Kansas City, Mo. No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks (30-4) vs. No. 4 seed Purdue Boilermakers (27-7)
Time: approximately 8:39 p.m. | Location: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
TV: CBS | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
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1. Win the battle behind the arc
Purdue led the Big Ten in 3-point shooting, knocking down 40 percent of its shots from behind the arc this season. Five or six different Boilermakers are comfortable from 3-point range, including big man Caleb Swanigan, who shot 43 percent from 3-point range.
If Kansas worries too much about the paint and lets those Purdue shooters roam free, it could be a long night for the Jayhawks, if the Boilermakers are hitting.
One way to combat that is communication. The KU defense has to be talkative on the perimeter and ready to challenge shots from start to finish. KU’s length, especially from 6-foot-8 guards Svi Mykhailiuk and Josh Jackson, along with 6-5 reserve Lagerald Vick, certainly could prove challenging for Purdue’s shooters.
One other way Kansas can win the 3-point battle is by out-shooting Purdue. It’s not as if the Jayhawks are allergic to the 3-point shot themselves. Both teams like to get up a lot of 3-pointers (both average nine makes in 22 attempts per game) and both are shooting right around 40 percent for the season.
“The 3-point line is huge,” said KU freshman Josh Jackson. “We’ve got some pretty good shooters and so do they. I think the thing we gotta do is turn their shooters into drivers and run them off the 3-point line a little bit.... We’re definitely not trying to out-shoot 'em. We’re not trying to turn this into a horse contest.”
2. Turn up the pressure and pace
If there’s one area where the Boilermakers have struggled, it’s been taking care of the ball.
Purdue turns it over an average of just 13 times per game, but can quickly get out of control when the pace of the game gets away from players. To that end, the Boilermakers figure to slow the tempo, pound it inside and make Kansas adjust to their game.
That strategy will make it all the more important for Kansas to pressure the ball, jump into passing lanes and find ways to force the game to become a track meet as often as possible.
“We want to come out and play the best defense we can play,” Jackson said. “We just really want to play good while making them play bad.... The biggest thing is rebounding. They’ve got some big guys and we need to make sure we secure the rebound and get guys running in transition. We want to make it a fast-paced game.”
For the season, the Jayhawks forced 13.4 turnovers per game, but have found opportune times throughout the NCAA Tournament to use a steal or deflection to turn up the pace and spark a KU run.
3. Play to the crowd
There’s no question that Kansas will have the home-court advantage in this game and the Jayhawks need to make sure they do everything in their power to keep the crowd loud and into the game.
Making shots helps, but ripping off runs is the biggest way to do that, as the pro-KU crowd seems to swell with every change of possession and ensuing Kansas basket.
“You guys saw it in Tulsa,” Jackson said of how much having the crowd on your side can help. “There were tons of Kansas fans there, and there’s gonna be even more here. That’s always a plus.”
Jackson, who is averaging 20 points per game so far in the tournament, said the Jayhawks believe the offensive part of exciting the crowd will come. Stacking those moments on top of one another will be the key.
“I think we all would agree that we can score with any team in the country,” Jackson said. “The thing is, can we guard and stop them from scoring? I’ve seen times where we’ve scored nine points in a minute, and I don’t see too many other teams that can do that. So we’ve just gotta guard.”
Purdue sophomore Caleb Swanigan vs. KU senior Landen Lucas
It’s far from the only matchup that matters, but it is the one that everybody will be watching, at least initially. Lucas lives for these types of challenges and Swanigan lives to fill up the stat sheet. Whichever one gets the upper hand in this head-to-head battle will go a long way toward helping his team win this game.
But this clash will not just be a matter of Lucas standing tall while Swanigan collides with him on his way to the hoop. The Jayhawks figure to send different looks Swanigan’s way, from double-teams and help from the guards to other players taking a turn on him one-on-one. But Kansas coach Bill Self said Lucas will be on him “quite a bit of the time.”
Both players are good athletes and move well away from the rim, on offense as screeners and passers, and on defense as helpers against ball screens. And both players do several little things to help make the game easier for their teammates on both ends of the floor.
Because Purdue has more size and depth in the front court, the Jayhawks absolutely need Lucas to play smart and stay out of foul trouble. A bonus for Kansas would be if that intelligence — derived from his status as a fifth-year senior — helps Lucas draw a couple of quick fouls on Swanigan, which, obviously, would play to KU’s advantage in a big way.
No. 1 seed Kansas
G – Frank Mason III, 5-11, 190, Sr.
G – Devonte’ Graham, 6-2, 185, Jr.
G – Josh Jackson, 6-8, 207, Fr.
G – Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, 6-8, 205, Jr.
F – Landen Lucas, 6-10, 250, Sr.
No. 4 seed Purdue
G – Dakota Mathias, 6-4, 200, Jr.
G – Ryan Cline, 6-5, 190, Soph.
G – P.J. Thompson, 5-10, 185, Jr.
F – Vincent Edwards, 6-8, 225, Jr.
F – Caleb Swanigan, 6-9, 250, Soph.