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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. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

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AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

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The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org