Favorable frontcourt matchup could propel Kansas

By C.J. Matson

ST. LOUIS — Kansas’s second round game against Purdue showed that if you don’t have favorable matchups, then your chances of winning are slim.

Even though Kansas is a better, more talented team than Purdue, the Boilermakers had a favorable matchup that they exploited, playing a perimeter-oriented offense that required Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson to guard the perimeter. The Jayhawks’ game against the Boilermakers was reminiscent of their earlier matchups against the Missouri Tigers and Iowa State Cyclones.

That won’t be the case in the Jayhawks’ Sweet 16 matchup against the North Carolina State Wolfpack.

North Carolina State plays a traditional style of offense puts more emphasis on the frontcourt.

It’s a matchup that favors Robinson and Withey because they can camp out in the post defensively, but the size, speed and athleticism that C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell and DeShawn Painter possess are areas of concern for coach Bill Self.

“It’s more traditional than what we have kind of been used to because they will play two bigs,” Self said. “Their bigs are really, really quick. They can catch the ball at 17 and put it down and drive it or they can make shots, so it’s still a kind of a unique challenge. We can play more traditional than we had to against Purdue when we had Thomas guarding their two guards for the majority of the game.”

Motion offenses take Withey out of the game because it’s not ideal for 7-footers to guard players who are hanging around the perimeter instead of posting up in the paint. Playing against a traditional offense like North Carolina State equates to more playing time for him and a larger impact on the game.

“I didn’t get to play much against Purdue just because they play five perimeter guys,” Withey said. “We’re more use to that traditional play in the Big 12. It’s definitely more comfortable.”

Withey said North Carolina State’s frontcourt reminds him of Baylor because of their athletic ability. In his three games against the Bears, Withey played an average of 30.3 minutes, scored 15.3 points-per-game, grabbed 7.3 rebounds-per-game and blocked 3.7 shots-per-game.

In his two games against Missouri this season, a team that runs a motion offense, Withey averaged one point, 2.5 rebounds, 0.5 blocks and 16 minutes. Against Purdue, Withey scored four points, grabbed two rebounds, blocked two shots and played only 15 minutes.

When asked how he would matchup against Thomas Robinson, C.J. Leslie said he’d use his quickness to neutralize his strength. As skilled, athletic and talented as they come, Leslie is a swift, aggressive forward that has can drive to the basket and knock down jump shots. Robinson said Leslie would be one of the most athletic forwards he’d face all season.

As far as the Kansas frontcourt offense goes, this is a good opportunity to get back on track.

Thomas has had difficulty scoring when guarded against multiple defenders, most notably against Purdue. In that game, he only made two out of his 12 shot attempts, but still managed to garner a double-double. According to North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried, Robinson still finds ways to score and be impactful regardless of the defensive scheme.

“When you watch Thomas Robinson, he’s just a grown man,” Gottfried said. “He’s a physical guy that can manhandle you for position.  It’s hard to get him off of where he wants to go on the floor, where he wants to be. Whether it’s doubling, post‑to‑post, whether it’s sending a guard down to double him, front the post, I mean you’ve seen it all and he just finds a way throughout the game to figure it out and still be very effective.”

Jeff has played sub-par basketball in the tournament offensively, scoring 11 points in two games. To make the Kansas offense efficient, he must get involved in the offense. Because North Carolina State will play two or three forwards, he’ll play significant minutes and have more opportunities to score.

This is a favorable matchup for Kansas both offensively and defensively. They have the size and height advantage against the Wolfpack. Jayhawks’ opponent’s offense dictates Withey’s level of impact on a game as well as the opponent’s defensive scheme for Robinson, but even Mark Gottfried knows that any defensive scheme can’t stop him, but only limit him.

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