Sweet 16 Matchup
Neither of these schools wants to play each other at the moment. Michigan is a former No. 1 team in the country and they ran through their first two opponents playing their best basketball of the season. Kansas is playing well, but their main advantage in this Game will be how they match up with the Wolverines. With Jeff Withey down low, they can cause all kinds of problems for a Michigan team that tends to struggle with dominant big men. There’s a reason this is projected to be one of the closer Games in the Sweet 16 as the Jayhawks come in as -2 point favorites.
The Wolverines looked like a questionable team entering the Tournament, but all of that suspicion has disappeared with their recent dominance. Mitch McGary was inserted into the starting lineup in the second round and hasn’t looked back. He went for 21 points and 14 rebounds against VCU in the last Game. The only problem is that Kansas has one of the best defensive big guys in the country with Withey. His numbers back that up with 33 points, 22 boards and 12 blocks in the first two Games. McGary hasn’t played an opponent like this all season which could immediately pose a threat for the Wolverines.
In addition to Withey, Kansas leads the nation in defensive field goal percentage which is not great for this Michigan squad that loves to shoot from the outside. A similar team to Kansas would be Michigan State who also has a down low presence and great on the ball defenders. While the Wolverines won in their last meeting against the Spartans at home (by one point), they were blown out on the road. This Game will fall in the hands of Trey Burke who hasn’t had a great Tourney thus far. While he does have 14 total assists, he’s only shooting 8-of-26 from the field with nine turnovers. It’s been everyone else that has stepped it up for the Wolverines. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been hitting his shot from long-range which is a good sign, but also Glenn Robinson III is playing at a high level. The x-factor in this Game could be freshman Nik Stauskas who only has one three-pointer through the first two Games. He averages more than two per Game on the year.
The Jayhawks are led by a trio of guards in Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore. All three of them are great defenders and have the size to deal with the likes of Hardaway. Plus, whenever Michigan drives to the lane, they have Withey to deal with.
The question for the Jayhawks will be on the offensive end where it hasn’t been great so far. While they did Score49 points in the second half against North Carolina, they were very spotty before that. Their leading scorer Ben McLemore didn’t hit a field goal against the Tar Heels going 0-for-9 from the field. Withey has picked up his offense in the last two Games and should have an advantage against anyone Michigan throws at him. Releford hit some shots last Game which was very important, but guys like Johnson, Kevin Young and Naadir Tharpe are going to be important pieces when all is said and done.
If Michigan can go against the norm in this Game, they’ll have a chance. McGary will need to play bigger than he is which is going to be a huge task for the freshman. Hardaway Jr. and Stauskas need to hit their open looks for the Wolverines to stay close and Burke can’t be forced into stupid shots. The Jayhawks have the edge, but will the Wolverines momentum be enough to win this Game?