March Madness is coming to a close tonight and tomorrow night (4/2-4/3) with the Men’s and Women’s NCAA basketball championship games (respectively) set to take place. The upsets, the upheld reputations, the drama, the dunks, the lady dunks, the tears, and the triumphs have all led to this (also, the month of March has literally ended).
Number 1 seed Kentucky will face number 2 seed Kansas in New Orleans this evening (tip off around 9:30 PM ET). Kentucky and Kansas met once (much) earlier this season; the Wildcats were victorious (75-65). The Jayhawks are again certain underdogs but overcame adversity throughout much of the tournament (most recently working out of a 13-point deficit in their Final Four match-up Saturday against Ohio State) to reach tonight’s final. Both programs have winning histories, but these 2012 teams are made up very differently. Where Kentucky’s roster is thick with freshmen and sophomores, several of whom won’t return to college ball next season (like freshman Anthony Davis, the AP’s college basketball player of the year), Kansas brings more juniors and seniors to the court (specifically junior Thomas Robinson, the only unanimous AP All-American this season). Kentucky will seek its eighth national title tonight (the last coming in 1998), while Kansas will seek its fourth (the most recent title earned in 2008). Speaking of 2008 – Kansas, coached then and now by Bill Self, defeated Memphis in the Championship that year (in OT), a Memphis team then coached by John Calipari. Calipari became head coach of Kentucky in 2009, meaning this is a rematch of sorts for the two head coaches.
Prediction: Though Kansas has shown much heart, the sheer amount of talent (and depth of talent) on the Kentucky squad might be too much to overcome. Kentucky wins.
On Tuesday night (at 8:30 PM ET in Denver), the women’s championship game will also be a rematch of sorts. Number 1 seed Notre Dame gets another crack at fellow number 1 seed (and favored) Baylor, who felled them in a preseason match-up (94-81). A lot of season has unfolded since then. Baylor rolled undefeated and now looks to seal off a record 40-0 season – a 40th win that would bring a championship title to Baylor (the second in program history). Notre Dame, with only three losses this season, looks to claim a title that proved elusive in 2011 (the Irish fell to Texas A&M 76-70 in last year’s championship game). Just as in the men’s final match-up, these women’s teams bring two very different squads to the court. Brittney Griner, the 6’8 Lady Bears center, has been the talk of the tournament, a woman dunking and blocking at will. The Fighting Irish, on the other hand, play without a center (starting four guards and one forward), but they have one of the best backcourts in the country.
Prediction: Though Baylor has dominated its opponents all season, Stanford was able to defend the Lady Bears well in the Final Four game – they just couldn’t score to back it up. If Notre Dame puts up points as well as they did against Connecticut, they have a strong chance of upset victory. Notre Dame wins.