How Kentucky wins and covers: They show up. OK, that’s a little short.
The vast majority of handicappers will be on Louisville at +8.5 and some I know gave it out to their clients earlier at +9. What John Calipari has no doubt spent the vast majority of his time working on is the Louisville defense, be it man or zone. The Cardinals love on-ball pressure and have become unafraid to really challenge shooters and ball-handlers because of Gorgui Dieng in the paint. An excellent way to defeat this pressure is create overload mismatches. Pass or dribble the ball to set up 3 on 2 or 2 on 1 situation’s and make a concerted effort to make Dieng commit and have a weak-side offensive player charging the basket for a pass. The Wildcats have plenty of finishers. Kentucky cannot settle for three-pointers and is better suited to work the ball earlier in the shot clock and run at every opportunity.
Defensively, make Louisville beat you 5 on 5. Peyton Siva is a great penetrator, but only an average finisher, thus you have to play the Cards wisely. With Anthony Davis in the lane, there is no need for ‘Cats defenders to leave Chris or Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric and let them get comfortable in shot attempts.
How Louisville wins (?) and covers: The Cardinals have a much better chance of covering than winning the game outright. Louisville really prefers to quicken the pace and force defensive miscues for transition baskets. Louisville needs to be judicious in this approach, because trying to run with Kentucky is like asking for a near death experience. Knowing how smart Pitino is, expect not only a 2-3 zone, but a little triangle and two or a box and one if Kentucky has a hot shooter early. This is all designed to create doubt and hesitation in the Wildcats offense.
Siva will need a superior performance and the ‘Ville’s shooters will have to be consistently good, not just in spurts, because whatever kind of run Louisville can put together, Calipari’s crew can trump it. I would be amazed if the Cardinals won, but not surprised to see them cover.
3DW Line – Kentucky by 8
How Kansas wins and covers: Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the country. How you defeat the Buckeyes D is with a of series screens that set up quick cuts or dribble handoffs. Aaron Craft will do his best to avoid as many of these as possible, thus you have to work towards having Jared Sullinger or DeShaun Thomas helping out on multiple screens and either challenging them to the rim or finding weak-side cutters like Jeff Withey or Travis Relford. Thomas Robinson cannot get in foul trouble and must have 20 or more points and 10 or more rebounds. This needs to add up to a difference of +5 (points) and +3 (boards) respectively over Sullinger.
Kansas can make life miserable for the Buckeyes brutish big man, guarding him with Robinson and having the 7’0 Withey providing the double team. This would force Sullinger to give the ball up only to what he has in front of him instead of looking opposite for an open shooter. Overall, the Jayhawks should have slight edge at the guard spots and need to maximize its potential.
How Ohio State wins and covers: When watching Kansas in this tournament, you get no sense of this being a team of destiny. They gutted out a victory over Purdue, survived themselves against N.C. State and finally put away a North Carolina club without its top playmaker.
Aaron Craft has to get inside Tyshawn Taylor’s head and jersey. Craft is a relentless defender and Taylor is not a picture of confidence with 13 turnovers and 0-17 shooting from the beyond the arc in this tournament. In the earlier matchup, Taylor has six turnovers, mostly against Craft and that was at home.
Ohio State would not be in New Orleans without the superior contributions of Thomas. He’s a tough matchup for Kansas because of his size and if he can start fast, so might the Buckeyes. It’s time for William Buford to have a standout game, as the senior is 8 for 33 shooting in his last three contests. This is Buford’s last chance; it’s time to be heard from.
3DW Line – Ohio State by 2.5