Championship breakdown: Robinson vs. Davis
NEW ORLEANS — A national championship game showcasing the top two players in the country is uncommon territory. Not since 2001 have the John R. Wooden Award winner and runner-up played in the title game, and that year, Duke’s Shane Battier and Jay Williams were on the same team.
Sifting through the previous winners of the prestigious award and it’s obvious that national championship games rarely contain the sports’ best individual from that season.
Winners over the last decade include Texas’ Kevin Durant, St. Joseph’s Jameer Nelson , Utah’s Andrew Bogut , Duke’s J.J. Redick , Ohio State’s Evan Turner and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. None of those players even reached the Final Four the year they took home top player accolades.
But Monday night’s tournament finale in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will have 2012 Wooden Award winner Anthony Davis leading Kentucky against runner-up Thomas Robinson and the Kansas Jayhawks , possibly the best individual pairing since Michael Jordan’s North Carolina Tar Heels defeated Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas at the same venue in 1982.
“Anthony is a great player, all respect goes to him,” Robinson, wearing a black KU track suit and gold chain, said Sunday on the ground floor of the Superdome. “He’s well-deserving of the award. I gave up on that a long time ago. I just want to get a ring.
“Me going against him is not me versus Anthony Davis, it’s Kansas versus Kentucky.”
And there’s mutual respect coming from Davis.
“Thomas is a good player,” the thin Kentucky big man said, wearing his royal blue practice jersey around his neck as if it was a cape. “A great rebounder and jumper. He’s a beast, one of the best we’ve faced this year. It will be a great challenge, and I can’t wait to see what happens Monday night.”
Both were an obvious factor when Kentucky and Kansas met early in the season but both have also improved greatly since that 75-65 Wildcats victory in New York City. Foul trouble or injury to either superstar would likely alter the outcome of the contest between the two winningest programs in college basketball.
To better understand who these two players are, here’s a breakdown.
Most valuable attribute: Shot blocking.
Best game this season: 18 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks against Louisville on Saturday.
Last time against Kansas: 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, 6 rebounds, 7 blocks.
Off the court: The likely No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft has an extremely quiet confidence. He sports the most famous unibrow in sports and doesn’t care what other say about it. Davis has been repeatedly asked this weekend if he’ll eventually trim it and every time he’s responds the same way: “No.”
High praise: Louisville coach Rick Pitino: “Anthony Davis is [going to be] the No. 1 player picked in the draft. When you’re playing against Bill Russell at the pro level, you realize why the Celtics won 11 world championships. When you see this young man at the collegiate level, you realize why they’re so good.”
Most valuable attribute: Non-stop energy.
Best game this season: 30 points and 21 rebounds against North Dakota in December.
Last time against Kentucky: 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting, 12 rebounds, 1 block.
Off the court: The likely top 10 pick in June’s draft has been through more than most. In a span of 25 days last year, Robinson’s grandmother, grandfather and mother died, leaving a 19-year-old college student responsible for raising his 9-year-old sister.
High praise: Kentucky coach John Calipari: “He is as good as they get. He’s a vicious competitor, great around the rim, expanded his game. … I don’t really know who is going to guard him. We may play a 2-3 zone. Those guys are so big, we may fall into a zone. I haven’t played that very often, but we may do it.”
Follow Jon Machota on Twitter: @jonmachota