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Breaking down position matchups for Kentucky vs. Kansas

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There’s no denying Kentucky boasts more elite talent than Kansas. But that talent gap might not be as wide as you think.

The Wildcats start three guys who are projected as NBA lottery picks, a first-rounder and two more who are at least second-rounders.  The Jayhawks’ lone lottery pick is forward Thomas Robinson, but they also have two more who’ll be drafted in the first round, and another second-rounder.

Six draft picks vs. four drafts picks? That’s not insurmountable. So how’s it compare position-by-position? Let’s break it down.

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Point guard: Marquis Teague vs. Tyshawn Taylor
Teague’s developed nicely as Kentucky’s freshman point guard, cutting down on his turnovers, boosting his assists and not forcing shots. Taylor, Kansas’ four-year starter, is often criticized for his turnovers, but he commits them at a lower rate than Teague and is a better defensive player. The only thing preventing Kansas with a big edge here? Taylor’s shooting woes in the NCAA tournament.
Edge: Kansas

Shooting guard: Doron Lamb vs. Elijah Johnson
Lamb’s a lights-out shooter who doesn’t commit turnovers and is the perfect weapon to keep defenses from sagging on the Kentucky big men. Johnson’s a streakier scorer, but has been hot lately, averaging more than 15 points in his last seven games. Johnson’s a bit better in the open court, but Lamb’s ball-handling are toughness are underrated.
Edge: Even

Small forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Travis Releford
Kidd-Gilchrist is a lock-down defender, dynamic play-maker in the open court and a solid mid-range shooter. When he’s on, Kentucky’s usually rolling. Releford’s shorter, slower and can struggle to create his own shot. He’s a good player, but MKG is on another level.
Big edge: Kentucky

Power forward: Terrence Jones vs. Thomas Robinson
The most intriguing matchup of the bunch. Jones is a physical player, capable of handling the ball on the break, finishing in transition and knocking down a 3-pointer. Robinson’s slightly bigger, slightly stronger and much more aggressive. He’ll be relentless on both ends. The difference will be which one stays out of foul trouble and if Jones stays focused. Robinson will get his. Jones might not.
Edge: Kansas

Center: Anthony Davis vs. Jeff Withey
Davis is the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft and the national player of the year. He’s been more aggressive on offense during the NCAA tournament and continues to be a difference-maker on defense. But Withey’s hardly a chump. He actually had more blocks than Davis did during the Final Four and boasts more size, something that can bother Davis around the rim.
Edge: Kentucky

Bench
Kentucky’s Darius Miller is a senior, shoots 37 percent from beyond the arc, can play three positions and has been clutch throughout the season. Kyle Wiltjer is slow, but could be Kentucky’s best perimeter shooter. Kansas uses Connor Teahan for spot minutes, but unless he’s hitting 3s, he’s a defensive liability. Kevin Young is there for depth and fouls, not much else.
Big edge: Kentucky

Coaching
Bill Self’s got the better of John Calipari during the 2008 national title game and was just named the Naismith coach of the year. He took a roster that lost four starters and two key players to the Final Four and another Big 12 title. He’s also made crucial halftime adjustments throughout the tournament that have helped Kansas get this far. But don’t write off Calipari. His Wildcats are rolling thanks to his coaching and motivational methods. Xs and Os aren’t his strong suit, but he’s no dummy, either.
Edge: Even

X-factor
Will Kentucky have a letdown after beating Louisville? It seems unlikely given the team’s focus throughout the season. They play hard, they’re unselfish and don’t play like underclassmen. They’ve already handled Kansas once this season and have only gotten better since.But the Jayhawks have played like a team possessed the last five games, refusing to give into their shoddy shooting. The biggest factor might be preventing a Kentucky run. The last time the two played, the Wildcats used a 26-9 run over a 10-minute span to create separation. That happens again, Kansas is toast.
Edge: Kentucky

By my reckoning, Kentucky has edges in four areas, including a massive one at small forward. Unless Robinson and Taylor are superb, this game’s going to the Wildcats. Miracles do happen in the NCAA tournament. If Kansas pulls off one here, it’ll be a stunner.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

No. 22 Cincinnati’s loss to No. 16 Butler shines light on AAC’s struggles

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 10: Head coach Mick Cronin of the Cincinnati Bearcats reacts against the Butler Bulldogs in the first half of the game at Hinkle Fieldhouse on December 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Kelan Martin scored 20 points and Andrew Chrabascz added 12 points, four boards and five assists as No. 16 Butler bounced back from a tough loss at Indiana State to beat No. 22 Cincinnati, 75-65.

