Michigan Basketball: NCAA Tournament — Sweet Sixteen — Michigan vs. Kansas — Preview
Rabbit Season is Over — A Giant Looms large
In the history of college basketball, Kansas is generally thought of as a top two team, top four at the least. Kentucky is the other giant that looms large in college team history.
Kansas can make an argument to be the most elite program in college basketball history. The early days of Naismith and Phog Allen laid the foundation for becoming and remaining an elite program. Since then, visiting teams rarely win a game in Phog Allen field house and Kansas has never suffered an era of prolonged decline.
Kansas again has one of the nation’s premiere teams, but like every other top 10 team this year, the Jayhawks have had days and moments that have been mundane.
Most see this game as a three-point prediction, and most see a Kansas victory. But the game between Michigan and Kansas is up in the air. The pace of the game and how the whistles are blown will be important. But by the time teams reach the Sweet 16 defense becomes more often than not the critical factor. When teams get to the Sweet 16, the team that executes its system the best has a very good chance of winning. Last week, Michigan executed hands on the ball and passing lanes to get into the transition and broke down the VCU press to get inside.
This week Michigan is back to playing a big bruising team with lots of athletic talent. Kansas has veterans and one superior freshman, guard Ben McLemore. Kansas also has a center, Jeff Withey that on paper would appear to be a two-edged problem for Michigan.
Offensively, Withey will be a monster challenge for any of Michigan’s defenders. With Michigan’s frequent lapses regarding defensive rebounding, Withey could seriously damage Michigan’s chances by grabbing a ton of offensive rebounds. If Withey achieves this aim, the chances of a Wolverine win shrink.
Defensively, Withey is a tremendous shot blocker, and this becomes problematical for Trey Burke when he chooses to curl down the lane off of the high pick. Withey is capable of blocking five or more shots a game.
Elijah Johnson will probably guard Trey Burke. Some consider this a big Michigan advantage, but Withey will be waiting down low to block the shot after Johnson gets broken down. The key for Burke may be to dish the ball and get McGary or one of the wings to the basket, or instead pull up more often and take the short jumper.
Burke may benefit on defense, as Johnson is turnover prone. If the Michigan perimeter defenders can get the hands active, cause some deflections and move down the floor in transition, this game becomes very even.
Transition is Michigan’s best hope. In a half-court set, Michigan will find the going tough against the big and effective Kansas defense. Further, it is hoped that the Michigan staff is aware that three-point shooting in cavernous football stadiums, such as Jerry Jone’s Land, frequently produces reduced results. A stretch of zero for nine, or so, in three-point shooting may doom the chance of victory. Hence, again, the transition game may be Michigan’s best bet, especially since the perimeter guys for Kansas have good length and play very good perimeter defense. Getting ahead of Withey in the transition seems very appealing.
Kansas will likely stay on Stauskas, Robinson, and Hardaway if Michigan lines the three up on the perimeter. This makes it Burke and McGary against Withey and Johnson, a match-up that Kansas probably prefers compared to Michigan’s motion offense and transition game.
McGary had a very strong week against South Dakota State and VCU. This is a quantum leap for the freshman against Kansas’ Young and Withey. McGary will compete and be pumped, perhaps even too pumped. It may be a good strategy to start Morgan or Horford and put McGary in after the officials call the early, almost obligatory inside foul on a big man.
Some days Kansas struggles to produce a good offense and on other days the team can crush good opposition. Michigan needs to defensively prevent as many easy points as possible and gain some easy points on its end. McGary needs to stay in the game and play with plenty of self-discipline.
To play and beat a giant a very good effort is needed, nothing else will suffice. And Kansas is a giant.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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