Video: Ben McLemore talks about ways to snap out of slump; final takeaways from Cowboys Stadium
5:15 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
Final update from Arlington before we sign off on the live blog.
Mike Yoder has some good video of Ben McLemore talking about his slump and being excited to play in Cowboys Stadium. This video also gives a good look at just how huge the stadium/videoboard are.
And finally, Matt Tait and I go through our takeaways from Thursday's media day. Topics include whom KU coach Bill Self might have hinted will guard Michigan's Trey Burke, how McLemore looked at the open practice and the Michigan players' (perhaps not smart) plan of attack against Jeff Withey.
Thanks for checking out our live blog, and be sure to check back to KUsports.com for coverage of the Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament.
4:24 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
A few more quotes I didn't get in earlier:
• Releford in the locker room, on if players notice when people pick against them:
Yeah. Everybody's watching. It's the biggest time of the year for college ball. Everybody's watching. We're watching. We see who's saying it, not picking us and stuff like that. We don't take it personal. That's just their opinions. But we use it as momentum going into the game.
• Michigan center Mitch McGary, on if he seriously considered coming to KU out of high school:
Yeah, I did. Coach Self and Joe Dooley and Danny Manning talked to me, I took an unofficial here after that Jayhawk Invitational tournament. It was a good unofficial visit, but it wasn't the best fit for me.
• Michigan point guard Trey Burke, on the toughest defender he's faced this year:
I would probably say the toughest overall defender would probably be Oladipo from Indiana. As far as on ball, I have to give it to (Ohio State's Aaron) Craft. Both of those guys are very deserving on the defensive end. They work so hard on defense.
• Burke, on if the man defending him or Withey has a bigger impact on his offensive game Friday:
I think Jeff Withey, just because our offense is set up on the guards getting into the paint. 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 successful as our decisions in the paint.
Last call for questions/topics for Matt and I to talk about in our video chat. Just post a comment below and we'll do our best to get to that topic.
4:15 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
Matt Tait and I will be doing a live video chat at 4:40 p.m. If you have questions you want answered or specific topics discussed, put them in the comments section below and we'll do our best to answer them
3:59 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
Here are a few notable quotes from Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey from their time on the podium:
• Elijah Johnson, on team's defense and other teams "missing shots" against KU:
Well, our coaches do a great job of scout report. They know so much about other teams, you know, and we listen. I feel like we're real coachable. Even if we give people shots, it's not shots that they're used to taking. 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. If you're going to get shots, we're not going to give you the shots you want.
• Jeff Withey, on going against Michigan's offense:
They're going to try attacking the paint, probably try getting me in foul trouble and stuff like that. We've been preparing for them. We know what their offense is like. We're going to do whatever we can to try to keep them away from the paint.
• Elijah Johnson, on Travis Releford's helping KU's defense:
I feel he's the key to all that, in my honest opinion, most of the time you make it hard for them to get that and when they get it, it's a tough shot. They know they worked for it, so they probably deserved it. I think Travis would agree with me, I know he probably don't want to toot his own horn, but I give all of that credit to Travis. He's the head for the guards on 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.
• Elijah Johnson, on Jeff Withey's defense:
I think that it's so much confidence having Jeff behind us, because we don't feel pressured into being back‑doored, you know. A lot of people fear being back‑doored, but when you back‑door, you're going with a head of steam. And you're going with a head of steam towards a brick wall.
• Travis Releford, on some analysts picking Michigan to win:
We take pride in people going against us. We get fuel for that. And we're just looking forward to playing this game.
• Elijah Johnson, on Ben McLemore's slump:
Yeah, we've been talking to him. But right now, I mean, I'm not an expert at this, but right now I feel like he's probably hearing a million things, different opinions from family, friends and the coaches. I feel like right now that's the coaches job to really get to him and help him calm down. The biggest thing that we've been saying to him constantly is we support you, no matter what. You've carried us a long way, you've helped us a lot. And we know you'll be there when we really need you. When you're struggling, we're not going to stray, so keep the confidence. And I think he has.
