This KU player should thrive against Michigan's defense, plus a Trey Burke quirk to watch out for
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 8
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.
• Ball security: Michigan is the No. 1 team in the nation when it comes to offensive turnover percentage, giving it away on just 14.5 percent of its possessions. This will definitely be a case of strength versus weakness, as KU's defense ranks 253rd nationally in defensive turnover percentage. It will be a big surprise if Michigan finishes with double-digit turnovers.
• Shooting: The Wolverines are second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, and a big reason for that is their ability to shoot it from anywhere. UM is 11th nationally in two-point percentage (53.8 percent), 31st nationally in three-point percentage (37.5 percent) and 111th in free-throw percentage (71.4 percent). Michigan has an impressive balance of big men who shoot a lot of close shots and guards who are terrific jump-shooters. Thirty-six percent of Michigan's shots are layups/dunks/tips (34 percent is NCAA average), while the Wolverines also shoot 39 percent as a team on two-point jumpshots (NCAA average is 35 percent).
• Avoiding fouls: This is another staple of John Beilein-coached teams: They won't put you on the free-throw line. This Michigan team is actually one of the best he's ever had at avoiding whistles, as it leads the nation in defensive free-throw rate. Opponents are averaging just 12.6 free-throw attempts per game against UM.
• Getting to the free-throw line: Michigan lacks a true back-to-the-basket scorer in the post, while its guards are reliant on jumpshots for points. Because of these traits, the Wolverines struggle to get to the free-throw line, ranking 335th nationally in offensive free-throw rate while averaging 16.2 free-throw attempts per game. This characteristic — also present in almost every Beilein team — means it's less likely that KU center Jeff Withey battles foul trouble Friday.
• Defensive rebounding: The numbers are a bit deceiving with this statistic. Michigan ranks 69th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage (70.8 percent), which on the surface appears to be a strong number. In mid-January, though, the Wolverines were second in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage before struggling in that area the last two months. Michigan finished eighth in the stat during Big Ten play, and because the team plays a four-guard lineup, it has struggled on the defensive glass against tall teams in the post like Indiana, Michigan State and Minnesota. KU, which also has size inside, should be able to exploit that same weakness.
• Interior defense: Outside of 6-foot-10 freshman Mitch McGary, Michigan has no other player in its rotation that is a shot-blocking threat. This has made it tough for the Wolverines to stop opponents when they get it close. Michigan ranks 163rd in two-point percentage defense, which was the second-worst of any team left in the Sweet 16 (only La Salle was worse). Opponents are shooting 62 percent at the rim against Michigan (NCAA average is 61 percent) and 36 percent on two-point jumpers (NCAA average is 35 percent).
3 Players to Watch
• Six-foot guard Trey Burke (No. 3) isn't just one of the best point guards in the nation ... he's one of the best players in the nation. The sophomore is second in Ken Pomeroy's player of the year statistical ranking and also was KU coach Bill Self's pick for national player of the year — and that was before the brackets were released.
Burke's offensive numbers are spectacular. While taking on a huge offensive load for Michigan (he ends 29.1 percent of his team's possessions, which is 65th nationally), the guard has maintained outstanding assist numbers (22nd nationally in assist rate) and shooting numbers (300th in effective field-goal percentage) while managing to keep his turnovers down (207th nationally in turnover rate). Burke also is a good three-point shooter (67 of 173, 38.7 percent) and free-throw shooter (80.1 percent), though he doesn't get to the line as much as you might expect.
A good comparison for Burke would be a more well-rounded version of Baylor's Pierre Jackson, except for the fact that they get their two-pointers in different ways. While Jackson's strength is taking his dribble all the way to the rim, Burke's strength is using the pick-and-roll to free himself for a jumpshot or floater. According to Hoop-Math.com, Burke has the highest percentage of two-point jumpshots taken on the team (41 percent), yet he still leads UM's rotation players with 44-percent accuracy on two-point jumpers (remember, NCAA average is 35 percent on those).
One interesting tidbit to watch: In iso situations, Burke is much better driving to his left than to his right. Before the NCAA Tournament, Burke was more than a half-point-per-possession better when driving left compared to his right, and he also was almost twice as likely to get all the way to the rim while driving left. We'll see if KU's defenders play this tendency and try to force Burke to his right in late shot-clock situations.
• Six-foot-6 guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (No. 10) is the other primary ball-handler for Michigan. Like Burke, Hardaway Jr. is a dangerous shooter, making 39.3 percent of his threes (68 of 173) and 50 percent of his twos (117 of 234). Hardaway Jr. is at his best in transition, and according to Luke Winn's SI.com Power Rankings, the junior is third nationally in points per possession in transition (1.422), trailing only KU's Travis Releford and Florida's Kenny Boynton.
