Jayhawks will shine in Dallas
Kansas is built for weekends and matchups like these
By Andrew Curtis
Kansas is one third of the way to making the dream real by cutting down the nets and winning a national title in Atlanta.
Two down, four to go. After two wins in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, the Jayhawks have been far from stellar.
Three of the four halves have been extremely underwhelming compared to the benchmark this team set in the regular season. But all that matters is that they got the wins. Survive and advance.
The guard play was atrocious throughout the entire first game against Western Kentucky, with the Jayhawks committing turnovers left and right. Kansas never seemed to lose control of the game, however.
Then, North Carolina controlled the tempo in the first half and forced Kansas’ guards into a pace that sped them up too much. The Jayhawks ended up with 22 turnovers in the game, but pulled away in the 2nd half for a 12 point victory after a nine point deficit at halftime.
If Bill Self can get his team, led by four seniors who all start, to play like they did in the 2nd half of Sunday’s game, they just might be unbeatable.
Heading into Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup at Cowboys Stadium, Kansas is a two point favorite over the Michigan Wolverines, who struggled mightily towards the end of the season, resulting in a four seed for them.
About a month ago, Michigan was a team vying for a number one seed. The Wolverines, led by outstanding guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., were ranked in the top 5 or top 10 every week until the last week of the regular season.
This is what makes me think the Jayhawks will show up and be the team we grew accustomed to seeing in the regular season and again in the Big 12 Tournament. Kansas always plays up to their level of competition, and Michigan peaked during the first two rounds, perhaps too early.
The Kansas seniors are on a mission. Once they see Michigan on the front of the opponent’s jersey, they will come ready to play. This should bring out the best in Kansas.
Ben McLemore is due for a breakout performance after a two game stretch as if it seemed he were trying to shoot a beach ball into a basketball hoop. Ultimately, talent will take over.
The seniors, led by Jeff Withey and Travis Releford, were outstanding against North Carolina, obviously mostly in the 2nd half.
Releford realized he had to take over the scoring load with McLemore struggling, and Withey took advantage of a smaller opposing lineup down low.
Withey will need to do much of the same against Michigan, and I believe he will. Michigan’s Mitch McGary has come on strong late in the year, but he hasn’t seen a post presence like Withey.
Withey is battle tested after playing in the Final Four last season, and he’s not intimidated by anyone. I can see Michigan’s guards penetrating past Kansas’ guards into the lane, but I can’t see them getting too many shots over Withey, who’s an elite shot blocker.
This is a good matchup for Kansas and they should be looser with the pressure of playing near home no longer a factor. Playing with swagger is a major factor. Being relaxed and playing with nothing to lose takes you far in March.
Bill Self’s squad just has to use a one-game, one-half, one-possession-at-a-time approach. It’s all about surviving and advancing. This veteran ballclub has what it takes to get it done and is saving its best performance for the next game, which doesn’t bode well for whoever is in the Jayhawks’ path.
In my mind, if Kansas can get past the Sweet 16 and arguably the toughest road block in Michigan, they will make it back to the Final Four for the second consecutive year.