This Sweet 16 duel comes down to two words: star power. Each team’s big names need to step up and carry their team to the Elite Eight.
In Michigan’s case, that means Trey Burke needs to have a monster game. It is no secret that the Wolverine’s star guard has been the catalyst behind Michigan’s resurgence.
Burke leads his team in scoring with 18.8 points per game and the entire offense runs through him. When he is doing his thing, Michigan is borderline unstoppable.
Just ask poor VCU. Burke had 18 points and seven assists in that 78-53 thrashing. Of course, he also added seven turnovers to his stat sheet, something he cannot afford to do against Kansas.
Burke is flanked by a respectable supporting cast in the form of Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas. There is only so much he can do on his own and he needs these guys to pull their weight.
In the VCU game, the four of them combined for 57 points, seven assists and 28 rebounds. That level of play could boost Michigan passed the Jayhawks and beyond.
On the flip side, Ben McLemore has been the rock to Bill Self’s chalk for the Jayhawks all season. Kansas is a little more balanced than Michigan with a more even scoring distribution, so McLemore usually does not have to shoulder the burden that Burke does.
That said, he cannot have another performance like he did against North Carolina in the last round. Two points and five rebounds will not cut it against the Wolverines. McLemore is lucky his teammates carried the load that game, because otherwise they would be watching this game at home.
Besides McLemore, The Jayhawks with the most pressure on them in this game will be guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford.
Both guards will have to carry their share of the offense, while also making sure Burke does not shred their defense. Releford is coming off a 22-point and eight rebound effort against UNC, so he should be feeling good. Johnson only mustered five points, four assists and four rebounds against the Tar Heels, numbers he will have to improve on tonight.
The difference in the game could be Jeff Withey, Kansas’s center and the team’s second leading scorer. If Michigan cannot find an answer to his 7'0" frame down low, that could spell doom for the Wolverines.
The Wolverines have every right to be a bit cocky after how easily they dispatched their first two opponents. Kansas has looked shaky at times, but it has the talent to beat Michigan. It will all depend on which stars shine and which ones shrink in the spotlight.