Kansas and Bill Self In Familiar Territory Against MichiganPosted by KoryCarpenter on March 28th, 2013
Bill Self and Kansas are back in the Sweet Sixteen for the sixth time in seven years, and that’s not good news for Michigan, the #4 seed in the South Region that the Jayhawks will meet Friday night in Cowboys Stadium. Self is 5-1 in this round in nine seasons at Kansas and 7-2 for his career dating back to Tulsa at the turn of the century. But Michigan fans shouldn’t be worried about an arbitrary record in a certain round of the NCAA Tournament. They should be worried because Bill Self has an entire week to game plan for the Wolverines, and that is where he has made his teams most dangerous in March. Between Tulsa, Illinois, and now Kansas, Self has made 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and has 13 losses, winning the NCAA Tournament in 2008. Of those 13 losses, nine came in the second game of the weekend (Round of 32, Elite Eight or National Championship game). As Self likes to point out, the NCAA Tournament is basically split into three two-game tournaments over three weekends. For teams not in the preliminary play-in games, there are four or five days to prepare for their first opponent after the bracket is announced, followed by a roughly 48-hour turnaround. The next week is the same at the regionals and it continues at the Final Four. With that near-week or so to prepare, Self is nearly automatic. He is 12-2 in the Round of 64, 7-2 in the Sweet 16, and 2-0 in National Semifinal games, or 21-4 overall with a week to prepare. The short turnaround has stung him, though. He is 9-3 in the Round of 32, 2-5 in the Elite Eight, and 1-1 in National Championship games, although a month of preparation wouldn’t have been enough time against last season’s Kentucky team. He has won at an 84% clip with a week to prepare and his winning percentage drops to only 57% with a quick turnaround. But the game still has to be played, and Michigan is not your average #4 seed.
Let’s take a look at the match-ups in this game:
Michigan has one of the best players in the country in sophomore point guard Trey Burke, a Sporting News First-Team All-American Selection and possible National Player of the Year. Burke averages 18.8 PPG and 6.7 APG for the Wolverines and controls their offense almost exclusively. According to Ken Pomeroy, his possession percentage of 29.9% (65th nationally) is higher than all but one player remaining in the Tournament, Louisville’s Russ Smith (31.6%). Of the 12 teams remaining that had a player in KenPom’s top 100 for usage percentage, Michigan and Louisville are the only teams remaining. Since 2005 when Pomeroy began publishing possession percentages, only three Final Four teams had a player in the top 100 nationally: UCLA’s Jordan Farmar in 2006, and last year with the Cardinals’ Russ Smith and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson. That’s 90.6% of Final Four teams that have not relied heavily on one player. Fortunately for Michigan fans, Kansas has been torched by point guards several times this season. Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson had 28 points and 10 assists while handing Kansas its last defeat on March 9. Fellow All-American point guard Marcus Smart had 25 points, nine rebounds, and five steals in an Oklahoma State win over Kansas on February 2. Like Jackson and Smart, Burke should have the advantage over Jayhawk guards Elijah Johnson and his backup, Naadir Tharpe. Off the ball, expect to see Travis Releford guarding Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Ben McLemore on Nik Stauskas. Stauskas is a 43.4% three-point shooter and it will imperative that McLemore — or whichever Jayhawk is guarding him — chases him off the three-point line and funnels him into the paint. Burke is going to have a big game regardless. But if Stauskas and/or Hardaway (39.3% from deep) start knocking down threes, Kansas’ best defensive weapon slowly becomes irrelevant. Offensively, Kansas will need better production from McLemore, who had two points on 0-of-9 shooting against North Carolina. He leads the Jayhawks with 15.8 PPG but has disappeared at times this season. He is averaging only 7.0 points per game in the last four outings despite being the most talented player on the court in nearly every situation. Look for Self to draw up a few plays early designed to get McLemore easy buckets and to give him some confidence.
Given the edge Burke has on offense, he needs to have a big game for Michigan to win because of the advantage Kansas has down low with Jeff Withey, who has 12 blocks through two NCAA games and is on pace to break his own record set last season of 31 blocks. He blocks 3.9 shots per game and is fifth in the nation in block percentage, swatting 13.7% of opponents’ attempts this season. Not only is Withey the best post defender in the country, but Michigan’s starting frontcourt of Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary are both freshman. Robinson III is only 6’6″ too, making his night playing near the basket even tougher and putting more of the onus on McGary, who, at 6’10″, is likely to have trouble going over the top of the KU big man. Michigan will probably set a lot of high ball screens with Burke and McGary to try to draw Withey away from the basket. McGary has had a great tournament so far, averaging 17 points and 11.5 rebounds through two wins over South Dakota State and VCU. He started both of those games after starting only two games during the regular season. Another good match-up will be Glenn Robinson III and the duo of Perry Ellis and Kevin Young. All three players are undersized forwards who don’t have great outside games. Robinson will take about two three-pointers a game, but he’s tremendous around the rim, shooting 64.8% from inside the arc this season. He plays a lot of minutes (33.2 MPG) but only takes 15.8% of his teams shots. It will be interesting to see how this match-up plays out, but don’t expect Robinson III, Ellis or Young to decide Friday’s game either way. Withey and McGary will play much larger roles.
Las Vegas thinks this game will be close and I agree. If Ben McLemore awakens from his slumber and Kansas plays to its defensive ceiling by running shooters off the three-point line and allowing Withey to control the paint, the Jayhawks will win by 10 points. But Bill Self’s team has been beaten by some great guards this season, and Burke might be the best perimeter player they have seen yet.