Jayhawks face off against Wolverines in Sweet 16

Kansas finally found their tournament footing during their 70-58 dismantling of No. 8 seed North Carolina. After once again starting the first half sluggishly and entering halftime down by nine points, the Jayhawks came to life and played lockdown defense to take the Tar Heels completely out of the game. Travis Releford played the game of his life, scoring 22 crucial points, along with his usual defensive prowess. The Jayhawk’s opponent, the No. 4 seeded Michigan Wolverines also shredded their second round opponent, VCU.  With the game never in doubt, the Wolverines looked flawless on offense, making a mockery of VCU’s self-proclaimed “havoc” defense. Michigan won by a laughable 25 points, leading many ‘experts’ to pick the cohesive Wolverines to knock off Kansas Friday.

Key Match ups:

Michigan’s Mitch McGary versus Kansas’ Jeff Withey:

Though heralded for their guard play, the matchup between Michigan center McGary and Kansas center Withey will likely be the most important in the game. McGary only averaged 6.8 points per game during the regular season, but has since gone on a tear in the NCAA Tournament. Scoring 13 and 21 points in the first and second rounds respectively. McGary will need to keep his scoring up to keep Michigan relevant in the game.

Jeff Withey is currently, without a doubt, the best defensive player in the country.  Picking up five official blocks (probably more) against North Carolina, Withey has blocked 306 shots in his Jayhawk career—a simply staggering number. His play against McGary will be vital to Kansas’ success, and if Withey can significantly limit McGary’s scoring, I am confident in saying that the Jayhawks have a great chance to win the game.

Michigan’s Trey Burke versus the Kansas guards:

A Wooden Award Candidate, the 6-foot guard is one of the best players in the country in his all-around game.  Averaging a remarkable 18.8 points per game along with 6.7 assists per game and 1.6 steals per game, Burke is a ridiculous match up for any team and is an undeniable key to Michigan’s continued success.

Kansas has been turnover-prone this tournament. There is no way around it. The Jayhawks had 12 turnovers in the first half against North Carolina and if that mark is duplicated against Michigan, Bill Self and the Jayhawks will go home unhappy. Burke will be important to watch in this match up as his quickness and defensive abilities will turn Kansas turnovers into easy Michigan baskets.

Last Time They Met

Kansas traveled to Michigan in January of 2011 and escaped with a 67-60 overtime win against the Wolverines. The No. 3 ranked Jayhawks moved to 15-0 on the season thanks to the Morris twins combining for 35 points. It was an ugly game as both teams shot terribly from the 3-point line (8-for-52 combined). This is the kind of game Bill Self would probably prefer to have on Friday night (although I don’t see KU attempting 24 3-pointers). Unfortunately, this is the type of game that would get everyone extremely nervous watching.

How I See It:

Kansas has to bring their A+ game to Dallas to have a chance against Michigan. Woefully under seeded, Michigan is playing too well for the Jayhawks to do anything less. The Jayhawks must hold the number of turnovers they commit to eight or less, or Michigan will advance to the Elite Eight
Prediction: As much as it kills me as a lifelong Kansas fan to say this, Michigan is moving on in Dallas. Kansas may have a defensive advantage in Withey, but it won’t be enough for the ball-hawking, turnover-forcing Wolverines. Nothing would make me happier than seeing Bill Self return to the Elite Eight once again, but I just don’t see it happening this year.

Prediction: Michigan breaks Kansas’ hearts, sending them home in a 75-69 loss.

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