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Why Kansas will win

Jayhawks' offense is dazzling, but D is even better

Posted: Monday April 7, 2008 11:51AM; Updated: Monday April 7, 2008 1:55PM
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Kansas' lock-down defense held high-scoring North Carolina to 66 points Saturday.
Kansas' lock-down defense held high-scoring North Carolina to 66 points Saturday.
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Read Luke Winn's Five Reasons Memphis Will Win here.

SAN ANTONIO -- Memphis is 38-1. Kansas is 36-3.

Memphis is fresh off steamrolling both a No. 1 (UCLA) and No. 2 (Texas) seed. Kansas just got done throttling the No. 1 team in the country (North Carolina).

Memphis recently raced to a ludicrous 50-20 halftime lead against Michigan State. Kansas led the Tar Heels 40-12 at one point on Saturday night.

Suffice it to say, the following is not meant as any sort of indictment against the Tigers. Clearly, they're really, really good.

But so, too, is Kansas. Here are five reasons why the Jayhawks will cut down the nets on Monday night:

1. Did you see that North Carolina game?

If there's been a more impressive performance in college basketball this season, I haven't seen it. The Tar Heels were 36-2. They were second in the country in scoring. They boasted the national player of the year, Tyler Hansbrough. And for the first 15 minutes Saturday night (and again at the end), Kansas treated them like a high school jayvee team.

It's not like Kansas hadn't proven its worthiness before, what with those 36 wins, that Big 12 championship victory over Texas, that 30-point win over Oklahoma on Jan. 14, that 109-51 beatdown of Texas Tech on March 3, that 72-55 win at Texas A&M just a few days later. The UNC game, however, served as the Jayhawks' ultimate "wow" moment, coming as it did after a tighter-than-expected Elite Eight win over Davidson and largely unceremonious rout of Sweet 16 pretender Villanova.

"A lot of pressure was off us after the Davidson game," said Kansas guard Russell Robinson. "We like to get out and run, and we were able to do that [against North Carolina]. That's why I'm more confident than ever going into this game."

2. Defense wins championships.

Rarely will you find a team so tough and so sound defensively at every spot on the floor. Entering the Final Four, the Jayhawks ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense (61.2 points per game), third in field-goal defense (37.9), sixth in rebound margin (+7.7), 12th in blocked shots (5.9 per game; they had nine against North Carolina) and 22nd in steals (8.8).

If there's any set of guards in the country you'd want defending Memphis stars Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, it's unquestionably Kansas' Robinson, Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins -- the same group that forced previously torrid Davidson star Stephen Curry into an 8-of-25 shooting night.

"Russell is a fabulous on-the-ball defender. He plays to the scouting report, and he's tough," said Kansas coach Bill Self. "Mario has the best hands of anybody I've ever coached and has as good of anticipation off the ball of anybody I've ever been around."

Expect the long-armed Rush to man-up the bigger Douglas-Roberts on the perimeter, with the others right there to help, and for Chalmers, Robinson and Collins to take turns on Rose. "We've played against big guards before," said Robinson. "Toughness makes up for a lot of the size factor."

3. Balance is back.

As you may recall, the past two years, Florida rolled to consecutive national titles on the strength of a lineup where all five guys could score. During the Gators' repeat season a year ago, Taurean Green, Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Lee Humphrey all averaged between 10.3 and 13.3 points, with a different guy stepping up seemingly every night.

These Jayhawks follow an eerily similar formula. While Rush is considered their "go-to guy" (he scored 25 against the Tar Heels), he, Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson and Collins average between 9.2 and 13.4 points, with the first four all in double figures.

"The common thread is balance -- unselfishness," said Self. "When people tried to compare our team to Florida's team [last year], I said, that's not fair to Florida, because that team won big and we haven't done it yet. Now that we're at the point where we've done it, I do think that there are some serious similarities."

4. They're absurdly deep.

When freshman reserve center and ninth-leading scorer Cole Aldrich came in and started grabbing boards and blocking shots against UNC, you started to wonder who else Self might be hiding a few seats down from him. Some walk-on with a 40-inch vertical leap? A manager who can hit from 25 feet?

Even without Rodrick Stewart, the backup guard who broke his kneecap in practice last Friday, the Jayhawks boast four virtually interchangeable guards and four adept big men. Another role player, Jeremy Case, has gotten minutes in all five tourney games. Kansas' depth will be particularly beneficial Monday night with an anticipated, frenetic pace that could leave both teams huffing and puffing.

5. It's their time.

Self has been telling his players those very words since the start of practice last October, and with good reason. In an age of one-and-dones and constant roster turnover, Kansas is the rare team that has kept together the same nucleus -- Rush, Robinson, Chalmers and Sasha Kaun -- for three seasons, adding Collins and Arthur last season and gradually building itself into a championship-caliber team.

There was no once-in-a-generation freshman like Rose who arrived on the scene last fall, no instant-impact transfers, no mass exodus of NBA defectors. The team that will take the floor Monday night against Memphis consists almost entirely of the same group that fell to UCLA in last year's Elite Eight, came back and made itself that much better.

"Not very often do you combine talent, experience, depth and toughness [like this team's]," Self said Sunday. "Teams like this don't happen every year. And I've known that since the first day of practice."

The pick: Kansas 78, Memphis 74.