The No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks and No. 4 Michigan Wolverines square off Friday evening for a Sweet 16 matchup that features some of the most exciting guard play in the country.
Kansas freshman Ben McLemore was a dominant shooter in the regular season, but the bright lights of the Big Dance haven’t been kind to the youngster, who recorded just two points in the Jayhawks' win over North Carolina in the round of 32.
Michigan will counter with a duo of electric guards in sophomore Trey Burke and junior Tim Hardaway, Jr. The pair combined for 32 points and 10 assists in Michigan’s 78-53 drubbing of VCU in the third round.
While the Jayhawks didn’t get much from McLemore last round, their ability to score in the paint ultimately propelled them past the Tar Heels on Sunday. Senior center Jeff Withey has been terrific this season and his 16 points and 16 rebounds were enough to give Kansas the edge.
Michigan will counter with 6’10” forward Mitch McGary. The freshman big man averaged just 6.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in the regular season, but he’s averaging 17 points and 11.5 rebounds in the tournament this year and he’ll need another big performance against Kansas on Friday.
Both teams have traversed the first three rounds in a loaded South Region with an Elite Eight matchup against either No. 3 Florida or tournament darling No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast on the horizon.
As erratic as this tournament has been, the only certainty is that this game will be one worth watching.
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
When: Friday, March 29, at 7:37 p.m. ET
Betting Line: Kansas -1.5, over/under 140 points (per CBSSports.com)
Injuries (per USA Today): Kansas forward Justin Wesley (ankle, doubtful)
Full television schedule can be found at SportsMediaWatch.com.
Players to Watch
Trey Burke: Michigan, G
Despite averaging just 12 points per game in the tournament, Burke is Michigan’s best scoring threat. He averaged 18.8 points per game in the regular season, showing the ability to both create his own scoring opportunities and facilitate for an offense that ranks No. 27 in the nation this season.
Burke dished out seven assists in each of the Wolverines’ two tournament wins, with Hardaway and Glenn Robinson III on the receiving end on several occasions. The duo combined for 42 points in the second round against South Dakota State and 28 points against VCU in the third round of play.
For Michigan to have success against the Jayhawks, Burke must continue taking advantage of scoring opportunities to open up the offense for Hardaway and Robinson.
When Burke can capitalize on his scoring chances, opponents are forced to pay extra attention to the point guard, who is equally deadly as a slasher and three-point shooter.
Strong guard play is paramount in the Big Dance and Michigan has certainly gotten a lot of it in the first three rounds. If the Wolverines hope to upend Kansas in the Sweet 16, Burke will have to continue to be a key contributor at both ends of the floor.
Jeff Withey: Kansas, C
Withey was Kansas’ second-leading scorer behind McLemore in the regular season. The seven-footer averaged 13.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, leading a frontcourt that didn’t always get consistent production at both ends of the floor.
Withey has been impressive through the first three rounds, leading the Jayhawks with 17 points in the second round and posting a 16-point, 16-rebound effort in the third round.
With McLemore struggling, it was Withey and senior guard Travis Releford who picked up the slack.
While Withey has been a key scorer in the postseason, his focus against Michigan should be hitting the boards. The Wolverines are 141st in the nation in rebounding and allowing their scorers second chances could prove to be costly.
Michigan’s strength is its backcourt and Withey will present serious matchup problems for the Wolverines’ big men. If he has another big game on Friday, expect Kansas to come away with a decisive victory.
G- Elijah Johnson
G- Ben McLemore
G- Travis Releford
F- Kevin Young
C- Jeff Withey
G- Trey Burke
G- Tim Hardaway, Jr.
G- Nik Stauskas
F- Glenn Robinson III
F- Mitch McGary
Prediction: Kansas 73, Michigan 70
Quality guard play will take center stage in this matchup. Burke, Hardaway and McLemore are incredible talents with the ability to put up a lot of points, and while frontcourt matchups will prove to be the deciding factor, expect to see a lot of spectacular plays from both teams’ guards.
Kansas has a slight edge in points per game this season, but not by much. Both squads score 74-plus points per contest and the final score should reflect that fact.
A true marquee matchup, Kansas and Michigan will provide plenty of action on Friday night. This game will come down to the wire, but McLemore is due for a quality performance. He’ll break out of his shooting slump and combine with Withey for 40-plus points in a close Kansas victory.
Link to Live Bracket