blocks this season in bounds

Withey has blocked 27 shots in the 2012 NCAA tournament, two shy of the single-tournament record set by Noah in 2006.

Finally, if the Wildcats beat the No. 2 seeded Jayhawks, they will be the fourth straight team to win the national title without having played a No. 1 seed. From 1979 to 2008, only six teams won it all without having to play a No. 1 seed along the way.

Jayhawks paint a path to title game

April, 1, 2012
The Kansas Jayhawks rallied once again with another late-game surge to survive and advance in this year’s NCAA tournament. This time Kansas ended the game on an 8-3 run to complete a 64-62 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The Jayhawks scored the final six points of the game versus Purdue in the round of 32 to secure a 63-60 victory; against North Carolina in the Elite Eight, Kansas finished with a 12-0 run en route to an 80-67 win.

Kansas will be playing in its ninth national championship game and first since winning it all in 2008. This is the Jayhawks' fifth title game in the last 25 seasons, the second most during that span behind Duke’s six appearances.

Painting a victory
The Jayhawks muscled their way to the win, outscoring Ohio State 32-16 in the paint. Kansas had a 42-30 rebounding advantage, grabbing as many defensive boards as the Buckeyes recorded overall.

Kansas also used its intimidating paint defense to generate easy fast-break buckets. The Jayhawks made 7 of 8 field goal attempts and outscored Ohio State 19-8 in transition, with 10 of the 19 points coming off blocks.

Kansas scored nine of its 19 transition points in the final five minutes during its late rally, and has now outscored its opponents 20-9 in transition in the last five minutes in the tournament.

Jeff Withey had just four points but made a huge impact on the defensive end with a Final Four-record seven blocks. Withey now has 27 blocks in this tournament, two shy of the record set by Joakim Noah in 2006.

Thomas Robinson led the Jayhawks with 19 points, but struggled around the basket. He missed 9 of 13 shots and scored only eight points in the paint, but connected on 4 of 5 jumpers outside the painted area.

Buckeyes busted down low
Ohio State took a nine-point halftime lead thanks to a strong 46 percent shooting effort, including 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc. However, the Buckeyes went cold in the second half, connecting on just 3 of 12 3-point attempts, and made only five shots inside the arc in the final 20 minutes.

Overall, Ohio State shot 33 percent in the paint, its lowest field goal percentage in the paint over the last four NCAA tournaments. Kansas blocked eight of Ohio State’s 24 paint attempts, including five shots by Jared Sullinger.

William Buford was the lone star for Ohio State, leading the team with 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

Buford had made just 29.5 percent of his field goal attempts and averaged 11.8 points per game in the Buckeyes’ four previous tournament games. He finished his career with 1,990 points, tying Jerry Lucas for the third-most points in school history.

Stat of the game
Monday’s title-game matchup between Kansas and Kentucky will be just the second time that an SEC team has faced a Big 12/Big 8 team in the national championship game. The other instance was in 1951, when Kentucky beat Kansas State 68-58.

Wildcats make easy transition to title game

March, 31, 2012

ESPN Stats & Information
Louisville shot 34.8 percent from the field in its loss to Kentucky.

Blue blood prevailed in this highly anticipated Final Four battle of in-state rivals, as the Kentucky Wildcats beat the Louisville Cardinals 69-61 to advance to their 11th national championship game and first since winning it all in 1998.

Kentucky is the first top overall seed to advance to the title game since Florida in 2007 and the third to do so since the selection committee began using the distinction in 2004. Florida is the only top overall seed to win a national championship during this span.

The win is Kentucky’s 37th of the season, setting a new single-season school record, and 110th in NCAA tournament play, the most of any school. The victory also gives coach John Calipari a 9-8 edge in head-to-head college matchups with Rick Pitino, and is his first in three NCAA tournament meetings.

Offense wins championships
The Wildcats put together one of the best offensive games this season against a Louisville team that entered the weekend as the best defensive team in the country according to's adjusted defensive efficiency.

Kentucky shot 57.1 percent from the floor, the third-highest field goal percentage allowed by Louisville under Pitino and the highest since 2006. It’s also the best shooting performance by a team in a Final Four game since Syracuse also shot 57.1 percent in 2003 versus Texas.

The Wildcats got out on the break with ease and used their strong transition game to put away the Cardinals. Kentucky made 11 of 13 field goals and scored 25 points in transition, the fourth time in five tournament games that it has scored at least 20 transition points.

Anthony Davis once again dominated the game at both ends of the floor with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks. Davis joins Danny Manning in 1988 as the only players since 1986 (when blocks became official) to have at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks in a Final Four game.

No easy buckets
Louisville erased a 13-point second-half deficit but couldn’t overcome its poor shooting in the paint to beat Kentucky. The Cardinals missed 16 layups and dunks, their most in a tournament game during the past three years.

Overall, Louisville shot 34.8 percent, its third-worst shooting effort in an NCAA tournament game in the shot clock era and worst since connecting on 33.3 percent of its attempts against Wake Forest in 1996.

The Cardinals kept themselves in the game thanks to a strong effort on the boards.

Louisville outrebounded Kentucky 19-6 on the offensive glass, scoring 13 second-chance points. The Cardinals had averaged just 10 offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points in their first four tournament games.

