Tonight is home to possibly the best Sweet 16 matchup of the tournament. The Kansas Jayhawks will tip off against the Michigan Wolverines at 6:37 central time. The game, being played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is a rare meeting between two of the top programs in the country.
Look for the matchup between Kansas guard Travis Releford and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. Releford’s strong defensive play could determine the outcome of the game. Hardaway Jr. has been averaging 17.5 points per game in the Wolverine’s two tournament games, but Travis Releford has the defensive ability to significantly decrease Burke’s scoring.
Also keep an eye on the Trey Burke matchup with Elijah Johnson. Johnson has had a disappointing season, but has proved to come up in tight situations. Burke, a sophmore, is arguably the player of the year, though. I think Johnson will come up big once again and hold Trey Burke to a sub-par night.
If Jeff Withey can have the same type of game against Michigan as he did against North Carolina, the Jayhawks have no reason to lose. Withey’s paint communication with Kevin Young is superb, and they are arguably the best big man duo in the NCAA this season. Watch for Young to draw double teams and then dish the ball to Withey for easy scores.
The X-factor in this game is Ben McLemore. Lately, McLemore has been playing at a level he has never seen, nor has the nation. In Kansas’ previous game versus North Carolina, McLemore went 0-9 from the field, 0-6 from three point range. If he can regain his shot, Kansas could cruise to a victory. Plus, I want to see him have a highlight-dunk. During the regular season, Ben McLemore soared for some spectacular dunks. If he can go on a one man breakaway, McLemore should put something special on a dunk to give Kansas the momentum.
I belive Kansas will come out on top. The Jayhawks have showed up for big games against some of the best teams and I do not see that changing today. Also, this is Michigan’s first Sweet Sixteen appearance since the Fab Five the early 1990’s. Kansas’ experience in the Sweet 16, eight appearances in the last ten years , will be beneficial to tonight’s game. Tipoff is at 6:37 p.m. on TBS, and the winner of this game will advance to play the winner of Florida and Florida Gulf Coast.
Oh, and how about Florida Gulf Coast?
At the beginning of the season, the Kansas Jayhawks were a team not a lot of people thought could have as much success as they have had. After a loss in the third game of the season to Michigan State, this season seemed like it would be a drag. The team seems to have turned it around, though of late. Stats are on the rise, as are the Jayhawks. With a new poll coming out tomorrow, Kansas is expected to be the sixth best team in the country after winning in their first true away game at Ohio State. Yesterday’s game in Columbus showed a lot about Coach Bill Self’s team, and the team played like they could go to Atlanta in April for the Final 4.
Going into Columbus, almost every scout and analyst projected an easy win for the Ohio State Buckeyes. At home versus a young team in a revenge game? There was no way the Buckeyes would fall once again to the Jayhawks. Unfortunately for Ohio State, that was not the case. Ben McLemore led the team to a solid 74 to 66 win in Ohio. However, the score does not describe the beat down the Jayhawks put on Ohio State. Kansas shot 51 percent from the field, and held Ohio State to just over 30 percent. Once again, the Jayhawks shot lights out from three point range, dropping 46 percent of their threes compared to the Buckeyes 26 percent on 31 attempted three pointers. Kansas out-rebounded Ohio State 41 to 37. The only low point for KU yesterday was turnovers. 19 turnovers is way too many for this team. On the bright side, giving up 19 turnovers but still winning on the road proves that Kansas does not have a hard time overcoming the negatives. The turnover ratio will have to change if they want to be a lock for the Final 4.
Who is to thank for the success of Kansas? Jeff Withey is second in the country in blocks, averaging 5 a game. His size and inside presence in the post makes him a nightmare to any team the Jayhawks face. He is an experienced senior who knows how to play the game at a level that few people in college do. There is also Ben McLemore. This is a freshman whose play has made him a potential All-American. The guy is on crash course to success. He averages almost 17 points a game. He grabs almost seven boards a game and dishes out over two assists per game. Some people are probably saying, “Yeah. So what? Those aren’t outstanding.” First of all, he is a redshirt freshman. No other freshman has figures like those. Shabazz Muhammad was hyped to be the best player in the country, but now he plays on a struggling team and he is struggling as well. Nerlens Noel of Kentucky is not putting up stats like McLemore is, and he was the top ranked freshman coming in to this year. Ben’s dynamic dunks and clutch threes make him both the leader and X-Factor of this Jayhawk team. However, no credit should go to just one player. The Kansas Jayhawks’ reason for success this year is because of Bill Self. The man is simply a winner. He did it last year with a Jayhawk team that was dubbed as “The Least Talented Team to Come Through Kansas in However Many Years.” Jayhawk fans should never feel discouraged because as long as Bill Self is there, Kansas will be a winning program.
