College Basketball Nation: 2012 Final Four

Video: Anthony Davis on winning title

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
2:02
AM ET

Anthony Davis, named the Final Four's most outstanding player, talks about Kentucky's title win over Kansas.

Video: Jay Bilas on Kentucky's win

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
1:25
AM ET

Jay Bilas breaks down Kentucky's win over Kansas.

Video: John Calipari talks title

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
12:44
AM ET

John Calipari talks to the media following Kentucky's victory over Kansas for the national title.

UK was popular Tournament Challenge pick

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
12:21
AM ET
There were plenty of brackets to get the national championship right this year, as 35.1 percent of the 6.45 million Tournament Challenge brackets correctly picked Kentucky to win it all, by far the most popular selection in the game. That's a far cry from the 4.7 percent (out of 5.9 million brackets) to pick Connecticut last year.

There was a four-way tie atop the leader board this year with 1,780 points. However, the grand prize winner isn't necessarily coming from the pool of four to tie for the lead, but rather a drawing of the top 1 percent scorers.

President Obama's bracket

The president had North Carolina winning it all (beating Kentucky in the title game), so he could not score anymore points in the game. He finished with 1,020 points, in the 63.6th percentile.

Bill Plaschke's bracket

The "Around the Horn" panelist finished the challenge ranked 538th overall (out of 6.45 million brackets) with 1,680 points as he did pick Kentucky to beat Kansas in the final (after picking the entire Final Four correctly). Interestingly, he finished tied for fifth among all users entered in the "Around the Horn" group, 10 points behind the leaders. He picked only nine of the Sweet 16 teams, but made up for it by selecting seven of the Elite Eight correctly, and then getting all the Final Four teams right.

Notable brackets (Total points, percentile)

President Obama: (1,020; 63.6)

Jay Bilas: (1,260; 88.0)
Andy Katz: (1,180; 78.9)
Dick Vitale: (1,010; 62.9)
Doug Gottlieb: (930; 57.5)

Mike Greenberg: (620; 22.6)
Mike Golic: (1,340; 93.5)

Colin Cowherd: (1,260; 88.0)
Michelle Beadle: (460; 5.9)

Michael Wilbon: (1,160; 76.6)
Tony Kornheiser: (930; 57.5)

Scott Van Pelt: (1,290; 90.5)

LeBron James: (1,160; 76.7)

Chalk bracket (picking all higher seeds): (1,200; 81.8)
America's bracket: (1,260; 88.0)

Video: Dykes, Davis preview title game

April, 2, 2012
4/02/12
2:51
PM ET

Jimmy Dykes and Hubert Davis preview tonight's National Championship game.

Medcalf: Davis, Withey go block by block

April, 2, 2012
4/02/12
1:35
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis marched up the staircase to the Superdome's interview room podium Sunday afternoon with a practice jersey dangling from his neck. It resembled a blue and white cape as it rested on the back of the Wooden Award winner and shot-blocking machine.

Message received?

"I mean, Anthony Davis is a great player, Thomas Robinson said in a news conference later that day, "but he's not Superman."

But Davis might be this generation's Russell or Chamberlain on defense.

Read more from Myron Medcalf by clicking here.
NEW ORLEANS -- Iowa State and Baylor have played each of the participants in Monday night’s NCAA championship game between Kentucky and Kansas. Here is a breakdown of each team by the head coach of each program as well as a player.

IOWA STATE HEAD COACH FRED HOIBERG

You’ve got the two elite shot-blockers in the country in [Jeff] Withey and Anthony Davis. The big thing for Kansas is their transition game. They’re so good at getting out and running. Against Kentucky, if you’re setting up in the half court every time down the floor, you’re going to be grinding it out against that length and athleticism. It’s going to be very difficult to score. From Kansas’ standpoint, the more they attack, they better off they’ll be. They’ve got players capable of doing that with [Tyshawn] Taylor and [Elijah] Johnson spacing the floor. I really think they need to attack before Kentucky gets a chance to set up in that half-court defense where they’re so effective. For Kentucky, Anthony Davis can do so many things. He’s expanded his game as the season has gone on. You have to be so selective on when you try to take it at him, because when he blocks a shot, it usually leads to a layup on the other end.

