Friday, March 29, 2013


Opinion: Jeff Withey, Trey Burke keys tonight

Kansas center Jeff Withey smiles with a black eye while talking with media members during a day of practices and press conference for teams in the South Regional at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Thursday, March 28, 2013. Withey suffered the shiner during the Jayhawks' last game against North Carolina.

Kansas center Jeff Withey smiles with a black eye while talking with media members during a day of practices and press conference for teams in the South Regional at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Thursday, March 28, 2013. Withey suffered the shiner during the Jayhawks' last game against North Carolina.


— Talented true point guards and pure centers have become rare commodities in college basketball.

Michigan has the best point guard in the nation in Trey Burke, and Kansas University has the top center in shot-blocking sensation Jeff Withey, two of the most compelling figures in the NCAA Tournament.

Burke, a 6-footer, and Withey, a 7-footer, play polar-opposite positions, but that doesn’t mean their worlds won’t intersect during today’s South Regional semifinal inside Cowboys Stadium scheduled to tip off at 6:37 p.m.

Quite the contrary. Burke will spend a great deal of mental energy trying to figure out how to minimize Withey’s influence, even though Withey obviously won’t be guarding him.

Michigan coach John Beilein said Burke has “seen everybody,” checking him this season, not just point guards. Of the possibility Travis Releford could guard Burke at times, Beilein said, “The comparison I make is (Indiana’s) Victor Oladipo, who is 6-4 and a very, very talented defensive player. So people have switched different people onto him.”

Burke consistently finds a way to get where he needs to go, regardless of the size and quickness of the man guarding him. I asked him what will change the way he goes about his job more, the man shadowing him or Withey on the back line?

“I think Jeff Withey, just because our offense is set up on the guards getting into the paint,” Burke said. “There’s going to be times when we get into the paint. When we get into the paint, when you have a 7-footer there, you have to make the right decision, or you’ll have a bad shot or a blocked shot.

“I think our biggest area tomorrow is just trying to make the right decision when we get to their front-court, get into the paint, just making the right play. I think our offense will be as successful as our decisions in the paint.”

Withey’s feet are so nimble, his timing so precise, his focus on the ball so sharp, that he can bait guards into thinking they are making good decisions and turn them into blocked shots.

Asked to name the best defender he has faced, Burke said, “probably Oladipo. As far as on the ball, I have to give it to (Ohio State’s Aaron) Craft. They’re both really good at moving their feet, anticipating. I honestly had fun playing against them. They make me work, and they make me better, and that’s all this is about.”

Burke makes sure Michigan gets good shots in transition and in the half court. Elijah Johnson explained why KU opponents have trouble getting good shots.

“Even if we give people shots, it’s not shots that they’re used to taking,” Johnson said. “We try to get them in different spots or try to get them to go to a different rhythm or rotation or something that we know they’re not 100-percent comfortable with.”

Johnson explained why Releford is the key to the perimeter defense.

“He’s talking to us and telling us constantly what’s going on and what we shouldn’t be giving up and what we should be paying attention to,” Johnson said.

Both guards gave credit to the assistant coaches for detailing how to force opposing players out of their comfort zones, how to take away their pet moves. And with all the screening Michigan does, KU’s players come into the game equipped with inside knowledge on all of Michigan’s players, not just their primary assignments.

“The way you play Michigan is probably similar to the way you’d want to guard (North) Carolina because they play four guards,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Michigan is basically playing four guards.”

Consequently, Self said, “It comes down to not necessarily how one guy guards one, it’s how any of your guys guard that individual when he has the ball, because there could be a lot of switching involved.”

Burke ensures Michigan doesn’t give away possessions. Withey enables perimeter defenders to play boldly.

“Having Jeff back there, we know we can push them out,” Johnson said of how Kansas defends. “And if they want to catch the ball at half court, we’re cool with that. Or, if they want to back-door, which a lot of people don’t try, just seeing Jeff down there, you know, we don’t appreciate it as much as we probably should because we’ve been playing with him for four years.”

Kansas will try to keep Burke from getting to the paint, and if Johnson has trouble, Naadir Tharpe and Releford are available as options. Once Burke gets to the paint, Withey will dictate what happens next.

A sophomore from Columbus, Ohio, who averages 18.8 points and 6.7 assists and shoots .387 from three-point land and .801 from the free-throw line, Burke said the key to playing against Withey is “to get as deep in the paint as possible. When we get down there, just making wise choices. I know he’s one of the best shot-blockers, if not the best in the country. My job is just to try to hit the layup when I can and hit the big man when I can. It’s all off of reads from Jeff Withey, really.”

Can the nation’s best college basketball player at steering an offense find a way to negotiate his team around the most imposing roadblock in the nation? The answer could determine the outcome of a game that feels more like a Final Four showdown than a regional semifinal.


Joel Thomas 7 years, 8 months ago

Interesting stat from CBS post-game: KU is 26-0 this year when Releford has 9 or more points. Of course this stat means nothing in itself. The nation largely sees KU for its defense, and for good reason. But Self's teams always do well running. I hope MU tries to run, starting with stops, and Releford has two great back-to-back games. McLemore then gets open shots, and he won't keep missing. Johnson, rather than falling short of a Tyshawn impersonation, takes better care of the ball and hits a couple threes and a couple lay-ups, keeping the defense honest. Young picks up his usual garbage, including at least one put back of his own missed shot. Ellis plays 15 min and confuses MU because they're still geared up for Young. Naadir hits a couple threes, none outright contested. Traylor sneaks in and continues his hot FT shooting (and all FTs are critical).