• Elijah Johnson, on carrying the thought that a loss would mean the end of the seniors' college careers:
I personally feel like you shouldn't think like that. What if I don't or this or that. You've just got to relax and play. And we've been preparing for this for four years now. So it's nothing too much different that we can do that we haven't prepared for. If it's meant to happen, it will happen. We've been preparing every day in practice, every practice, extra trips, extra talks, all the video sessions, everything, I think all that plays out right now. You sort of want it to happen right now in the last run, but you can't just wish for things to happen, you've got to kind of go make it happen.
3:35 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
Nick Krug just added to his photo gallery. Here's a sample:
3:18 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
Kansas center Jeff Withey had a different look on the podium in the locker room Friday.
Withey had a black right eye after taking an inadvertent elbow from North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo during Sunday's game in Kansas City, Mo.
Here's another photo from Nick Krug from today's practice day.
3:05 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
Just posted the full audio from KU coach Bill Self and also KU players Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey during their time at the podium.
Be sure to also check out Matt Tait's video showing the setup at Cowboys Stadium along with some clips of KU's open practice.
2:45 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
Here's the Cliff's notes version from KU coach Bill Self's time at the podium.
• Michigan has good players offensively, and the coaches put those good players in good positions. John Beilein is a terrific coach. The Wolverines only turn it over nine times per game, and when a team like KU turns it over 14-15 times a game, that can allow Michigan to get 12-18 extra points a game. KU has to force UM to make mistakes, and it doesn't make many. KU also has to do a great job against Michigan's defense and not allow the Wolverines to get easy shots off offensive miscues. KU also has to steal extra possessions on the glass. A point guard like Trey Burke makes the game easier for a lot of other Michigan players.
• It took KU a while this year to develop an identity. Even when KU was 19-1, it was still developing an identity. KU's record exceeded the team's own expectations. Sometimes records are a little misleading, and Self says KU probably hasn't played as well as the record might indicate. KU finally has found what it hangs its hat on and bought into it an enjoyed playing that way. Self thinks that's happened the last month of the season.
• Self doesn't know if it's an advantage that his team has played in football stadiums. KU has four dome games under its belt, and Self said "what that means is absolutely nothing, but you never know." Self had never been in Cowboys Stadium. The players will be fired up as well. Self doesn't see how something that happened last year would have any relevance on this year.
• In the last month, KU has hung its hat on defense. It also has rebounded it better than early int he season. The offense has been inconsistent, but when it's been good, it's been very good. But the defense has been pretty constant. KU can score, but Self thinks if its mind-set is that it's going to outscore folks, the Jayhawks are going to get beat. KU has tried to make it so that, no matter the situation, it's not allowing opponents to play well and have rhythm. KU can't allow a team to be comfortable for the full 40 minutes.
• KU's core defensive philosophy is that it's going to give up one or fewer shots every possession and not allow easy baskets. KU talks about that every day. There's different ways to guard things and different ways to do scouting reports, but if the players believe in that core principle and have that mind-set, it makes the other things easier.
• Self says Travis Releford is, without question, KU's best on-ball defender. You could make the case for him being the best perimeter defender in the Big 12, just as you could make a case for others. Self doesn't think you could make a case for Jeff Withey not being the best interior defender in the Big 12. He blocks shots better than anybody in the Big 12 in recent memory. Withey deserves all the credit he gets, and Releford probably doesn't get as much credit as he deserves. If you look at the games where KU has been good defensively and the other team has a good perimeter player, the reason KU was good was because of Releford.
• The coaching staff is not going to allow Ben McLemore to have distractions. McLemore's basketball family has to continue to coach him. They're not going to leave him alone. It's not like a pitcher with a no-hitter in the seventh inning where nobody talks to the pitcher. McLemore is trying hard. He's going to play great this weekend, and he's going to play great against Michigan. Self believes that, and he thinks McLemore believes that. Everybody goes through phases where they don't play their best. McLemore doesn't have the ball in his hands when he's not playing best. That's not who he's been all year long. For KU to have the best chance to win, everybody has to play well, an he's a key part of that. McLemore needs to understand that he's good — really good. When he's really good, he's as good as there is.
• Michigan guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are terrific. Self believes Burke should be national player of the year. That's not coach-speak, and that's not because KU is playing Michigan. Self voted for Burke before the brackets came out. Self thinks he's terrific. KU has played Hardaway Jr. before. He's got size and can shoot over the top. He's an athlete. They're a great combination. Self hasn't seen a better backcourt this year than Michigan has. KU will have to guard them well individually and by committee. Then you forget about Nik Stauskus, who might be the best shooter Michigan has. The Wolverines have some nice pieces on the perimeter.
