Giants of college basketball set to face off

Sports fans love to see underdogs — David versus Goliath matchups.

Butler gave us that in the past two NCAA tournament championship games, but this year the “little brothers” of college basketball are staying home.

Monday will be about two of the biggest giants in the sport — Kansas and Kentucky — which hold the top spots for most wins in NCAA men’s basketball history. Both schools boast rich basketball tradition, die-hard fan bases and extremely talented rosters.

Kansas forward Thomas Robinson, who averages 17.9 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, was the only unanimous selection as an AP first-team All-American — the first since Blake Griffin in 2009.

Robinson had 19 points and eight boards in the Jayhawks’ Final Four victory over Ohio State.

On the other side, Kentucky has all the talent a program could ask for and with one more victory may be considered one of the best teams of all time.

Standout big man Anthony Davis has been a force all season long, averaging 14.3 points and 10 rebounds per game. Davis was dominant against rival Louisville on Saturday, tallying 18 points, 14 boards and five blocks, while only missing one shot.

Robinson and Davis are two of the best players college basketball has to offer. Similarly, Kansas and Kentucky also have two elite head coaches. While their popularity in Champaign is quite minute, Bill Self and John Calipari are at the top of the coaching mountain.

Both are masters of recruiting — maybe even the two best in the country. A list of former players that includes John Wall, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Dee Brown, Brandon Knight, DeMarcus Cousins and Mario Chalmers is hard to argue with.

One knock on Calipari, however, is that he has never won a championship. Calipari came as close as you can get in 2008, but Chalmers’ and Self’s Jayhawk squad hoisted the trophy after prevailing in overtime.

Led by 2011 NBA MVP Rose, Calipari’s Memphis team had all the ingredients to win a championship, but its free throw shooting down the stretch was bad enough to make Shaquille O’Neal chuckle.

Calipari has also received a great deal of backlash for being an alleged cheater. NCAA violations that included Marcus Camby (1996) and Rose (2008) have fueled the discussion, as Calipari has coached two Final Four teams that eventually had all of their wins vacated.

Self is disliked by Illini fans for another reason. Perhaps it had something to do with differing definitions of “the long haul,” as Self left town in 2003.

Regardless, Self is responsible for one of the most successful periods in Illinois basketball history, winning two Big Ten championships (‘01 and ‘02), while casting the 2004-05 team that went to the national title game.

His success has risen to new heights at Kansas — winning eight consecutive Big 12 titles. This season may be Self’s best work of his career.

After losing three underclassmen to the NBA Draft, few believed in the Jayhawks at the beginning of the season. But another Big 12 championship and a shot at a national title earned Self the 2012 Naismith College Coach of the Year Award.

The Jayhawks won the national championship in 2008 over Calipari and will look to do the same yet again. It will be a tough task, though, as this appears to be Calipari’s best team.

The pressure is all on Kentucky, with its NBA roster and banner-hungry Big Blue Nation. Anything less than cutting down the nets will be a failure.

This is the drama you look for in a championship game. The two most historic programs with elite players and coaches vying to be the last one dancing. What more could you ask for?