When Kentucky is in their transition game, you’re not going to stop them, so the other thing Kansas has to do a good job of is taking care of the basketball. They’ve got to limit their turnovers and get up quality shots, and try to get Kentucky into a half-court game going back the other way, which is pretty tough to do. When Kentucky is hitting shots, they’re almost unbeatable. It starts with [Marquis] Teague. If he can get that thing out there and beat everyone in transition, everyone collapses in. That’s how they get all those lobs. If you can take away those highlight plays by Kentucky, that hurts their mojo a little bit. But they’re so fast and explosive, that’s very difficult to do.

With Kansas, Bill [Self] has done as good of a coaching job as anyone in the country this year. You look at what they lost, with the Morris twins and [Brady] Morningstar and [Tyrel] Reed ... Bill still found a way to build his new guys up and to get them to play with so much confidence. That’s a testament to Bill and his staff. Bill is as good as there is in this business. It’s fun to compete against him, and it’s great to have him in our league. Tyshawn is the key to their team. He’s what makes them go. He gets it up and down the floor so quickly. You’ve got to do your best to stay in front of him. They’re using a lot of pick-and-roll in their offense. Tyshawn has handled that very well and shown he can make the right decisions. They're so precise in their offense. I think they’ve got a shot. Don’t ever count out Bill Self. Every time they look like they're down and out, they find a way to come back. If Kentucky is hitting their shots, there just isn’t much you can do. But if they’re having an off night, and Kansas is hitting their shots, they have a very good chance to win.

IOWA STATE GUARD SCOTT CHRISTOPHERSON

[The Wildcats] have great length at pretty much every position. Even if they don’t call out a screen quick enough, they can just switch everything because they [have] such a great help side on their defense. They can cover up minor mistakes. When we played them, [Darius] Miller played really well. Teague played really well. He hit some outside shots. When those two and [Doron] Lamb are hitting their outside shots -- combined with their inside game -- they’re pretty much impossible to stop. On defense, they have guys that are good perimeter defenders, but more than anything, even if you are able to get by them, they have such good length, even on the help side. ... You’re just not used to playing against guys like Anthony Davis and [Michael Kidd-]Gilchrist and Jones -- guys that can just come from the weak side out of nowhere and get your shots. We shot the ball very poorly from 3 because we had never seen length like that. At times you’re actually able to get into the paint on them. I’m not saying they’re not good perimeter defenders, because they are. But it’s not like they’re impossible to get by.

The problem is that you have to expend so much energy getting by them, and then you’ve got Anthony Davis waiting for you at the rim -- it poses a lot of problems. If you’ve got a guy on the low block that can really be physical, it will certainly help. Kansas will be able to utilize Thomas Robinson, because he’s physical and very strong. I’m sure Kansas is hoping he’ll be able to get some easy baskets inside and maybe draw some fouls on Kentucky’s big guys. The biggest thing is just getting the ball moved from one side of the court to the other. If you come down and just have it sit on one side and try to break Kentucky down that way, with their length, you’re not going to be very successful. I would try to drive the ball into the paint and kick it out as many times as I could. But I’d get as many paint touches as I could and get the defense distorted as much as possible. And if you can get out in transition and get some easy buckets, that will help your confidence, too. Kansas has always been very good in transition.

With Kansas, we were able to do a good job of mixing up our post defenses on Robinson. Defensively, we played about as well as anyone did against them in both of our games. You’re going to have to rebound and be physical with them. Defensively they’re always in position. They’re very well-coached, very disciplined. You just have to be very sharp and solid. You can’t try to be a hero against them. You have to make simple plays and play very hard. I think Kentucky’s length makes them a little bit better defensively, just because they’ve got guys like Kidd-Gilchrist that can guard the 4-man or the point guard. But Kansas, year-in-and-year-out, is the best team in the Big 12 defensively. Withey has come a really long way. He does a good job of doing what he does. He blocks shots, runs the court, rebounds, finishes around the rim. To me, the difference in the game is going to be who wins between Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, and Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford. And Tyshawn Taylor has to outplay Teague. Johnson is a really good defender. And when he’s able to stretch the defense with his perimeter shot, it does a lot of things for Kansas. When you have to close out long on him, it gives Robinson so much more room to work on the inside.

