March Madness Ends With Kentucky Playing Kansas

Correction April 2, 2012

An earlier audio version of this story misidentified Kansas' starting point guard as Tyshawn Thomas. His name is Tyshawn Taylor.

It's championship time in Division 1 college basketball. Monday night in New Orleans, Kansas and Kentucky play for the men's title. They'll play in the Superdome, a venue that many college players find challenging.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, so it'll be Baylor and Notre Dame in the women's championship. On the men's side, tonight's title game pits powerhouse against powerhouse. Kansas against Kentucky at the New Orleans Superdome. The Superdome, of course, usually hosts football and it is home to NFL's New Orleans Saints. It is a big venue, many times bigger than even the largest college basketball arenas.

And as NPR's Mike Pesca reports, the surroundings have hurt both teams - particularly their jump shooters.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: In the sport of baseball, both Bob Ferguson and Jack Chapman, two 19th century players had the same nickname. Death to Flying Things. In the sport of basketball, the nickname Death to Flying Things is not appropriate to a player, but to an arena. Actually, not an arena, a dome. Specifically, courts situated roughly where the 50-yard line of a football field would be.

A few years ago, shooters used to downplay the dome effect, but now few do. I mean how can you, if like Tyshawn Taylor of Kansas, a decent shooter, who's never made a three-pointer in a dome in your entire career?

TYSHAWN TAYLOR: If feels good. When I'm shooting in warm up, it feels good. I shoot in the game, it feels good. It just doesn't go in, so I don't know. And I've heard that I'm not only one shooting bad in domes. I've heard it's been with a couple other guys. But I've been answering a lot of questions about it. But I'm not worried about it.

PESCA: No, Taylors not the only one. He and his Jayhawks teammates were three-for-11 in three-pointers. In their semifinal, Kentucky was two-for-seven.

And it's not just the threes, its all long range jumpers. In both semifinals, teams were misfiring at a Masonic(ph) pace. Ask the games' best coaches, who were assembled in the front row of the Superdome, and you get agreement.

Former Maryland coach Gary Williams

GARY WILLIAMS: Well, I - I don't think teams in general shoot as well in domes. It would be nice if you could play in a 12,000-seat gym - its never going to happen again

PESCA: Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin suggests the problem isn't a dome. The problem is that it's any environment so different from what shooters train on.

MICK CRONIN: The kids, they're not used to playing in front of 70,000 people. They're definitely not used to playing in a dome. Here in New Orleans, you got an elevated court; everything is different than what the kids are used to. I can't imagine it not being a factor.

PESCA: The phenomenon of the raised floor has been raised by a few experts. Courts on a platform, for better spectator visibility, just makes things different says Kentucky coach john Calipari.

JOHN CALIPARI: When they raise that floor, that makes it harder. So a team that doesn't shoot a whole lot of threes has an advantage.

PESCA: With that, Calipari paused and knowingly smiled. His Wildcats ranked 254th out of 345 schools in three-pointers attempted. But the Wildcats also have shoot takers, but not necessarily shot makers, who struggle with the environment.

Doron Lamb says.

DORON LAMB: We got another game to work on that and get better. So I know we're not going to let that affect us or be the reason we lose.

PESCA: How do you get better at that? I mean there's not so much time to practice on this kind of court, right?

LAMB: Right, but we'll just be in here and shooting as much as time as we can.

PESCA: But practice time is tight and teams can't possibly simulate game situations. In no other sport is the final played in a setting fundamentally unlike one where games have taken place in all year. They do call the tournament March Madness. For shooters, and fans of silky smooth jumpers, the finals have a touch of April angst.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New Orleans.

GREENE: Well, whether the shots go in or not, enjoy all the basketball.

For now, this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

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