I think it's safe to say the nation's two best teams have made it to the season's denouement. Kansas and Memphis each throttled their semifinal opponent, setting up not just a clash between the two best teams, but a delightfully intriguing match up, as well.
How Memphis Got Here: The Tigers warmed up by rolling UT-Arlington, survived Mississippi State, then flipped on an extra gear, running Michigan State, Texas, and UCLA out of the gym in turn. They've been at times dazzling on offense, and consistently suffocating on defense, using their length and athleticism to control the perimeter and their size and strength to man up the paint. Most devastating of all, they're converting turnovers and missed shots into transition points with impressive ease as Derrick Rose makes his case to be the top player selected in the NBA Draft.
How Kansas Got Here: The best defense in the tournament, dusting Portland State, UNLV, Villanova, Davidson, and North Carolina. The Jayhawks have simply smothered the opposition, holding all tournament opponents to less than 50% eFG. The offense has been less efficient, but the defense has been so strong that only Davidson was within striking distance with under 5:00 in the game.
The Match Up: This is just a fascinating game to me, for a number of reasons. We've watched Memphis just destroy three very solid teams in a row, in large part because they're a semi-pro team in the open floor; off turnovers and missed shots, they've been unstoppable. And yet on the flipside we've got Kansas, who took the tournament's other great transition team - North Carolina - and completely shut them down on Saturday night, holding the Tar Heels to 0.83 points per possession (season low for UNC).
What gives? If the Jayhawks can manage the Tigers in the open floor, the pressure on Memphis to perform in the half court becomes a factor. Thus far in the tournament, they've looked mighty impressive in that capacity, as well, but it was an issue at times during the season. You have to think Bill Self has seen the last three games and said to himself, "We're making Memphis beat us by the jump shot. Period."
On the flipside, what do we make of Kansas' scoring ability against a Memphis defense that has proved itself a match up nightmare for every opponent its faced this tournament? And should we be concerned about Kansas' somewhat alarming turnover rate, up over 20% in each of the past three games? Will Rush, Chalmers, and Robinson collapse at the feet of Memphis' freaky athletes on defense?
You know you've got a great match up on your hands when both sides present enormous challenges for the opponent. AW has phoned in his pick and is taking the Jayhawks, 84-80. I think he and I wound up about tied in our first weekend picks this year, so we'll make this one for all the marbles. I'm taking Memphis, 74-71.
Enjoy the game.
Update [2008-4-7 23:53:54 by HornsFan]: It's Kansas, with a thrilling come-from-behind 75-68 win in overtime. Congratulations to the Jayhawks on their third national title.