BAYLOR HEAD COACH SCOTT DREW

You have to score in transition if you want to have any shot of beating Kentucky. You can’t just hope to score in the half court against them. They’re so good defensively. You have to get easy ones when you can. When you can’t, you really have to make them work on the defensive end. Kansas will do that. But you also have to get some easy ones, and Kansas has always done a great job of pushing it. If Kansas is scoring and not turning it over, that means Kentucky isn’t getting out and running. And if Kentucky isn’t getting out and running, Kansas has a chance. Sometimes people make the mistake of saying, ‘OK, we want to slow it down and play a half-court game against Kentucky.’ That means they never push it and get easy buckets. I don’t know if you can score enough to beat them if you slow it down.

Juniors and seniors don’t want to go home. Kansas is very good, but out of almost all of the good tournament teams, they’ve had the most experience. They start all juniors and seniors, and juniors like Releford and Withey are four-year guys. They’re starting three fourth-year guys and two true juniors. That’s a veteran group. The more experienced at something, the better you are at what you do. They’ve been there, done that. It may mean more to them because they’ve been there three or four years. So they have the experience, but they also have that mental toughness. Winning a national championship may mean more to them than it does a freshman.

When Withey is on, Kansas goes to another level. You know what you’re going to get night in and night out from Tyshawn and Thomas. But if you had Withey knocking down shots and rebounding and scoring, they’re on another level. In their two wins against us, he was the difference. Tyshawn Taylor is probably the main key, though. If you keep Tyshawn from getting it in the paint, and if you can keep him from creating for others ... you can guard Thomas Robinson if you don’t give him angles and just play solidly behind him. And Withey, if he doesn’t catch it deep, I don’t know how bad he’s going to hurt you. But the reason Robinson is able to get angles, and the reason Withey is able to catch it deep is because of Tyshawn’s ability to get into the paint. He’s as good with his first step and at blowing by defenders as any point guard in the country.

BAYLOR GUARD BRADY HESLIP

[Kentucky's] athleticism can be overwhelming, even to us. They’ve got five guys that can handle the ball. Their outlet passes are so impressive. One second after they rebound, the ball is at half court. They get out in transition so quick. They can all handle it. It makes things easy for them. Defensively, Anthony Davis gets a lot of attention for blocking shots, but the guys on the perimeter really pressure the ball. I was watching yesterday, and Louisville would dribble around for 15 or 20 seconds because they were having so much trouble getting it into the paint and getting Kentucky in foul trouble.

Teague can guard. He’s fast. Tyshawn Taylor is probably a little stronger than him. Lamb is strong. Kidd-Gilchrist can defend 1 through 4. Jones is so physical, and then Davis has that great length. You’ve got to do a good job of answering their runs and hope to get some easy baskets. When you try to slow it down, on defense they can really stop you. They forced us into taking bad shots, and they forced us into turnovers. Those result in the first pass of their transition offense. They run the floor and convert it, and get to the free throw line.

Kansas is an amazing team with all of their pieces. They’ve got strong guys that are athletic and physical. They play well and they defend. Kentucky, statistically, is the best defensive team. But Kansas on defense is ridiculous. They rotate like a machine. They’ve got Withey blocking shots. Releford is a great defender, and so are Taylor and Johnson. Those guys are relentless on defense, and they can get out and run, too. It should be an up-and-down game. Taylor is the key for them. At this time of year, you’ve got to have a great point guard to still be playing. He does a great job of scoring and making things happen, because he’s so athletic. Once he gets going, that’s a tough freight train to stop. He does a great job of getting into the paint. If he gets into the paint against Kentucky and guys help out, he can throw lobs to Robinson and Withey. I think it could be a good game. Kansas is too good of a team and Bill Self is too good of a coach to let it get out of hand. It’ll be a close game.

Tourney Live: NCAA Championship Game

April, 2, 2012
4/02/12
10:55
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com college basketball experts as they chat live from press row in New Orleans about the 2012 NCAA Championship Game between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Kentucky Wildcats.

