2008 NCAA Championship Game Preview and Pick – Kansas Jayhawks vs. Memphis Tigers

Memphis Tigers (38-1), -1, o/u 146 vs. Kansas Jayhawks (36-3), +1, o/u 146, Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas, 9:15 p.m. Eastern, Monday
By Oracle of Predictem.com

Yes, the road ends Monday.

Out of 65 teams that were chosen for the NCAA Tournament just over three weeks back, just two are left the Memphis Tigers and Kansas Jayhawks.

The tournament had a similar vibe to it as in recent years, with Cinderella stories (see Western Kentucky and Davidson), game-winning buzzer beaters, 12-seeds getting the better of the 5-seeds, players coming out of the shadows (see Stephan Curry), and, of course, most of the experts getting their picks wrong.

There were a few firsts, though, in this the 30th year of the NCAA Tournament, including all of the No. 1 seeds making the Final Four. Several times three out of the four teams made it the distance, but never all of them.

Maybe the best story that has come about in the tournament happened Saturday night after Memphis beat UCLA and Kansas beat North Carolina.

Two coaches who have inexplicably been maligned for much of their careers made their critics eat more crow than Kobyashi could eat hot dogs in an eating contest.

Bill Self and John Calipari, whose Memphis squad beat a UCLA team making its third straight trip to the Final Four, are currently in a position they arent familiar with, that is, coaching in an NCAA Championship game.

When it comes to the downfalls of their teams, both of these coaches have heard it all.

Memphis cant shoot free throws. Memphisstyle of play will be handled by better teams. Memphis had a weak conference schedule. Memphis doesnt know how to win big games. Memphis has an overrated coach.

Maybe not as much scornfulness has been applied to this Kansas team, but theyve heard rumblings, too.

Kansas doesnt have a go-to guy. Kansas cant keep up offensively with teams like North Carolina (cough, cough). Kansas can be inconsistent. Kansas also has an overrated coach with a history of underachieving teams.

The good news for Calipari and Self, who are probably best known for being the top two coaches in the land never to win a national title, is simple. One of them has to win.

Oddsmakers opened by giving Memphis the slight edge over Kansas -1. Public betting has made that line slowly creep up a full point to Memphis -2. The over/under is at a delicate 146 point total.

Memphis and Kansas are two teams that are very similar in the end.

Both squads have superior athletes who have potential NBA stardom. Both teams also like to run up and down the court, and have some of the best guard defense in the nation.

Many thought the Memphis backcourt of Derrick Rose, Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts would be eaten alive by the dominant UCLA backcourt defense.

That simply didnt happen. The trio combined to score 65 of the teams 78 points (83.3% of the total), as they drove through the lane at will. CDR scored 28 points alone, while Rose scored 25 points and pulled down nine boards.

The domination over UCLA came as a surprise to many, especially because it was clear Memphis didnt play their best game of the year. The Tigers shot just 42% from the field and made just four three-pointers, while forcing a scanty 12 turnovers. In addition, one of their best players, Joey Dorsey, was held scoreless in 27 minutes of action. Yet they still won by 15 points over the Bruins (78-63) on Saturday night.

If people werent believers in Memphis, they are now.

Kansas also shocked many with their play against North Carolina. The Jayhawks used a 18-0 run in the first half and at one point led by 28 points at 40-12 against the potent UNC attack.

The Tar Heels showed why they were the No. 1 overall seed, though, when they made a furious comeback in the second half, getting to within five points at the 9-minute mark. Kansas used its heady play and veteran leadership to stave off the comeback.

Brandon Rush played a huge role in the win, scoring 25 points and grabbing seven rebounds.

Unlike Memphis, Kansas played one of their best games of the year at the perfect time. They shot 53% from the floor against UNC, grabbed nine more rebounds, dished out 10 more assists and blocked six more shots than their opponent.

The area that the Jayhawks may have the advantage over Memphis is in the paint. The Jayhawks religiously rotate three post players in Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun, and have recently gotten solid contributions from 6-foot 11-inch center Cole Aldrich (8 points against UNC). With both Aldrich and Kaun at 6-11, and Arthur and Jackson being 6-9, itll be tough for players like Dorsey and Robert Dozier to get into any offensive rhythm down low. It will also be a big factor for these two to stay out of foul trouble.

Dorsey and Dozier did a solid job defensively on UCLAs Kevin Love, but they combined for just six points.

Speaking of foul trouble, the way the referees call this game should have a big impact in the outcome. If Kansas isnt allowed to pressure and hassle the Memphis guards without being called for cheap fouls, itll be a long night for the Jayhawks. Rose exposed the UCLA backcourt on Saturday, as Darren Collison was in foul trouble most of the night, eventually being disqualified with 3 minutes left in the game after scoring just two points.

With the success of both teams in the tournament has come success for bettors who follow them.

Kansas covered the spread four out of their five games in the tourney, while the Tigers dont mind playing the favorite, going 4-0 ATS when favored by .5 to 6.5 points.

Theyve also found recent success against Big 12 teams, going 4-0 ATS in their last four games.

There arent many negative trends for bettors to contemplate over for either team, except the fact the Memphis is just 1-7 ATS in their last eight Monday games.

The over/under line in this contest is touchy. Yes, both teams can score. Yes, both teams can defend.

Are their offenses more powerful then their defenses though? The under has come in for Kansas in all five of their tournament games this year and seven in a row if bettors include last years tourney.

On the flip side, the over has come in for Memphis in every single tourney game theyve had this year, and their last six tourney games if bettors include last year. Maybe looking a little deeper will help bettors, however. Instead of looking at their tournament marks, they can look at the fact the under has come in for Memphis seven out of their last eight games against the Big 12.

No doubt the public is going to jump all over this contest. Bettors will need to look over all the details in this contest though.

The road will end on Monday with either the Memphis Tigers or the Kansas Jayhawks as the NCAA Tournament Champions along with the label of the nations top-ranked team for 2008.

Get ya popcorn ready.

Oracle’s Pick: Kansas Jayhawks at +2.