KU 74 - MU 64

JHawkIDoc 7 years, 8 months ago

(U of M ) I'm an alum from there too, but no mixed emotions tonight. RCJH!

Kevin Jenkins 7 years, 8 months ago

A true point guard with great talent. I hope our guards are ready, they hold the key to winning. Defense, defense, defense!!!! And few turn overs.. Players who have been silent should finally explode.

Steve Jacob 7 years, 8 months ago

Being a big Michigan fan, let me tell you what to look for. First, when Burke drives the lane, he will have two-three guys waiting for the pass behind the three point line, so don't help Withey. Also, if Hardaway hits shots early, he will be hot the whole game. It will be hard for KU to run, because MU knows they can't rebound, so they just shoot and run back. And Michigan can kill teams in turnover margin, KU can't get away with 20+ turnovers again.

Withey will score 20+ today, they will use a quad of power forwards playing center (McGary, Morgan, Horford, and if desperate Max Bielfeldt), and if two of these guys are on the court at the same time, they have to take a scorer off the floor. I saw them do that against Cory Zeller. Not many free throws either way in a usual Michigan game, but sure Withey will be shooting a few.

I don't know who's going to win. Michigan played two short teams in the tournament, but looked great, forced a lot of off balance shots. KU is a great team that has been pretty average in basically two home games. Should be fun.

Tony Bandle 7 years, 8 months ago

srj - Feel free to post anytime..we welcome well thought out and rational rival assessments. May both teams play their best and the best team win!!

kj_hawk 7 years, 8 months ago

What will happen when their unstoppable force meets our immovable object? Should be fun!

Tony Bandle 7 years, 8 months ago

Based on the velocity and mass of the irresistable force countered against the size, mass density and configuration of the immovable object, all factors being equal, energy dissipation will result in complete disintegration at point zero contact...i.e.....overtime!!!

wrwlumpy 7 years, 8 months ago

This might be the most recent update on Jef'f's NBA future. His stock has risen greatly throughout the year. Now commonly in the teens rather than # 30.

Adam Tyler 7 years, 8 months ago

I definitely believe we will see Releford meet Burke sometime during this game. Probably not to start the game, but if Burke is making plays I'm sure Bill won't hesitate to throw Releford at him to disrupt his game.

KansasComet 7 years, 8 months ago

I think Kansas wins this game based on their ability to rebound and play defense. Keep Withey, Releford, and Johnson out of foul trouble, and more than anything, survive and advance.

Dyrk Dugan 7 years, 8 months ago

i'm expecting a good game...i really am. but if we play like we have all year, then we'll win. handle the ball, and play D....if we do that, it should get the W. 28-7...their best road win in the league was at Minnesota...(they were ranked 9 at the time). they also won at Illinois. but at Wisc, OSU, Mich St. and IU....all losses. they also have a TCU like loss, at Penn St.

KU won at Ohio St, at Okie St., at Kansas St and at ISU...we lost at OU.

our resume' throughout the season is better...the matchups they got in the 1st two games, truly favored them...we had the KC pressure on us, plus UNC looming all weekend....we were the last game on Friday and on and on.

now it's relax time, or rather, we can just go ballin. Bill Self is 6-0 in games in the sweet 16 as a higher seed....let's get 'er done again boys.

Go Jayhawks!

Steve Kubler 7 years, 8 months ago

My fear is that the grandchildren are going to get their vocabulary expanded if the game gets too tense. Not sure if this was a good weekend for a visit in that regard! :) Otherwise this should be a sweet game that the winners can be proud of and the loser, while heartbroken, should not be ashamed of.

I have to say KU by 3 in OT on the strength of Withey's foul shooting.

CHEEZIT 7 years, 8 months ago

C'mon a football school can't beat a basketball school?

Uwe_Blab 7 years, 8 months ago

Anybody catch Mark Titus' "5 Sweet 16 Predictions, Friday Edition" for the games tonight? #5 is some funny stuff.

Tony Bandle 7 years, 8 months ago

Toupee???!!...Bill wears a toupee???!!!!...say it ain't so!!! :)

Steve Kubler 7 years, 8 months ago

Laughed so hard it hurt, thanks I needed that!

kubarry 7 years, 8 months ago

Went to a seder Monday night with a bunch of KU fans. We left room at the table for Elijah Johnson.

ManCrushOnCaptainKirk 7 years, 8 months ago

I can't figure out whether to laud Self for his halftime speeches and the way his team can turn it around after the half (think: last year's NC game, the UNC game, etc) or get upset at him for not getting the team ready to play the first half.

It doesn't seem like he has his guys scared like Roy used to during the tournament but it seems like we've not been ready to play from the opening tip lately.

Mel Clare 7 years, 8 months ago

EJ lost this game against Michigan for this team! A senior that did not have the balls to take the shot himself and throws back to Tharpe when he hd a good look at a lay up? Are you kidding me? Lead by 12 with 3 minutes left and let a guard that scored SERO in the first half get 23 in the second half? Really? MY GOD what a chocke job!

Joseph Kuebel 7 years, 8 months ago

EJ is officially my most (and only hated) Jayhawk of all time,,, Why the hell did Self keep that loser in?

Steve Jacob 7 years, 8 months ago

Wolverines! Michigan has been hard to kill off all season, playing so many close games, and that paid off here.

Mike Riches 7 years, 8 months ago

Here at Cowboys Stadium...these losses hurt the most! I don't blame HCBS... he did everything be could to fire these guys up, they just checked out early. I would have liked to see Releford play some part on the last play... but let's face it, it didn't hurt that Burke was on fire, NBA Jam style. He could have hit a three from where I'm sitting, and I'm not close!

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