Kansas/Michigan To Clash In Battle Of Wills

When a team is lucky enough to still be playing this late into March, there's usually a common theme. Defense

When a team is lucky enough to still be playing this late into March, there's usually a common theme. Defense.

Kansas can certainly attest to that. When the Jayhawks meet Michigan in the South Regional Semifinal, Friday night at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX, they will arrive with the biggest weapon that can stop the Wolverines, their defense. It's the one trait that has always been there for them even during the toughest of times this season.

"There's been periods of a game that we can look as good as we've looked all year long offensively and then there's periods of a game where we can really not look very good at all offensively," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "But, no matter what, it seems to me like our defense has been pretty constant."

On Friday night, the Jayhawks will get arguably its greatest test of the season. Michigan features multiple players, especially on the guard line that can hurt opponents in multiple ways, the hallmark of their coach John

Led by guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr, the Wolverines are playing some of their best ball of the season in a year where they have been ranked as high as number one in the polls.

Both have garnered praise not just from the media, but from coaches like Self, who says he voted Burke as the national player of the year.

"They're a great combination," Self said. "Without question, I haven't seen a better backcourt in the country than what Michigan has. We'll have to obviously guard them well individually but also by committee."

"And then you forget about their third guard (Nic Stauskas) that may be the best shooter they have. So, they have some nice pieces on the perimeter." 

Kansas will counter with center Jeff Withey in the middle, who will present problems for Michigan, as there aren't many players in the country who can block shots like him.

But, just as important are the defenders that Kansas can throw out on the perimeter, especially senior guard Travis Releford, who is as solid of a defender as anyone the Wolverines have seen. Releford in essence, has become Kansas ace defender or stopper, with a prowess similar to that of former NBA veteran Bruce Bowen. Over the course of his time at Kansas, Releford has become the quarterback of the Jayhawks defense.

"I think Travis would agree with me, I know he probably doesn't want to toot his own horn, but I give all of that credit to Travis," guard Elijah Johnson said. "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 should be paying attention to."

On Friday night, that kind of teamwork, communication and commitment will be paramount if Kansas hopes to return to the Elite Eight.

And if that isn't enough, they can always remember the biggest intangible that spurred them when facing adversity, Sunday against North Carolina.

"We have four seniors who know this could be their last game," senior forward Kevin Young said. "Just trying to fight to stay alive, it means a lot more."

 

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