Updated: May 3, 2012 8:14AM
NEW ORLEANS — At first glance, the national championship game Monday looks like a college basketball classic: Kentucky vs. Kansas, two of the most hallowed names in the sport.
Second only to UCLA (11) in national championships, Kentucky will be going for its eighth title. One of only seven schools that have more than two crowns, Kansas will be seeking its fourth.
Don’t be fooled, though. These are hardly classic editions of vintage programs. Beyond their historic roots, this final is very much a sign of the times.
Under John Calipari, Kentucky has become a one-and-done haven, a stopover for high school standouts who are barred from jumping to the NBA.
Meanwhile, Kansas, which has come up short lately with far more talented teams, has more in common with plucky mid-majors than Jayhawks juggernauts. Kansas is in the title game thanks to dedicated defense and the luck of the draw, including catching North Carolina in the Elite Eight minus injured star point guard Kendall Marshall.
‘‘I’m shocked,’’ Kansas junior Thomas Robinson said. ‘‘I never thought we’d be playing for a national championship. The last two teams I’ve been on, they were probably the best teams I’ve ever been a part of. But those teams never got where we are.’’
A non-starter in his first two seasons who became an All-American this season, Robinson is a big reason Kansas is here. So is 7-foot junior center Jeff Withey, a onetime project who has become a solid shot blocker. So is senior guard Conner Teahan, a former walk-on.
Robinson is projected by NBAdraft.net as the third pick in the NBA draft, with Withey and senior Tyshawn Taylor likely late second-round picks.
Contrast that with projections for the Kentucky juggernaut: freshmen Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, first and second overall; sophomore Terence Jones, 18th; sophomore Doron Lamb, 23rd; freshman Marquis Teague, 28th; and senior Darius Miller, 35th.
Projections aside, it’s difficult to see how Kansas can keep up with the racehorses in Calipari’s stable. On the other hand, Louisville managed to hang around with the Wildcats, thanks to some inspired rebounding.