Part of Jeff Borzello's epic National Championship Game Preview
How They Got Here: Memphis
Memphis, despite having just one loss all season, did not get the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and was placed in the second-most difficult region. The Tigers opened the Tournament with a blowout win over Texas-Arlington in a game that was never close. Against Mississippi State in the second round, victory was not assured until Jamont Gordon’s three-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the rim. Missed free-throws late in the game nearly cost the Tigers. The Sweet Sixteen match-up against Michigan State was not nearly as competitive. The Tigers jumped out to an early lead and took a 30-point margin into halftime. In the Elite Eight, the Tigers had to face Texas in Houston, which immediately put them at a disadvantage. But Derrick Rose outplayed D.J. Augustin at the point, and Memphis advanced in convincing fashion. The Final Four came next, as did UCLA. Many expected the Bruins’ outstanding defensive duo of Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook to slow down Memphis’ perimeter game, but Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts combined for 53 points as the Tigers jumped out to an early lead which they extended in the second half. Memphis’ overall athleticism and size advantage at various positions across the court was really the key to the game for the Tigers. Furthermore, their ability to get fast-break opportunities and not allow the Bruins to set their defense was a major factor, as was UCLA’s inability to get star big man Kevin Love the ball enough. Memphis is the first team to win 38 games – they want one more, though.
How They Got Here: Kansas
Kansas had not been the most dominant one seed for much of the NCAA Tournament, but it won three of its first four games by double-digits and demonstrated why it deserved a top-seed. The Jayhawks opened the Tournament with an easy win over the champions from the Big Sky, Portland State. Against UNLV in the second round, it was a relatively close game for most of the contest, but Kansas pulled away down the stretch for a 19-point victory. The Sweet Sixteen brought a No. 12 seed in Villanova. This time, Kansas jumped out to an early lead in the first half and never looked back en route to a 15-point win. The Elite Eight brought Cinderella team Davidson, and the Wildcats nearly knocked off Kansas. A back-and-forth game was not decided until Jason Richards’ last-second three was off the mark. KU won by two, which advanced it to the Final Four for the first time in the Bill Self era. The Jayhawks’ struggles to beat Davidson put many people on the North Carolina bandwagon heading into the two teams’ Final Four battle – a contest that had storylines abound in the days leading up to the game. However, Kansas was a completely different team than anyone had seen all season, as it jumped out to a 28-point lead in the first-half before North Carolina slowly began chipping back. The Tar Heels eventually cut the lead to four, but they seemingly ran out of energy and couldn’t get over the hump. Kansas then went on a run of its own to put the game out of reach. The Jayhawks have one more hurdle to leap.
The Complete Championship Game Preview includes our prediction, player analysis, and more