Face Off : 3/27


Rock Chalk Jayhawk all the way to the title, baby.That’s right. There’s no way Kansas isn’t claiming the 2002 NCAA Championship.

Kansas has shown all season long that they are the team to beat. Other than a brief stumble against Ball State in Maui, the Jayhawks have proved to be a superior team. And even there it took an amazing layup in the final seconds by the Cardinals to squeak out a victory against the mighty Jayhawks. Since then, KU has rolled through its opposition, including being the only conference champion to go undefeated in league play. Other than their defeat in Hawaii, Kansas has lost just two games – to Sweet Sixteen participant UCLA and to fellow Final Four and Big 12 conference foe Oklahoma. The loss to the Sooners in the Big 12 Tournament final has some convinced that OU has what it takes to knock off the Jayhawks, provided both teams can win one more game to advance to the title matchup.

Trust me. KU is prepared to do more than that. This team is on a roll. Ever since Holy Cross put the fear of God in the Jayhawks by nearly becoming the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed, KU has been playing some fantastic basketball.

Pac-10 opponent Stanford was hardly even there as KU plastered the Cardinal in the second round, winning by 23. Following that Kansas met Illinois in the Sweet Sixteen and dispatched the Illini by four. Then came Sunday, showdown with Oregon in the Elite Eight. It pitted the top seed KU against the second-seeded Ducks. Kansas dominated the contest, blowing out Oregon by 18 points. Drew Gooden and Nick Collison continued to be double-double machines as Gooden, a first team All-American, tallied 18 points and 20 rebounds, while Collison topped him by putting up 25 points and 15 rebounds.

This team is firing on all cylinders at just the right time. Combining the imposing frontcourt duo of Gooden and Collison with the dynamic trio of Aaron Miles, Jeff Boschee and Kirk Hinrich has proven a recipe that’s tough to beat.

Plus, this team has all the motivation in the world. Coach Roy Williams continues to be dogged by the fact that Kansas hasn’t won a national title since 1988 – the year before Williams arrived. All he’s done is guide the team to the NCAA Tournament every year but his first season as Jayhawks’ coach. KU is also in its third Final Four with Williams at the helm, but the questions persist. Why hasn’t KU won another title since Williams became head coach?

This team wants to squash all that talk and pass the mantle of “Best Coach to Never Win a National Championship” on to someone else. That someone probably being Sunday’s opponent, Maryland’s Gary Williams. Add in the incentive of a possible rematch with Oklahoma for the title, and this team is salivating at the chances to bring home a national championship banner to hang alongside those put there by Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning.

Desire and talent? This team has what it takes to bring home the prize, and that is exactly what the Jayhawks plan to do in Atlanta this weekend.

– Anthony Gagliano


Sorry, Roy, it’s Gary’s turn.

In a matchup of Williams’ at head coach, Maryland takes on Kansas this Saturday in the Final Four.

And this year, it is Gary Williams’ turn to cut down the nets when all is said and done after the National Championship game on Monday night.

My apologies to all you Sooner fans hoping for a rematch (and revenge) of the 1988 Final, when six-seeded Danny Manning and Kansas dropped your heavily favored Sooners.

As long as you can outlast the Cinderella Hoosiers on Saturday, it will be the Terps and not Rock Chalk Jayhawk you will be taking on for the championship.

In what will go down as one of the best matchups in Final Four history, it will be the Terps’ savvy and big-game experience that will outlast the Jayhawks.

Both teams go seven deep, so depth is not an advantage for either team.

However, there are other subtle advantages for each team.Give Maryland the edge in the backcourt. Guards Juan Dixon and Steve Blake have played so long together, you’d think they’d met in a middle school gym, wound up on the same team and refused to play alongside anyone else since then.

With their cohesiveness, it will be tough for Kansas to force the turnovers needed for them to turn this matchup into the run-and-gun shootout they enjoyed against Oregon in the Midwest Regional Final.

Even if the game gets fast-paced, Gary Williams’ greatest strength is his ability to adjust, as evidenced by his decision midway through the first half of Maryland’s East Regional Final against Connecticut to switch from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone. This decision helped forward Chris Wilcox stay out of foul trouble and attack the boards on both ends of the floor, and limited the Huskies’ offensive rebounding.

Wilcox will most likely draw the biggest defensive assignment, All-American Drew Gooden, if the Terps decide to start out in man. His ability to keep Gooden off the offensive glass and allow fellow frontcourt players Lonny Baxter and Byron Mouton to scoop up the boards will be key to the Terps’ success in trying to limit Kansas’ rebounding advantage.

Free-throw shooting, a factor all too often overlooked (just ask Duke’s Jason Williams), also weighs in the favor of the Terps. Maryland is shooting 86 percent in tournament action, while Kansas is at 74 percent.

But the biggest factor in favor of the Terps is the go-to guy.No offense to Drew Gooden, but when it comes down to the wire, you are always in a better position having a guard as your go-to guy, and Juan Dixon has been nothing but money for the Terps in the big games this year.

Maryland 78, Kansas 75.

As for Monday night, sorry, Sooner Nation, but the Terps have too tough of an inside-out game for you to shut them down like you did to Kansas in the Big 12 Championship.

Maryland 73, Oklahoma 68.

Gary Williams, don’t forget to bring your scissors.

-Chris Lemke