After the Ohio State game, this season could be a great year for the Jayhawks. With an easy schedule the rest of the way, and virtually no one in the Big XII who can beat them, KU has absolutely no reason to not be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. This year would be a failure if they were not a three seed or better. Between now and April, anything can happen, and only Kansas can control their own destiny. After 11 games, Kansas has established themselves as a dynamic team who can win ball games at ease.
For Jayhawk fans, it is hard to find positives after losing in the National Championship. Kansas had a remarkable run to the NCAA Championship last April, somewhere no one thought they would be. The team prevailed in tight games throughout the tournament, but their run ended against Kentucky. The heart of the Kansas basketball team, Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson left for the NBA. Gloom seemed to rein over Lawrence, but a freshman sensation emerged. Ben McLemore was suspended all of last season for eligibility reasons and was forced to watch his team from the bench. But now, McLemore is leading the Kansas Jayhawks to a hot start on the season. Ben’s absence last year has helped him mature as a basketball player and has made him a dangerous threat this season.
McLemore has taken the reins of this team. At the beginning of the season, it was unknown who would be the leader of this Kansas team. Jeff Withey is the threshold as the only true center, and he has tacked on 40 blocks already this season. However, Ben is making the most noise. He is not running his mouth with arrogance, but Ben is performing at a level like no other freshman. UCLA freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad was the talk of the freshmen coming into the season. His team has three losses in just eight games. Kentucky’s star freshman Nerlens Noel and the Wildcats are already unranked. Ben McLemore’s play has made the Kansas Jayhawks the ninth ranked team in the country.
Although he could not play in games, McLemore was still able to practice with the team last season. He learned the offense and defense, which gave him a serious advantage over other freshmen. Ben became comfortable with the team which has turned out to be key for the Jayhawks. The biggest factor McLemore brings is the fact that teams are familiar with his style of play. Teams throughout the country did not see him play last year, making him a well-kept secret. The high-power skillset McLemore brings to the table makes him an elite all-around player.
Ben McLemore’s contribution on both sides of the floor has made him the leader of this team. On the offensive side, McLemore averages almost 15 points a game and dishes over two assists. Defensively, he averages close to six rebounds per game. Ben McLemore is not huge, though. Most people would expect a 6’5” freshman with a 195 pound frame to not be nearly as active as McLemore has been. However, he has a leaping ability like no other. His awareness and timing for put-back dunks is simply jaw-dropping. When McLemore is running full speed at the rim, the only thing that can stop him is the path of the ball. Ben’s posterizing dunks have made him a fan favorite. Here is an example of what Ben McLemore is able to do.
Not only is his jersey number 23, but Ben McLemore flies through the air very similarly to Michael Jordan. His skills are not nearly there, but he is certainly on course to be a remembered player. Ben’s humbleness shapes his already great character. After games he will give high fives, sign autographs and pose for pictures. All Jayhawks need to be appreciative of Ben McLemore. Coach Bill Self has taught a numerous amount of great freshman. From Deron Williams to Mario Chalmers, Bill Self has coached some of the most talented players in the NBA today. Out of all those freshman, Self says Ben McLemore is the most talented freshman he has ever coached. Although it is evident that a player with talent like his would leave early for the NBA Draft, the decision still lies in his hands. In the meantime, everyone can sit back and watch the freshman lead Kansas this season.
Kansas was involved in another tough sweet 16 game last against North Carolina State. KU did not have as tough of a time matching up against North Carolina State as they did with Purdue. However, North Carolina State is a much more talented and balanced team. All five starters for North Carolina State average ten points or more.
KU yet again started off slow, with North Carolina State beginning on a 13-3 run. C.J Leslie, the best player for North Carolina State, scored five of the thirteen points. KU stormed back with a balanced attack with points from Jeff Withey, Kevin Young, Travis Releford, and Thomas Robinson. Kansas and North Carolina State for the rest of half were trading baskets and the halftime score was 33-32 in favor of North Carolina State. To begin the second half, KU stormed out to a 44-35 lead with points from Jeff Withey, Thomas Robinson, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, and Tyshawn Taylor – all five starters. KU from that point on controlled the game until the last couple minutes of the game. However, they could not hit a single shot after scoring two points following the three minute marker. KU ended winning the game 60-57 after North Carolina State offense fell apart in the final possession of the game.