Stat of the game
If Kentucky wins the national championship, it will mark just the second time in the past two decades that one conference won national championships in both football and men's basketball in the same academic year. Florida did it in the 2006-07 season, capturing both titles for the SEC.

Davis' defense helps start Wildcats' offense

March, 30, 2012
Kentucky is the top overall seed in the tournament, and coach John Calipari is trying to win his first national championship.

However, since the Selection Committee in 2004 began ranking the four No. 1 seeds, only once -- the 2007 Florida Gators -- has the top overall seed won the national title.

Calipari is one of three head coaches in the Final Four -- along with Thad Matta and Rick Pitino -- who has lost a national title game. If any one of those three loses in the final, he will be the 12th head coach with multiple losses in the men's basketball championship game.

This will be Calipari's fourth Final Four and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only head coach who has made more appearances in the Final Four without winning a national title is Guy Lewis. He led Houston to five Final Four appearances and lost in the final twice (1983, 1984).

On the court, Kentucky has the AP Player of the Year in Anthony Davis. He's only the second freshman to win the award, joining Kevin Durant in 2006-07. Davis also is the third player from the SEC to win the award, along with Pete Maravich in 1970 and Shaquille O'Neal in 1991.

Davis averaged 14.3 points per game this season, the fewest by a player to win the award.

Davis didn’t win the award for what he did on the offensive end of the floor, but for his presence on defense. He led the nation with 175 blocks, and 145 of them came in the paint, including 80 at the rim. He also blocked 16 midrange jumpers and 14 3-pointers. (On Dec. 31, four of Davis six blocks against Louisville came in the paint.)

Davis and his teammates have scored at least 80 points in all four tournament games in reaching the Final Four. According to Elias, over the past 20 years, only one school has topped the 80-point mark in five consecutive games within a single NCAA tournament. Not only is that school Kentucky, but the Wildcats did it twice, in the 1996 and 1998 tournaments.

The Wildcats lead this year's tournament with 87 transition points (21.8 ppg), and have scored two-thirds of these points off missed shots.

If Kentucky wins its eighth national championship (only UCLA has more, with 11), then it will mark just the third time since the 1990-91 academic calendar that one conference won national championships in football and men's basketball in the same school year.

The SEC, with Florida in 2006-07, won national titles in football and men's basketball. Before the Gators it was the ACC with Georgia Tech and Duke winning football and men's basketball titles, respectively, during the 1990-91 school year.

And one last note from Elias about Saturday's Kentucky-Louisville game: It's the first matchup of in-state rivals in a national final or semifinal since 1962, when Cincinnati defeated Ohio State in the national championship game.

Cardinals' keys for Final Four

March, 29, 2012
Christopher Hanewickel/US PresswireLouisville advanced to its ninth Final Four with its victory over Florida on Saturday.

The Louisville Cardinals are making their ninth trip to the Final Four, the fewest of this year’s participants.

Here are five things to watch for with Louisville this weekend.

Pitino has been here before
Rick Pitino is the third coach to take more than one team to multiple Final Fours. The other two coaches to do so were Jack Gardner and Roy Williams.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Pitino is the second coach to face a former team in the Final Four. Roy Williams led North Carolina to the 2008 Final Four, where he lost to former school Kansas.

This is Pitino’s sixth Final Four appearance, and three of those trips have been with teams seeded fourth or lower. He is the first coach to lead three teams seeded that low to the Final Four since seeding began in 1979. Larry Brown, Tom Izzo, Lute Olson and Brad Stevens have each done it twice.

Pitino has been to Final Fours in New Orleans before but hasn't had the best of results. This is the third time that he has led a team to the national semifinals in New Orleans, with Providence in 1987 and Kentucky in 1993 both falling short of the championship game.

Defense wins championships
Louisville is holding its opponents to 35 percent shooting when it plays man-to-man defense this season, the lowest percentage in the nation.

The Cardinals’ man defense held Kentucky to 21.7 percent (5-for-23) when the teams met earlier this year. That was the lowest field goal percentage by the Wildcats against man-to-man defense this season.

Louisville has recorded 29 steals in the NCAA tournament, the second-highest total in the field. Fourteen of those steals were by players stepping into passing lanes, while 13 were strips.

Big East runs redux
Louisville’s run to the Final Four bears a close resemblance to Connecticut’s title run last season.

Last year, the Huskies went 9-9 in the Big East and finished in ninth place. The Cardinals lost one fewer game this year and received a first-round bye in the Big East tournament by finishing seventh.

Both teams entered the Big East tournament with four losses in their last six games before starting long winning streaks.

Key player
When Louisville played Kentucky on New Year’s Eve, Russ Smith scored a career-high 30 points off the bench as the Cardinals lost by seven. Unfortunately for Louisville, he was the only player to reach double figures.

After scoring only 46 points in his previous six games, Smith has scored 47 points in his past three games and led the Cardinals in scoring twice.

Second chances
Kentucky outscored Louisville 20-6 on second-chance opportunities earlier this season, and that number could be key in the rematch.

Louisville has allowed only nine second-chance points in its past two games. Kentucky has scored 26 points in the same span and leads the SEC with 13 second-chance points per game this season.