The Bulldogs had been undefeated on the season prior to the loss to the Sycamores, but their ranking was built on the fact that they had beaten Arizona, who was No. 8 at the time, as well as a trio of high-major programs that look destined for the NIT.

Cincinnati probably isn’t destined for the NIT. Their top 25 ranking is justified, which is what makes this win valuable. Quality non-conference wins matter, and this is just one of a handful of good wins for what has proven to be one of the most top-heavy conferences in the country. Villanova, Creighton, Xavier and Butler all look capable of reaching the Sweet 16 this season.

The opposite is true for Cincinnati, who look like the flag-bearer in a conference that isn’t really all that good. They’re the best team in the AAC this season, but that’s a conference that has consistently disappointed this year. SMU, Temple and UConn have all struggled more than we expected them to. Tulsa and Memphis are in rebuilding mode. Houston was supposed to be good this season but they’ve yet to live up to the preseason hype.

Think about it like this: The only team in the AAC without multiple losses on the season is now UCF. That’s … not ideal, and it’s going to be interesting to see just how many bids the league is able to generate.

Think about it. Temple has beaten West Virginia and Florida State while losing to New Hampshire and UMass. SMU’s best win is either Pitt or TCU, both of whom are borderline tournament teams. UConn beat Syracuse but has some atrocious losses on their resume. Houston beat Rhode Island but lost to Arkansas and LSU. Memphis beat Iowa, but Iowa’s not all that good. UCF’s best win is … Mississippi State?

Cincinnati’s lone quality win is at Iowa State, who is about to drop out of the top 25.

POSTERIZED: Wichita State’s Daishon Smith dunks on Oklahoma big man

WICHITA, KS - NOVEMBER 13:  Guard Daishon Smith of the Wichita State Shockers drives up court past forward Roschon Prince #23 of the Long Beach State 49ers during the first half on November 13, 2016 at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas.  (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
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Daishon Smith is 6-foot-1.

Kristian Doolittle is 6-foot-7.

The lil guy won this battle:

Here’s another angle of the dunk, which sent Wichita State’s bench into hysterics:

POSTERIZED: Duke’s Grayson Allen with a Dunk of the Year candidate (VIDEO)

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It looks like Grayson Allen’s toe is healthy. I’d say his explosivness is back:

Whoa.

Yeah.

POSTERIZED: Five-star Class of 2017 guard Trevon Duval dunks on 6’8″ defender

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 9: Trevon Duval during the 2015  Under Armour All-America Basketball Camp on July 9, 2015 at Queens College in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Under Armour)
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Class of 2017 point guard Trevon Duval put down a huge poster dunk on a 6’8″ defender on Saturday as the five-star prospect showed why many consider him the top lead guard in high school basketball.

The 6-foot-2 Duval is considered the No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.

Nigel Hayes shines against as No. 17 Wisconsin beats Marquette

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 10:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is fouled by Luke Fischer #40 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half of a game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 10, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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What a difference a year makes.

Last season at this time, Wisconsin dropped a home game to a Marquette team that was headed to the NIT.

This year?

The Badgers put six players in double-figures as they went into Milwaukee and knocked off Marquette, 93-84.

Bronson Koenig continued his hot shooting, finishing with 18 points and six assists while shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Vitto Brown chipped in with 15 points, Khalil Iverson had 16 and Ethan Happ chipped in with 11 despite battling foul trouble all afternoon.

But the really story here – hell, the story of Wisconsin’s season to date – has been the change in the way that Nigel Hayes plays.

Hayes was terrific again on Saturday. He had 17 points, nine boards, four assists and three steals. He shot 6-for-10 from the floor and attempted just a pair of threes, making one of them. He had the ball in his hands when Wisconsin was trying to kill off the game, and, more importantly, head coach Greg Gard has seem to start to take advantage of just how good Hayes can be as a facilitator.

There are a couple of points that need to be made here:

  1. When Hayes plays like this, he deserves to be in the all-american discussion. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 boards and 6.7 assists in the three games Wisconsin has played against high-major competition since the change, and the Badgers have won five straight games while playing easily their best basketball of the season.
  2. And it’s not just because of the numbers he puts up. When Hayes operates as Wisconsin’s de-facto point guard, it makes everyone else on the roster better. For starters, it allows Koenig to play off the ball, where he seems to be more effective. He’s at his best when he’s hunting shots and trying to create off the bounce, but his aggressiveness can be detrimental when he’s the only one touching the ball. It also means offense runs through Happ more often since Koenig isn’t dominating possession, and it lets guys like Brown space the floor because they’re actually able to get rhythm threes.

As of today, Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten, even if Indiana is far more likely to end up being a No. 1 seed in March.