The Sweet 16 meeting between the Michigan Wolverines and the Kansas Jayhawks is one of the matchups I was hoping to see. The game pits two historic programs and current powerhouses against each other; and both teams are stacked with future NBA players.
This is one that basketball fans will likely remember and reference once the stars of the teams have moved on to the professional ranks.
The individual matchups are intriguing for this game, and that is where we find our first key to victory for both teams.
Battle of the Big Men: Jeff Withey vs. Mitch McGary
Both Withey and McGary have NBA futures, but they aren't the top prospects on their teams. However, their battle on the inside is perhaps the most important individual matchup to watch on Friday night.
The big men have raised their game in the tournament thus far. Withey has averaged 16.5 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots through two games. His play on the inside has helped the Jayhawks overcome less-than-stellar outings from Ben McLemore.
McGary exploded for 21 points and 14 rebounds against VCU in the round of 32, and he's averaging 17 points and 11.5 rebounds for the Wolverines in two NCAA tournament games.
Kansas is generally regarded as a better rebounding team than Michigan, but the Wolverines' season rebounding numbers are based on McGary grabbing the 5.5 boards he averaged per game this season.
Lately he has rebounded at a much higher rate and he's also extremely active around the basket. Kansas hasn't faced a team in the tournament with a big man that forced Withey to stay at home on defense.
If McGary can do that, he will limit Withey's ability to be a rim protector.
Experience could be a major factor here as Withey is a senior and McGary is just a freshman. But if McGary plays well in this matchup and the Wolverines win, his draft stock will sky-rocket.
The big man that has the best game will give his team a huge advantage.
Kansas Must Get McLemore On Track
McLemore has played terribly in the tournament thus far and Kansas has managed to survive, but they need him to be a factor to beat Michigan.
The Wolverines' perimeter players are too good and Kansas needs its leading scorer to take the pressure off Withey to score.
Through two tournament games McLemore is averaging just 6.5 points. He's been abysmal from the field, shooting just 2-of-14 and 0-for-8 from three-point range.
The man many believe will be the top pick in the NBA draft hasn't looked like a top prospect. The Wolverines pressure the ball very well and McLemore must be aggressive. He can't settle for the outside shot—especially if it isn't falling.
He has the athleticism to attack the rim, but he lacks confidence in his ability to put the ball on the floor consistently against tough defenses.
If he struggles from the outside, and doesn't attack the basket, it will be tough for Kansas to win.
Michigan Must Make Free Throws
Which team will advance to the Elite Eight?
In the Wolverines seven losses they have made just 64.7 percent of their free throws. They also average just 11.4 attempts per game in those defeats. Both numbers are below their season averages.
That is obviously their formula for losing basketball games.
This is a great three-point shooting team, but they can't fall in love with the deep ball. It makes them easier to defend and less likely to draw fouls.
When they miss, it gives the opposition easy fast-break opportunities on long rebounds.
When they get to the line, they must take advantage of their chances. In close and competitive games— like this one figures to be—free throws could be the difference.
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