Sunday, March 30, 2008

Kansas vs. Davidson Preview

Can the Cinderella run continue for Davidson? Or will Kansas, one of the most complete and talented teams in the country, end the dream season for the Wildcats? The last piece to this year’s Final Four will be determined on Sunday evening when the national power takes on the mid-major upstart.

Kansas has not been the most dominant one seed thus far in the NCAA Tournament, but it has won each game by double-digits and has 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.

Davidson has been the story of the NCAA Tournament so far. The Southern Conference champions received a No. 10 seed on Selection Sunday, but have proved the Committee wrong by winning three straight games after being tied or down at halftime in each of them. In the first-round, the Wildcats overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half to beat Gonzaga by six. Stephen Curry had 30 of his 40 points after halftime. The second-round needed more Curry heroics, this time against Georgetown. He had 25 of his 30 points in the second half, as Davidson erased a 17-point second-half lead by the Hoyas to win. He – and Davidson – was not done yet, as the Wildcats dominated Wisconsin in the second-half to win by 17 after going into halftime tied at 36. Curry had 22 points in the second stanza.

Kansas is certainly one of the most complete and talented teams in the country, with future pros up and down the roster. The Jayhawks have great inside-outside balance and are also one of the best defensive teams in the country. It all starts on the perimeter, where Kansas has one of the deepest guard groups in the nation. Brandon Rush is the team’s best scorer and shooter, but he tends to defer to his teammates too often and needs to become more aggressive offensively. Mario Chalmers is an excellent player at both ends of the floor, while Russell Robinson is a lockdown defender and a leader. Sherron Collins, who comes off the bench, is the most explosive and dynamic of them all. Up front, Darrell Arthur is a future first-round pick who is tough to guard, while Darnell Jackson is a banger down low who can score and rebound. Sasha Kaun does the dirty work off the bench, and Cole Aldrich also sees minutes up front.

Davidson came into the season as a trendy top-25 pick, but those thoughts went by the wayside during a 1-6 non-conference campaign. However, the Wildcats ran through the Southern Conference undefeated and won the tourney. They’re for real. Obviously, it all starts with Stephen Curry. The sophomore guard is one of the best shooters and scorers in the country, and he has the ability to take over a game if he gets hot. His partner in the backcourt is Jason Richards, a good scorer who also led the nation in assists. Max Paulhus Gosselin also starts on the perimeter. Bryant Barr can shoot and William Archambault can do a little of everything off the bench. Up front, Andrew Lovedale has been a factor at both ends of the floor, while Thomas Sander is physical down low. Boris Meno, who started last year, is a solid forward off the bench, and Stephen Rossiter can rebound.

On paper, Kansas obviously has the edge of Davidson, but many of the victims that Davidson has slayed this season could have said the same thing. With Stephen Curry and momentum on your side, anything can happen. If Kansas is going to put an end to the Cinderella run, it will obviously have to stop Curry, or at least slow him down. The Jayhawks have a plethora of outstanding perimeter defenders who will make life difficult for Curry. Furthermore, Kansas needs to control the backboards at both ends. Davidson is a scrappy team who will thrive on second-chance points and multiple opportunities. Offensively, the Jayhawks need to get the ball down low to Arthur and Jackson and take advantage of their edge in the paint. On the other side, Davidson needs to get the ball to Curry in positions where he can score, or at least get open shots. The Wildcats need him to perform at the same level he has during the entire NCAA Tournament. Also, the supporting cast needs to step up. Jason Richards has been solid all year, while Andrew Lovedale has been a factor in the Big Dance. Defensively, Davidson needs to keep an eye on Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush and not allow them to get hot from beyond the arc. The Wildcats also need to contain the bigs of Kansas – if the Jayhawks get their inside-outside balance working, it will be a long day for Davidson.

I think this is where we see the dream season and Cinderella run for Davidson end. Kansas is just too talented, inside and outside, and the Jayhawks have the perimeter defenders to force Curry into a tough night. If Curry goes for 35-40 again and two other players also chip in with double-figures, the Wildcats have a shot. But I don’t see it happening – Kansas moves on.

Prediction: Kansas 74, Davidson 66

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