Contribute your thoughts and questions at 9 p.m. ET, we'll post as many as we can. We'll see you there.

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players scattered throughout the Kansas locker room, perhaps none is more qualified to offer insight to Bill Self than Niko Roberts.

The deep reserve has known the coach practically his whole life, dating back to 1996 when his father, Norm, began an eight-year run as Self's assistant and a lifelong friendship.

Midway through the season, Niko picked up the phone and practically gushed to his dad.

"He said, 'Dad, Coach is back,'" Norm Roberts remembered. "'He's having so much fun. He's still getting after us but he's having a blast.' This is how I remember him."

This national championship pits the two winningest programs in college basketball against one another, a battle royale of the game's finest.

Kentucky trots to the Superdome fitting the bill, carrying the burden of expectation of not being the favorite but also, as John Calipari constantly reminds everyone, "The Commonwealth of Kentucky's Team."

Kansas saunters to Monday's title game like a poser, wearing the uniform of a blueblood and the pressure of a mid-major.

No one expected the Jayhawks to be here.

No one expects the Jayhawks to win.

And that is exactly why Self is having so much fun.

For the rest of Dana O'Neil's story, click here.
John Calipari and Bill SelfUS PresswireBill Self (left) and John Calipari are both good at getting their players to play as one unit.
NEW ORLEANS -- Kentucky and Kansas are the two winningest programs in college basketball.

They are also two of the most similar, at least since John Calipari and Bill Self took over at the respective schools.

They have competed against each other for high-level recruits. Yes, believe it or not, Calipari isn’t the only one who seeks out players who are in college for one season. Self does it too.

“If your final schools are Kentucky and Kansas then that young man should be a very good player,’’ Calipari said.

“We’ve both had our fair share of good players and lottery picks,’’ Self said. “They’ve done the best job in recruiting in the country as far as a roster of freshmen and sophomores. They have by far the most talent, far away since he’s been there.’’

Self and Calipari recruited Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Kyle Wiltjer.

In previous years, Marcus and Markieff Morris were wanted by both coaches. The same is true for Xavier Henry.

“They both like athletic, fast guys who can run,’’ Robinson said.

Self and Calipari competed for the national title in 2008 when Calipari was coaching Memphis. Self won.

They are both incredibly competitive. Yet they are friendly rivals.

They want the best players, regardless of whether they are going to stay for one or four seasons.

They seek out similar talent: players who are going to defend, aren’t going to wilt one bit and must be able to check the ego at the door. Both coaches have succeeded at massaging the talent into one cohesive unit.

“Bill Self looks at his team and creates roles for his players,’’ Calipari said. “He gets guys to play their roles. He uses a lot of pick-and-rolls and they defend. His teams play hard and he essentially has a totally new team."

“Everybody talks about my team being new, but he lost his freshman class,’’ said Calipari, referring to freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor being ineligible this season. “Everybody thought they’d be an NIT team and they’re not in the NIT, he’s in the final game.’’

Self said the two coaches are similar in their philosophy of coaching. Of course, he put in that Calipari always has “guys,’’ a term used to essentially describe the immense talent Calipari has amassed.

“We want to recruit the best players in the country, and we go against Duke, Carolina and Michigan State and Texas, but at some point, you’re going to have to beat Kentucky,’’ Self said. “He’s much more animated than I am on the sidelines. But we both get after our guys.’’

They win under intense pressure and don’t mind all the attention that comes with it.

There are programs that feel pressure, some more than others. Winning at places like North Carolina, Indiana and UCLA is expected, and when it doesn’t happen, as has occurred in the past decade for all those schools, the pressure increases. Yet the scrutiny frazzles neither Self nor Calipari.

And their teams play in two of the most hallowed halls in the game: Phog Allen Fieldhouse and Rupp Arena. The fan bases travel as well as any in the country. They expect success. And both coaches have delivered.

Now they’ve got a chance to send their faithful home with a national championship, either Self’s second -- and second against Calipari -- or Calipari’s first.

Video: Kentucky coach John Calipari

April, 1, 2012
4/01/12
8:45
PM ET

Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks with Andy Katz about Thomas Robinson, the importance of Anthony Davis, facing Kansas, what it feels like to lose a title game, and being on the doorstep of a national title.