KU yet again had a horrible game offensively, shooting 37 percent from the field and going one for twelve from the three point line. However, KU had their best defensive performance of the tournament thus far. Jeff Withey had a career high 10 blocks and Thomas Robinson was dominant when getting rebounds finishing up the 15. Also, Tyshawn Taylor finished the game up with a surprising 10 rebounds. KU defense frustrated North Carolina State the whole night. North Carolina State only shot 28 percent from the field. Thomas Robinson yet again showed he was the best player on the floor finishing with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Thomas Robinson played with a Dennis Rodman mentality last night and will need to continue with mind-tricks for KU to win in the future.
On Sunday, KU will face its toughest test so far in the tournament in North Carolina. North Carolina could be missing its most important player, Kendall Marshall, to a broken hand. If Kendall Marshall does not play or plays ineffectively, KU will win the game. North Carolina has a history of losing without having its point guard playing well. They lost when Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson were hurt and have also lost to lesser opponents. Last season, North Carolina was horrible until they put Kendall Marshall into the starting line up. The key for KU this game is their ability to pressure the point guard into making mistakes. Also, KU will be able to match up against the impressive front line of North Carolina which includes three future possible lottery picks – Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and James Michael McAdoo. KU will also need to rebound the ball effectively because North Carolina is the best rebounding team in the nation, averaging 45 rebounds per game. The game will come down to whether Kendall Marshall plays for North Carolina. If he plays and does it well, North Carolina will be going to the final four.
I’m a firm believer that the world will end in 2012. Consider the last week: Jeff Withey was trending on Twitter, Newt Gingrich is seriously being considered as a Republican Candidate, Jeremy Lin went from being the Chinese bench-warmer who went to Harvard to the (obviously) Taiwanese baller who put up 38 points against the Lakers to the victim of a racist comment (someone on ESPN is getting fired), and Nicki Minaj singlehandedly ruined the
Adele’s Grammy’s. I’m leaving out the fact that someone in Hollywood thought it would be a good idea to make a sequel to Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage, please retire, thank you).The Mayans were right. What has this world come to?
One thing’s for sure, though, Jeff Withey is going to be living up this last year if he continues “gettinwitheywithit” (don’t look at me, I didn’t come up with this). That’s not to say, if he does poorly on the court, he still won’t be living it up, because he’ll always have his hilarious twitter account @FakeJeffWithey
Fake Jeff Withey@FakeJeffWithey- Skipped classes and practice today. Valentine’s Day is my Super Bowl #WitheyGettingBusy
Or is it your National Championship, since you are in college? Either way, it’s a worthless day, and we all know it.
Fake Jeff Withey@FakeJeffWithey- “Well at least we are still gonna get a degree from a fine academic university. Oh wait…” -Texas Tech players
Well at least we are still gonna get a degree…Oh wait.
…This just got awkward.
Fake Jeff Withey@FakeJeffWithey- Wow, Coach Self takes me out when I’m only 1 point and 6 blocks away from a triple double #BillSelfCockBlockParty
Happens to me all the time, sometimes in NBA 2K11 the computer randomly subs a player that was only 6 blocks away from a triple double. ONLY 6!
And while Jeff Withey has been playing superbly these past few weeks, this last week he’s been upstaged by the meteoric rise of the Harvard graduate and now currently starting point guard for the New York Knicks Jeremy Lin. If the world doesn’t end as the Mayans predicted, it may very well end by the world getting taken over by linsanity. I can’t remember the last time I turned on Sportscenter and didn’t see something about Lin.
But it should be realized that his success was the product of opportunity and preparation. Just watch the below video, he worked out three times a day and when he was given the chance to play, he capitalized. What might be more incredible is that just last week he was sleeping on Landry Fields’s couch, after his brother told him he was having guests and couldn’t use his couch (#couchproblems).
It will be interesting to see how the future unfolds for Lin. Will he be able to control his rampant turnover problems? How will he handle the return of Melo? Both are interesting questions and will only be answered with time. Looks like we won’t be seeing any less of Lin on Sportscenter, oh well.
The light at the end of the tunnel
And while I do think the world will end in 2012, there is still hope in this sad world. You only have to look at the cover of the most recent Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition to understand why. Those girls reaffirm my belief that there is goodness in the world. Kate Upton must have stolen beauty points from Snooki and co. from the Jersey Shore (what would this column be without a tasteless Jersey Shore joke?)
Unfortunately, the cover is all I’ve seen. My beautiful and caring mother immediately withdrew the magazine, leaving me like a kid who just realized that the yellow first down lines for football on TV weren’t actually real (don’t ask me how or why I thought this). So I’ve only glanced over the cover, but that’s been good enough for me.
Not only does the SI Swimsuit Edition give me hope for this world, but also the new movie Hunger Games. I’ve read all three books of the series and based on the trailer this looks like a gem. For me, it’s a day one visit to the movie theatre, and while I’m there I will promptly forget that the world will end in less than a year, relax, and enjoy my life.