NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 15: Terrence Jones #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats drives the ball against Thomas Robinson #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2011 State Farms Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Two of college basketball's premier programs, big name players and coaches are taking the floor inside the Superdome in New Orleans. Monday night's national championship game figures to be as memorable as any in recent memory.
Like the two Final Four games before it, Monday night's national championship game will be a rematch of a game that took place earlier in the 2011-12 season. The first matchup was part of a mid-November double-header at Madison Square Garden where second-ranked Kentucky beat No. 12 Kansas, 75-65.
The sophomore duo of Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones led the Wildcats to victory while freshman Anthony Davis, the eventual national player of the year, had seven of the team's 13 blocked shots. Kansas forced Kentucky into 19 turnovers, a figure the Wildcats topped only twice all season. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 12 points and nine rebounds for UK, while fellow freshman Marquis Teague also scored 12 points for the victor.
The star for the Jayhawks was senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, who scored 22 points. Eventual consensus All-American Thomas Robinson was in foul trouble all night, and finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out with 3:31 to go.
There are no shortage of storylines in the rematch featuring arguably the nation's top two players -- Davis and Robinson -- and a pair of coaches in Bill Self and John Calipari who also met in the 2008 national title game. Calipari and Memphis led by nine points with less than two minutes to go before a furious rally helped the Jayhawks to victory.
That 2008 Calipari-led Final Four appearance is no longer in the record book, and neither is the 1996 trip Coach Cal made with UMass. Still, he's now just one victory away from the moment that could define a sometimes controversial career which began with an assistant coaching job at Kansas.
The most recent criticism of Calipari has centered around a reliance on freshmen who play one year in college before jumping straight to the league. This year the most likely candidate is Davis, who has done a little bit of everything for the Wildcats and figures to be the No. 1 draft pick in this year's NBA Draft.
"I don't like the rules," Calipari said. "I want Anthony to come back and be my point guard next year. It's really what I want. There's only two solutions to it. Either I can recruit players who are not as good as the players I'm recruiting or I can try to convince guys who should leave to stay for me."
The result is Calipari bringing in the nation's top recruiting class in each of the past three seasons, but never capturing the sport's top prize. He'll get a second shot in the last game of the season Monday night, and in a kind (or cruel) twist of fate, it will come against the same team that broke his and Memphis' heart four years ago.
This year's Kansas team also has made a habit of coming from behind and winning close games, including during Saturday's national semifinals win. The Jayhawks trailed Ohio State by 13 points five different times Saturday before rallying in the game's final minutes to shock the Buckeyes, 64-62. While Kentucky has won all but one of its NCAA Tournament games by double-digits, Kansas has squeaked out victories over OSU, Purdue, North Carolina State and North Carolina.
Unlike Kentucky, Kansas has made it here without a McDonald's All-American, thanks in large part to the play of Robinson, a junior who has gone from average contributor to consensus All-American in one year. The 6'10 forward averages 17.7 points and 11.7 rebounds, and his 71 assists are third on the team.
His main competition in the paint on Monday will be the man who edged him out for every major national player of the year award earlier this week in Davis. The freshman leads six double-figure scorers on Kentucky with a 14.4 ppg average, and he's also grabbing 10.2 rebounds per game. His 180 blocked shots lead the country and are a UK single season record.
Each is an electric finisher, a fact which was on full display during Saturday's national semifinals. Davis capped a pair of ridiculous alley-oops, the second of which featured him using only one hand. Robinson went up strong consistently in the second half of his game, finishing with a big dunk over fellow All-American Jared Sullinger during the game's most crucial stretch.
Each is a fan of the other.
"Thomas is a good player. A great rebounder and jumper," Davis said on Sunday. "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."
Robinson said he has seen a lot of Davis on TV this season.
"Anthony is a great player; all respect goes to him," Robinson said. "He's well deserving of the (player of the year) 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."
While the Self-Calipari and Robinson-Davis are sure to garner the majority of the headlines heading into Monday night, it can't go without mentioning that the two teams playing represent a pair of programs as synonymous with college basketball success as any others.
Kentucky, with 2,089 victories, ranks first on college basketball's all-time leaderboard. The Jayhawks, with 2,070, rank second. UK owns seven NCAA championships, while Kansas has three. All-Americans, Olympians, No. 1 draft picks, Adolph Rupp, Phog Allen, James Naismith; there is no shortage of history on either side here.
"I dreamed about it as soon as I saw the brackets," Self said. "I did look. I said, `How cool would it be to play Kentucky in the finals?' You guys know better than me, but when do you have the two winningest programs in the history of ball playing each other? I don't know when. From a historic standpoint, I think that's really cool."'
History's next page will be written in what should be an electric atmosphere at the New Orleans Superdome Monday night.
Prediction: Kentucky 79, Kansas 72