Kansas basketball finds itself in the Sweet 16 of the 2013 NCAA tournament against Michigan, but if the Jayhawks want to reach the Elite Eight, they must first understand what the Wolverines are all about.
Michigan is led by sophomore guard Trey Burke. The 6'0" Burke averages 18.8 points per game, along with 6.7 assists. He is by far the Wolverines best player.
Joining him on the 27th-ranked offense in the country is Tim Hardaway Jr., who averages 14.8 points per game, and Nik Stauskas, who averages 11.3 points per game and shoots 43 percent from three-point land.
The Wolverines are an efficient team, shooting 48 percent from the field, which is ninth-best in the nation. They also shoot 38 percent from three.
What they don't have, however, is an inside presence. They average 35 rebounds a game, which is 156th in the nation.
That's the first key for the Jayhawks. They are a great rebounding team, averaging 39.1 a game, which is 16th in the nation. Jeff Withey is a true center, averaging 8.5 rebounds, and changes games with his defense.
The Jayhawks need to force the Wolverines into bad shots. If they miss, the Jayhawks will clear the glass and go back the other way with authority. They can do this by playing tough on the ball defense. With Ben McLemore leading the way, the Jayhawks can force the Wolverines to take bad shots at the end of the shot clock that aren't likely to go in. Kansas will grab the board and go on from there.
The Jayhawks would also be wise to let Michigan drive into the lane. Jeff Withey averages 3.9 blocks per game and has proven the ability to change the trajectory of shots. Michigan can get hot from three-point range, and Withey's defense could be minimized. Instead, Kansas cannot let Michigan settle for jumpers. The more they get into the lane, the more chances Withey has to block it, or at least alter the shot.
If Michigan is allowed to shoot from three with regularity, then Stauskas could have a big game. Threes are huge momentum swings—the more the underdog hits them, the more confidence they get, and more threes go in. It's a vicious cycle and one of the more common ways upsets happen.
Kansas can't let that happen. Michigan is capable of getting hot, and is already one of the better shooting teams in the nation. That's why on the ball defense is so important. If given even a slight cushion, the Michigan shooters will take the opportunity to launch a shot. But if the Kansas defenders are on top of the ball-handlers all game, then they'll be forced to try to make things happen—leading to bad shots, and more attempts for Withey to block it.
Michigan is a good team and has handled its first two matchups with ease, winning by a combined score of 40 points. Because of that, Kansas needs to dictate the action so that Michigan walks into Kansas' strengths. If Burke and Stauskas are allowed to hit open threes, it will be a long game for the Jayhawks.
On paper, at least, the Jayhawks are better. McLemore is probably a better player than Burke, and Michigan has no player that can match what Withey does. If they follow the game plan enunciated above, then they should be on their way to the Elite Eight.
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