• Self says KU's coaches don't let players help with the decision process of who they're going to guard. The coaches talk about it as a staff. The way you play Michigan is similar to the way you play North Carolina, because Michigan plays four guards. Glenn Robinson III is a big, big guard, but he still has perimeter skills. It comes down not necessarily to 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. That's probably something that will happen.
2:08 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
KU coach Bill Self just finished up his time at the podium. We'll have audio and Cliff's notes shortly.
In the meantime, be sure to check out Nick Krug's photo gallery from Michigan's practice earlier today.
1:28 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
Here is the Cliff's notes version from Michigan coach John Beilein's comments at the podium today.
• Beilein says everything for KU starts with its defense. The team has four seniors out there. They have seen it all. He remembers KU's guys from playing the Jayhawks two and three years ago. KU's players won't remember Michigan's players because they weren't on the team then.
• Michigan point guard Trey Burke has seen taller defenders go against him like KU senior Travis Releford might. Indiana's Victor Oladipo is a good example, as he is 6 foot 4. Good competition brings out the best in Burke.
• Beilein says you can run a beautiful play, and a great shot-blocker like Jeff Withey can block the shot anyway to start a fast break opportunity. That can be deflating for a team, and Michigan has to not get deflated. KU has developed Withey in that he's playing taller offensively. He's not bringing the ball down as much now. He's a challenge on both ends.
• Beilein loves having 6-5, 6-6, 6-7 wings. Self has three of those guys out there as well. All have length, and all can shoot it. KU's four men get lost in the discussion sometimes. They're skilled. Kevin Young does a lot of the dirty work for the other guys.
• If Michigan plays defense, it plays much better offense, because the team likes to get out and run and has great shooters on the wing. Beilein has tinkered with things offensively and seems to have found something that has worked recently. Beilein thinks his team drives the ball well, shoots it well and grabs offensive rebounds well. Beilein thinks a key is to take care of the ball, as KU defends so well that you have to get a lot of shots.
• All players will go through tough shooting times. A lot of times, if you make one shot, you get going. KU guard Ben McLemore is a great player. Michigan needs to not give him open looks. Freshmen go through shooting slumps sometimes. But KU is a great team even when he's not shooting well.
• Beilein didn't see any difference in his team shooting in a dome during its practice today. He won't address it with his players. He doesn't see a reason to address it.
• To win at this level, everybody's got to play well. But when your guards and playing well and are experienced, you have an advantage. Point-guard play has been elevated in the last 10 years. If your point guard has a tough game, the rest of your guys have to have really good games. Beilein thinks, at the end of the KU-Michigan game, the contest will be decided by how the whole team plays.
12:50 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
Welcome back to the NCAA Tournament blog, coming live to you from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Kansas will play Michigan in at around 6:37 p.m. Friday, and today is the main media session for all three teams in this Sweet 16 site.
Here's the interview schedule for today:
1-1:30 p.m. — Michigan
1:30-2 p.m. — Kansas
While we wait for the press conferences to start, I wanted to give you guys a few links that relate to both KU and Michigan.
• Here's a Ben McLemore highlight video that has been making it around the Internet:
• Can't recommend this one highly enough: Grantland.com's Jordan Conn was given all-access with South Dakota State before its NCAA Tournament game against Michigan, and he gives a lot of scouting info about Michigan from SDSU's coaches.
• For those who like the Five-minute Scout breakdowns, the excellent Michigan blog Mgoblog.com has a similar statistical breakdown of KU's offense, defense and individual players.
• Here's some additional Q&A discussion from Mgoblog.com about how Michigan's big men match up against KU center Jeff Withey.
• One more from Mgoblog.com, which shows how Nebraska had some success guarding Michigan's dangerous pick-and-roll by sagging its big man in the lane.
• SI.com's Luke Winn released his later Power Rankings, and KU is ninth out of the remaining teams. Winn also has discussion about how Travis Releford and Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. are two of the top transition scorers in the country.
Be sure to check back throughout the day as we keep you updated on the latest happenings here.