No Underdog In Kentucky-Kansas NCAA Final

Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz talks to NPR's Mike Pesca about tomorrow's night championship game of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The No. 1 seeded Kentucky Wildcats face No. 2 seeded Kansas Jayhawks in New Orleans. Kentucky and Kansas both have storied programs and are the two winningest programs in college basketball history.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

The teams with the most all-time wins in college basketball have both landed in the men's NCAA championship game. The Kansas Jayhawks will face the Kentucky Wildcats tomorrow night in New Orleans. NPR's Mike Pesca will be there and watching along with millions of us from home.

Mike, if you've been watching the tournament up until this point, the first question that springs to mind is can anybody stop the Wildcats? That would be my question.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Intellectually, I know that it is possible to beat the Wildcats. Two teams did it this year. And when you compare the all-time great teams, there have been other teams that have comparatively been as dominant as the Wildcats, like the Phi Slama Jama Houston team with Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing's Georgetown team. And I mention those teams because both of them lost.

So that's the intellectual case against it. But when you watch Kentucky and when you watch them on the fast break and when you know they're amazing on offense and actually better at defense than on offense, it does seem nigh impossible.

RAZ: So with all that in mind, you know, the difficulty in stopping this team, are the Jayhawks the team to do it?

PESCA: Well, what they have going for them is they have an excellent mental mindset. You know, I was talking - I mean me and 40 other members of the media were talking to Tyshawn Taylor last night - he's the point guard on Kansas - and he said of all the Jayhawks teams he's been on, this is far from the most talented, probably third most talented, but they didn't have the burden of talent, you know?

And they were supposed to be a team that was middle of the pack in their own conference, and they've exceeded that. So their mindset is great. And the other thing is when they get behind, they seem to always get behind. He says it's kind of weird, but it focuses them. So I don't think that they're going to lose the game before it starts.

I do think, however, that when you stack up their talent - Taylor is a very good player and Thomas Robinson, their power forward, he's a very, very good player. He was a first-team All-American. But Kentucky has the player of the year, and they have a bunch of guys who are going to be in the NBA. And so I really think, talent for talent, Kentucky has a big, big edge.

RAZ: It's thought that the five starters and the sixth man from Kentucky will go into the first round of the NBA draft, must be a vindication for John Calipari, the coach. His one-and-done experiment has been controversial, one year in and then one year to the NBA, but he's finally made it to the finals.

PESCA: Right. And to be clear, he has sophomores on the team. Darius Miller is a senior. It's not that everyone he gets is one-and-done. You know, it's been controversial, I think - well, people who are college basketball fans does upset what we know of college basketball and watching guys play at least to their junior year - maybe 10, 20 years ago, that was the case - but I think a big reason it's controversial is because fans of other teams all wanted those players too.

And there isn't one really good super program that hasn't had a one-and-done player, or many - Syracuse with Carmelo Anthony. And we just saw a bunch of one-and-done guys go from North Carolina. It's the state of college basketball. Calipari epitomizes the state of college basketball, but he also dominates it. And that's going to cause quite a bit of jealousy.

RAZ: A sea of blue in New Orleans, Mike?

PESCA: Yeah. And as a matter of fact, we're guaranteed to have the ninth NCAA champion in a row that has blue as one of its - not its primary color in its uniform.

RAZ: That's NPR's Mike Pesca covering the NCAA championship game for us in New Orleans. Mike, thanks.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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