• Six-foot-10 center Mitch McGary (No. 4) has emerged for Michigan in the NCAA Tournament after starting just two games in the regular season. In back-to-back starts, the freshman posted 13 points (6-for-9 shooting) and nine rebounds against South Dakota State and 21 points (10-for-11 shooting) with 14 rebounds against VCU. Offensively, McGary isn't a guy that creates much on his own; most of his points come on passes from Burke off the pick-and-roll or putbacks following offensive rebounds. He is an elite player on the offensive glass, though, ranking seventh nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (16.4 percent). McGary also is 122nd in defensive rebounding percentage, 318th in block percentage, and, somewhat surprisingly, 210th in steal percentage. The freshman is foul-prone, though, racking up 4.8 whistles per 40 minutes. He's a candidate for foul trouble if KU is able to consistently get it to Withey in the post.
Interestingly, there are a lot of similarities between North Carolina, the last team KU faced, and Michigan. Both teams have four-guard lineups, rely heavily on jumpshots, limit turnovers, are foul averse, don't get to the free-throw line much and have had issues with defensive rebounding.
Having said that, UNC would definitely be considered a watered-down version of Michigan, as the Wolverines boast a much better backcourt and also better overall shooters.
There are three main reasons I see this as a potential bad matchup for KU:
1. Trey Burke: KU's guards have struggled with cutting off dribble penetration all year, and that's Burke's specialty. Not only that, Michigan's offense consists of a flurry of high-ball screens, which will force Withey to play in space. KU struggled with a similar offensive team in Baylor on March 9, as Jackson and Cory Jefferson torched KU with high ball screens in the Bears' 81-58 victory.
2. KU's tendency to sometimes overhelp defensively: Michigan's spacing, which typically puts Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas in the corners, makes it a dangerous offense to help against. Both players can make KU pay if its defenders help too much on drives, as Robinson is a 34-percent three-point shooter and Stauskas is at 43.4 percent from long range. Robinson III also has a tendency to sneak in at the right time for easy baskets, as according to Hoop-Math.com, 54 percent of his shots have been at the rim, where he's shooting 74 percent. Two-thirds of those field goals have been assisted.
3. KU's offense has stopped KU's offense: Michigan's weakness is defensively — especially in the post — so this profiles as a game where both teams should be able to score. KU's offense has been so inconsistent lately, though, that it's hard for me to think that an opponent's poor defense will make much of a difference against the Jayhawks offense. KU's 0.96 points per possession in the first two NCAA games was the lowest by any team in the Sweet 16, and though that's a small sample, it's not an encouraging number considering KU wasn't exactly playing defensive juggernauts in Western Kentucky and UNC.
This should be a great game — the two teams are about as even statistically as you can get — but I'm giving the edge to Michigan.
I see the Wolverines being able to score effectively against KU's guards with pick-and-roll while limiting Withey's impact by shooting a lot of jumpshots.
Against one of the nation's best offenses, this is probably going to be the game where KU needs its offense to keep pace and eventually win the game.
It could happen, but it's hardly a guarantee with the inconsistency this team has played with on the offensive end all season.
Michigan 73, Kansas 69
Hawk to Rock
I've picked him a lot lately, but this is the game to pick Jeff Withey for his offense instead of his defense.
I don't think Withey will be blocking many shots — Michigan's jump-shooting style should prevent that — but Withey definitely has the advantage on the other end if KU can get it to him. As mentioned above, Michigan has a porous two-point defense and also a lack of post players that can block shots. UM's forwards also have a tendency to rack up fouls if they are attacked, meaning Withey should get free throw opportunities if he's aggressive. I'll say Withey has a 20-plus-point game for KU as the Jayhawks take advantage of their biggest mismatch offensively.
29-7 record, 416 points off (11.6 points off/game)
Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
West Virginia: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (1st)
TCU: Kevin Young (3rd)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (5th)
Kansas State: Naadir Tharpe (3rd)
Texas: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
TCU: Travis Releford (4th)
Iowa State: Jeff Withey (4th)
West Virginia: Perry Ellis (10th)
Texas Tech: Jeff Withey (1st)
Baylor: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Texas Tech: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (7th)
Kansas State: Jeff Withey (1st)
Western Kentucky: Jeff Withey (1st)
North Carolina: Kevin Young (4th)
Average: 4th in KUsports.com ratings