Video: Kansas coach Bill Self

April, 1, 2012
4/01/12
8:41
PM ET

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks with Andy Katz on playing from behind, his impressions of Anthony Davis, and stopping Kentucky on Monday night.

Video: Pressure is on for John Calipari

April, 1, 2012
4/01/12
7:35
PM ET

Dana O'Neil and Jason King discuss the coaching matchup in Monday's title game and what's at stake for both John Calipari and Bill Self.

Davis, Withey will host block party in final

April, 1, 2012
4/01/12
7:25
PM ET
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.
Travis Releford Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThree of the Jayhawks' NCAA tournament wins this year have been by three points or fewer.
New Orleans -- Tyshawn Taylor sympathized with Kansas’ supporters Sunday.

The Jayhawks, he said, haven’t intentionally induced panic and meltdowns among their fan base via their dramatic NCAA tournament wins.

But they can’t seem to avoid them.

Unlike Kentucky, the squad they’ll face in the national title game Monday at the Superdome, the Jayhawks’ lane to New Orleans was littered with late-game obstacles that repeatedly threatened their postseason vitality.

“Walking that tight rope in March is OK because you survive and advance and that’s what it’s about,” Taylor said Sunday.

The Jayhawks don’t believe they’re playing with fire.

Instead, they choose to view their tight NCAA tourney wins as proof of their maturity.

Detroit didn’t give the Jayhawks much trouble in the second round.

But they needed a late turnover and an Elijah Johnson layup to escape Purdue in the third, after the Boilermakers held a 10-point advantage early in the second half.

They beat North Carolina State in the Sweet 16 by 3 -- again with Johnson's help in the final seconds. And even though North Carolina played without Kendall Marshall, Kansas led the Tar Heels by one with just fewer than 4 minutes to go in that Elite Eight matchup.

The Jayhawks’ comeback effort against Ohio State Saturday in the Final Four captured the squad’s entire postseason experience. Just when it seemed safe to assume the Jayhawks were on their way back to Lawrence, Kan., they finished strong and their opponents unraveled.

The Buckeyes led most of the game until a late run put the Jayhawks ahead in the final seconds. Even with the win nearly locked up, however, they still managed to create more suspense.

Taylor robbed William Buford on the in-bounds with 6 seconds left.

And then, he threw the ball away with 3.6 seconds to play.

“I don’t think I’m past the point of worrying. They tell me quite often, ‘Coach, next play. … We’re all right,’” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “But these guys do give coaches confidence because they have done it repeatedly. It seems like when it kind of looks like it’s not going our way the most is when, they kind of rise to the challenge and play their best.”

Dramatic victories have become the norm for the Jayhawks.

The Wildcats, however, didn’t play their first thriller until Louisville launched a second-half comeback that put them on the ropes in the final minutes of their Final Four win against their archrivals.

Kentucky is the only team that’s defeated the Jayhawks by double digits this season (75-65 Nov. 15 at Madison Square Garden in New York City).

But the Jayhawks said they’re a different team compared to the one that lost to Wildcats in their second game of the year.

They pointed to their climactic victories as a crucial factor in their growth.

“I know it’s crazy how we keep coming back, but all that matters at the end of the day is that we got the win. People feel like we got lucky to get here, but we still had to play those games and make those comebacks,” said junior forward Thomas Robinson. “We had to get those stops and that’s not luck, that’s us playing. I don’t like how it’s happened, but it’s happening here, so I really don’t care how we got here.”

Some squads fall apart under those conditions. But the Jayhawks tend to become more cohesive against strenuous circumstances.

It happened when they faced Purdue, North Carolina State and North Carolina in the NCAA tournament.

Players didn’t say that they anticipated a similar back-and-forth flow against the talented Wildcats. But if that’s the kind of game that unfolds, they believe they’ll benefit.

“If it comes down to a grind-out game, we’ve been in those situations before. Hopefully, it does,” said Travis Releford. “It would probably play in favor for us because, like I said, we’ve been in those situations before and we know how to handle it. So if it comes down to it, I think we’ll be prepared for it.”

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