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March 29, 2013
Game Preview: Michigan vs. Kansas
The Opponent: Kansas
Record: 31-5 (14-4 Big 12)
Head Coach: Bill Self (10th season, 300-58)
Seed: No. 1, South Region
All-time Series: Michigan leads series 5-2
Time and Television: March 29, 7:37 p.m., TBS
After flirting with what would have been unfortunate infamy in a tightly-contested 64-57 win over No. 16 seed Western Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, No. 1 seed Kansas overcame early struggles against enigmatic North Carolina in a 70-58 victory to set up a tilt with Michigan in the Sweet 16.
This stage is no stranger to the Jayhawks. KU has advanced at least this far in the Big Dance in five of the last six seasons, and has progressed even further four times - including a national championship in 2008 and a national runner-up finish last year.
While the youthful Wolverines, led by elite sophomore point guard Trey Burke, are in the midst of a late-season surge, it is the bountiful experience of Kansas that may prove to be the biggest factor.
With four seniors in the starting lineup, the Jayhawks are accustomed to big lights and big stadiums. The Maize and Blue, on the other hand, haven't hit the hardwood in a football stadium since a 85-82 loss to UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Georgia Dome in 1998.
Senior center Jeff Withey, KU's 7-foot shot-blocking force in the paint, should provide an immense challenge for emerging Michigan freshman big man Mitch McGary, who was effective on both ends of the court in the third round against VCU.
Withey averaged 13.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game this season, and notched 16 points and 16 rebounds against UNC. He has amassed 43 blocked shots in his NCAA Tournament career, which ranks second all-time behind Wake Forest's Tim Duncan (50).
Kansas will combat U-M's dynamic backcourt with two physical upperclassmen in 6-5 senior guard Travis Releford (11.8 points per game, 3.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists) and 6-4 senior guard Elijah Johnson (9.8 points per game, 4.7 assists, 3.1 rebounds). Releford has grown into an integral locker room leader throughout his career, while Johnson has been unreliable at best in the tournament; averaging just five points and 2.5 assists against 2.5 turnovers in two games.
But it is freshman guard Ben McLemore that truly makes the Jayhawks tick - at least when he is performing up to his ability. The freshman All-American is averaging 15.8 points and 5.3 rebounds, but has been wildly inconsistent during the postseason. He scored just two points against North Carolina, and is averaging only 6.5 points per game during tournament play.
Defensive-minded Kansas averaged 74.9 points per game during the regular season while yielding 61.2 points per game. KU has consistently started slow during its current tournament run, and has been outscored in the first half of both of its 2013 NCAA Tournament contests.
From the Other Sideline:
Rustin Dodd - The Kansas City Star: "On Thursday afternoon, amidst the movement and chaos of media day at the NCAA South Regional in Cowboys Stadium, Kansas senior Travis Releford was asked to describe the Jayhawks' defense.
"It was a pretty straightforward question. Kansas leads the nation in field-goal percentage defense, the eighth time in nine seasons that the Jayhawks have ranked in the top five in the statistic. So one would think that there must be some defining principal that guides Bill Self's brand of suffocating defense."