Taking On Cinderella

At this stage of the game the number in front of the school name does not matter, nor does conference affiliation. One team stands between Kansas and an appearance in this year's Final Four – the Davidson Wildcats.

For the second game in a row, Kansas will take on the Wildcats. No offense to Villanova, but these Cats are a cut above at the moment. The last time this team lost was December 21, 2007, and that was a one-point loss to NC State (65-66)! Bob McKillop has Davidson running on all cylinders and ready to take out the 1, 2, and 3 seed in the Midwest Region on the way to winning its 26th straight.  

We’ve seen this one before – tournament favorite meets media darling and you can be sure a majority of the country will be rooting for the Wildcats. The Cinderella Wildcats are led by baby-faced Stephon Curry who has displayed a wicked game through the first three games of this tournament. Curry is on a shooting tear and has scored 103 points so far, and appears to be the hottest player on the hottest team in college hoops at the moment.

So you can imagine that in the last 24 hours the Jayhawks have fielded their share of questions about the 6-2 guard from Charlotte. During Saturday’s meeting with the media KU head coach Bill Self and his players entertained 15 questions that referenced Curry in some way.

This will not be a one man show defensively for KU as Self will likely run a variety of players at Curry. On Saturday Self’s players were asked about the daunting task of slowing down Curry and their defensive philosophy against Davidson’s leading scorer (25.9 ppg for the season).  

“I think I can 'cause I'll try to use my length,” said the 6-6 Rush who stands 4-inches taller than Curry. “We probably will switch off on guarding him some. Russell (Robinson) will probably guard him some. Mario (Chalmers) will try to guard him some.”

“A guy like Stephen Curry is going to get his shots off. Make sure he's working each possession, don't give him anything easy,” said Robinson who will likely start the game on Curry.

“Last game we had to go off players. This time we have to go off a lot of actions. Just try to cut off the head of this team, which is Stephen Curry,” Darrell Arthur stated. “He's a good player. We just have to try to stop him, limit his points.”

“This is definitely the biggest defensive challenge I faced in my career thus far because it's the biggest game I played in my career thus far. I'm up for the challenge,” said Robinson. “My teammates are up for the challenge. It's going to take a team effort. Main thing is to have more points than them at the end of the game.”

Curry is just a part of McKillop’s well-run motion offense. For those of you unfamiliar with the motion offense, Self put it best on Saturday, “it’s easy to scout, but tough to play against.” Everything is a read to it’s about principles and not plays. To beat a motion style offense it requires a cerebral approach on the defensive end of the floor. Much like Kansas, Davidson is not afraid to make the extra pass so though Curry is the focal point, losing site of the rest of this Wildcat team would be a mistake.

“We have to worry about other guys than Curry,” admitted Arthur. “They have (Jason) Richards and (Thomas) Sanders and all the other post guys that come off the bench. They can come out there and hurt us. They have a 17-foot range jump shot, and can drive to the basket either way. As long as we move our feet and block out and rebound, everything will be fine.”

Pressuring 6-2 senior Jason Richards might be just as important as slowing down Curry. Richards runs the Wildcats offense and is really the catalyst. Richards’ assist-to-turnover ratio is well over +2.0 and vs. Wisconsin he notched 11 points to go along with 13 assists. Against Georgetown, Richards nearly completed another double-double (15 points, 9 assists).

“Richards, he runs the team. He gets a lot of assists. So you take him out, then half the job on Curry is done. The main thing is pressure. Stick to what we've been doing all year.”

What KU has been doing all year is hedging on screens better than any team in America and vs. this motion offense it will be put to the test. The Kansas frontcourt is well-aware that stopping the guards may in fact depend on their ability to show and contest on jump shots.

“Our role is real big in this game because Curry, he runs off a lot of screens and staggers,” said Darnell Jackson analyzing the upcoming matchup. “We have to make sure we have a lot of contact, showing our bigs, and making sure their bigs don’t slip to the baskets and get easy baskets.”

 “We have to do a lot of showing and a lot of covering. Make sure we try to keep (Curry) out of the paint, keep him from getting good looks, just try to contest his threes when he out there,” said Arthur.

Don’t let the words motion offense fool you into thinking that McKillop’s team wishes to slow things down. Kansas must take care of the basketball. If the Jayhawks are as sloppy as they were down the stretch against Nova, Davidson will have no problem pushing the tempo for an easy two. There is no way Davidson, who averages over 75.0 ppg, will attempt to slow this one down. With how staunch KU’s half court defense has been lately, running and spread situations in transition may end up being the most effective way to score on KU.

“If they're able to control the defensive glass, they'll run it right down your throat. And a lot of times they run hard after makes, too,” Self continued. “They've got a lot of pieces. We do not have a dominant scorer like they have, but the teams play pretty similar. I mean, it's get up and down the floor. It's a game of pressure on both ends.”

When you watch the Wildcats maybe the most surprising quality they possess is how physical they are.

“They do a great job setting very physical, legal screens,” Self noticed. “They're a very good screening team. They do a great job defensively of not letting you go where you want to go, riding you off cuts, things like that. They are very weak-side conscious on passes to the post, quick traps and rotations. They do a lot of good things.”

Davidson won’t be fazed by seeing Kansas stretched across the front of the uniform. But its hard to believe this Kansas team won’t be focused on a goal set after last year’s Elite 8 loss to UCLA. While the rest of the country goes ga-ga for Davidson and the media talks about the crowd being dominated by the Wildcat faithful, the Jayhawks will focus on the 40 minutes that stand between them and a trip to San Antonio.

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