A resounding win over former coach Roy Williams on Sunday propelled the Kansas Jayhawks into the Sweet 16. Their opponent will be a Michigan team that boasts one of the scariest offenses KU has seen all year.
The Wolverines thrive on three-point shooting, an unwelcome fact for Kansas after they came within inches of two losses to Iowa State’s long-range gunners. Add in Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke to lead the Michigan charge, and Bill Self’s boys are in for as tough a fight as they’ve had in 2012-13.
Of course, Kansas is a pretty intimidating foe in its own right, and Ben McLemore and company are more than capable of taking down the Wolverines with a good performance next Friday. Herein, a five-step plan for the Jayhawks to defeat the Maize and Blue and advance to the Elite Eight.
As Michigan just reminded steal-happy VCU, the Wolverines are the best team in the country at avoiding turnovers. That means every mistake by Kansas will add to UM’s possession advantage—and mistakes have been plentiful in this tournament.
Against Western Kentucky and North Carolina (hardly the world’s scariest defenses), KU has averaged 19.5 turnovers per contest. That number needs to be cut in half for Bill Self’s offense to compete with high-scoring Michigan.
The important thing to keep in mind about Trey Burke is that nobody can stop him entirely except Burke himself.
His worst scoring nights have all come in blowout wins, and in the Big Ten (where several of the country’s toughest defenses live) he scored a minimum of 15 points in every game.
What a defense can do is limit Burke’s shooting percentage: Of the seven teams to beat the Wolverines, five held him below 40 percent from the field.
He’ll still hit plenty of contested shots, but every Burke miss is an advantage for the Jayhawks and their superior rebounders.
The rise of freshman center Mitch McGary has made Michigan a good deal tougher inside. Jeff Withey isn’t going to walk all over the energetic McGary as he did North Carolina, but with McGary occupied, Withey’s frontcourt partners can take over.
Bruiser Kevin Young has demonstrated—both against the Tar Heels and against K-State in the Big 12 final—that he can be a legitimate offensive weapon when matched against a less physical foe. Glenn Robinson III certainly qualifies in that category.
Perry Ellis may not see much of the floor (he certainly hasn’t in the tournament so far), but he, too, will have a chance to make hay in the paint against Robinson, a small forward by training and inclination.
Ben McLemore’s average in his last five games away from Phog Allen Fieldhouse is 10.4 points per contest. His average in his last five home games: 21.2 points a night.
Whatever Kansas needs to do to convince the good version of McLemore to show up in Arlington for the Sweet 16 will be well worth the effort.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is a wonderful defender, but even he won’t be able to hold down McLemore if the freshman gets in the kind of groove that carried him to 36 points against West Virginia.
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. have been largely slump-proof this season. The biggest difference between Michigan’s 28 wins and its seven losses has been the performance (or lack thereof) of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III.
Stauskas’ 11.3 point-per-game average drops to 7.6 in losses, while Robinson’s goes from 11.1 to 6.4. Guarding Trey Burke is important, but Kansas can’t afford to help recklessly against him only to see the youngsters pick the Jayhawk defense apart.