1. Play two halves of basketball
This hasn't been KU's style throughout the NCAA Tournament. For whatever reason, the Jayhawks have played poorly both offensively and defensively in the first half of 4 of their 5 games. Fortunately, KU has responded in the second half of every game (with a slight blip against NC State as the lone exception). KU opponents have shot 49.1% in the first half. In the second half, it plummets to 24.2%. That is astounding. The credit must go to Bill Self, who in my books is the best coach in the country right now (and I'm not talking just College Basketball, I mean in any sport).
Here's the problem - This won't fly against Kentucky. They're too good. Do I think they're unbeatable like most people around the country probably do? Not at all. However, they will be a notch or two better than any team KU has faced all season long (because they're a notch or two better than every other team in the country). But this is basketball. And this is one game. This upset wouldn't ever register on the same Richter Scale as Villanova over Georgetown in 1985. But for that to happen, KU cannot get behind by double digits. Not this game. KU must come out with the same intensity they showed in the second half against Ohio State. You will be able to tell by loose balls. KU got every single loose ball in the second half (Releford was personally responsible for 90% of them) against the Buckeyes, and almost none in the first half.
2. Tyshawn Taylor hit a 3-pointer
I can't believe how much has gone wrong for KU in this NCAA Tournament, only for them to be playing in the final game tonight. They've come out ice cold in every game (but one), Teahan can't hit a shot, Robinson has repeatedly missed bunnies, Kevin Young just trying to get a shot off, and Tyshawn Taylor shooting 0-20 from 3-point range.
Now I wouldn't say Taylor has played poorly in the Tournament. In fact, outside of his poor shooting from downtown, he has played well. He is shooting 24-43 inside the 3-point arc. More importantly than that, he hasn't lost his confidence at all (in fact, I'm not sure anything could ever happen in Tyshawn's life that would cause him to lose ALL that confidence). Can you imagine how the kid will play if he sees a 3-pointer go down? Surely, he is due right? KU doesn't win if Tyshawn doesn't end his streak tonight.
3. Keep the game close
Now this sounds a tad obvious, but hear me out. A close game is an ENORMOUS advantage for Kansas. The Jayhawks have played in as many close games this NCAA Tournament as Kentucky has all season long. KU is more equipped to handle the pressure of a late close game than Kentucky.
Ah yes, the pressure. It is ALL on Kentucky. John Calipari has yet to win a National Championship. Calipari's best shot was thwarted by Bill Self. It was Calipari's team that missed those free throws (if this same situation arises tonight, and it's not on their mind, I'll assume they're on the same wavelength of a Buddhist monk). Kentucky is supposed to win. Kentucky's season would be a disappointment with a loss. Both teams' players are aware of these facts. Close game with 5 minutes left? I'm taking the Jayhawks.
4. Jeff Withey must remain in 12-armed flying Orangutan mode
Without question, Jeff Withey was the star of Saturday night's victory over thee Ohio State. He completely manhandled Jared Sullinger ("Withey mad" = best sign of KU's season), who couldn't decide whether to take his beatdown like a man, or whine to the refs like a bitch. But it wasn't just his straight up defense on Sullinger, it was his overall protection of the rim, no matter what direction it was coming from.
Now, Anthony Davis is a good 3-4 inches taller than Sully. I believe he'll be able to get his shot off over Withey, which should be the matchup most of the game. This means Withey will have to make his impact in help defense. He must eliminate any and all dribble penetration to the basket (exactly what he did to Aaron Craft on Saturday night). Defense is this team's biggest strength. Withey is this team's best defender. WE MUST PROTECT THIS RIM!
5. Thomas Robinson must decidedly outplay Anthony Davis
You could see the moment when T-Robb decided to take over on Saturday night. I don't remember what caused it, but you could see the rage taking over the man. He got pissed off. You WOULD like him when he's angry. Robinson definitely lets the little things get to him. You grab his arm, shoot him a look, or talk about the Morris's mama and it's game on. However, unlike a majority of athletes, Robinson plays his best when he's enraged. You can see the focus. He gets hungry to dominate. It eliminates his biggest weakness (laziness). Suddenly he is everywhere, doing everything. If we see 40 minutes of this tonight, KU will win easily. The problem with that logic is that I don't think it's humanly possible to do so outside of illegal substance abuse. Anybody know a guy?
Davis is incredibly under-utilized on Kentucky's offensive end. Throughout the year, I've seen Davis score on putbacks, alley-oops, and occasionally an outside jump shot or two. And then on Saturday night, I witnessed actual post moves in his game for the first time (to be fair, I haven't watched much CBB outside of KU this year). He scored on a jump hook. He hit 7 of his 8 shots (here's a weird stat: Nobody on Kentucky took more than 9 shots in their victory over Louisville). The kid is extremely unselfish. Almost to the point where I think it might hurt Kentucky. One thing that gives me confidence going into tonight's game is that I know Robinson will be ready and able to take over the game if necessary. I cannot say the same about Davis.
Now I'm gonna finish this article like Elijah Johnson at the rim (E.T. Every Time)...
Two teams. Ten starters. Nineteen eyebrows. One Championship. (via @the_natedogg on Twitter)