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This KU player should thrive against Michigan’s defense, plus a Trey Burke quirk to watch out for

Michigan guard Trey Burke heads up to the bucket against forward Jordan Morgan during a day of practices and press conference for teams in the South Regional at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Thursday, March 28, 2013.

Michigan guard Trey Burke heads up to the bucket against forward Jordan Morgan during a day of practices and press conference for teams in the South Regional at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Thursday, March 28, 2013. by Nick Krug

Team: Michigan
Record: 28-7
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 8
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.

3 Strengths

Ball security: Michigan is the No. 1 team in the nation when it comes to offensive turnover percentage, giving it away on just 14.5 percent of its possessions. This will definitely be a case of strength versus weakness, as KU's defense ranks 253rd nationally in defensive turnover percentage. It will be a big surprise if Michigan finishes with double-digit turnovers.

Shooting: The Wolverines are second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, and a big reason for that is their ability to shoot it from anywhere. UM is 11th nationally in two-point percentage (53.8 percent), 31st nationally in three-point percentage (37.5 percent) and 111th in free-throw percentage (71.4 percent). Michigan has an impressive balance of big men who shoot a lot of close shots and guards who are terrific jump-shooters. Thirty-six percent of Michigan's shots are layups/dunks/tips (34 percent is NCAA average), while the Wolverines also shoot 39 percent as a team on two-point jumpshots (NCAA average is 35 percent).

Avoiding fouls: This is another staple of John Beilein-coached teams: They won't put you on the free-throw line. This Michigan team is actually one of the best he's ever had at avoiding whistles, as it leads the nation in defensive free-throw rate. Opponents are averaging just 12.6 free-throw attempts per game against UM.

3 Weaknesses

Getting to the free-throw line: Michigan lacks a true back-to-the-basket scorer in the post, while its guards are reliant on jumpshots for points. Because of these traits, the Wolverines struggle to get to the free-throw line, ranking 335th nationally in offensive free-throw rate while averaging 16.2 free-throw attempts per game. This characteristic — also present in almost every Beilein team — means it's less likely that KU center Jeff Withey battles foul trouble Friday.

Defensive rebounding: The numbers are a bit deceiving with this statistic. Michigan ranks 69th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage (70.8 percent), which on the surface appears to be a strong number. In mid-January, though, the Wolverines were second in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage before struggling in that area the last two months. Michigan finished eighth in the stat during Big Ten play, and because the team plays a four-guard lineup, it has struggled on the defensive glass against tall teams in the post like Indiana, Michigan State and Minnesota. KU, which also has size inside, should be able to exploit that same weakness.

• Interior defense: Outside of 6-foot-10 freshman Mitch McGary, Michigan has no other player in its rotation that is a shot-blocking threat. This has made it tough for the Wolverines to stop opponents when they get it close. Michigan ranks 163rd in two-point percentage defense, which was the second-worst of any team left in the Sweet 16 (only La Salle was worse). Opponents are shooting 62 percent at the rim against Michigan (NCAA average is 61 percent) and 36 percent on two-point jumpers (NCAA average is 35 percent).

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot guard Trey Burke (No. 3) isn't just one of the best point guards in the nation ... he's one of the best players in the nation. The sophomore is second in Ken Pomeroy's player of the year statistical ranking and also was KU coach Bill Self's pick for national player of the year — and that was before the brackets were released.

Burke's offensive numbers are spectacular. While taking on a huge offensive load for Michigan (he ends 29.1 percent of his team's possessions, which is 65th nationally), the guard has maintained outstanding assist numbers (22nd nationally in assist rate) and shooting numbers (300th in effective field-goal percentage) while managing to keep his turnovers down (207th nationally in turnover rate). Burke also is a good three-point shooter (67 of 173, 38.7 percent) and free-throw shooter (80.1 percent), though he doesn't get to the line as much as you might expect.

A good comparison for Burke would be a more well-rounded version of Baylor's Pierre Jackson, except for the fact that they get their two-pointers in different ways. While Jackson's strength is taking his dribble all the way to the rim, Burke's strength is using the pick-and-roll to free himself for a jumpshot or floater. According to Hoop-Math.com, Burke has the highest percentage of two-point jumpshots taken on the team (41 percent), yet he still leads UM's rotation players with 44-percent accuracy on two-point jumpers (remember, NCAA average is 35 percent on those).

One interesting tidbit to watch: In iso situations, Burke is much better driving to his left than to his right. Before the NCAA Tournament, Burke was more than a half-point-per-possession better when driving left compared to his right, and he also was almost twice as likely to get all the way to the rim while driving left. We'll see if KU's defenders play this tendency and try to force Burke to his right in late shot-clock situations.

Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. heads in for a dunk during a day of practices and press conference for teams in the South Regional at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Thursday, March 28, 2013.

Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. heads in for a dunk during a day of practices and press conference for teams in the South Regional at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Thursday, March 28, 2013. by Nick Krug

Six-foot-6 guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (No. 10) is the other primary ball-handler for Michigan. Like Burke, Hardaway Jr. is a dangerous shooter, making 39.3 percent of his threes (68 of 173) and 50 percent of his twos (117 of 234). Hardaway Jr. is at his best in transition, and according to Luke Winn's SI.com Power Rankings, the junior is third nationally in points per possession in transition (1.422), trailing only KU's Travis Releford and Florida's Kenny Boynton.

• Six-foot-10 center Mitch McGary (No. 4) has emerged for Michigan in the NCAA Tournament after starting just two games in the regular season. In back-to-back starts, the freshman posted 13 points (6-for-9 shooting) and nine rebounds against South Dakota State and 21 points (10-for-11 shooting) with 14 rebounds against VCU. Offensively, McGary isn't a guy that creates much on his own; most of his points come on passes from Burke off the pick-and-roll or putbacks following offensive rebounds. He is an elite player on the offensive glass, though, ranking seventh nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (16.4 percent). McGary also is 122nd in defensive rebounding percentage, 318th in block percentage, and, somewhat surprisingly, 210th in steal percentage. The freshman is foul-prone, though, racking up 4.8 whistles per 40 minutes. He's a candidate for foul trouble if KU is able to consistently get it to Withey in the post.

Prediction

Interestingly, there are a lot of similarities between North Carolina, the last team KU faced, and Michigan. Both teams have four-guard lineups, rely heavily on jumpshots, limit turnovers, are foul averse, don't get to the free-throw line much and have had issues with defensive rebounding.

Having said that, UNC would definitely be considered a watered-down version of Michigan, as the Wolverines boast a much better backcourt and also better overall shooters.

There are three main reasons I see this as a potential bad matchup for KU:

1. Trey Burke: KU's guards have struggled with cutting off dribble penetration all year, and that's Burke's specialty. Not only that, Michigan's offense consists of a flurry of high-ball screens, which will force Withey to play in space. KU struggled with a similar offensive team in Baylor on March 9, as Jackson and Cory Jefferson torched KU with high ball screens in the Bears' 81-58 victory.

2. KU's tendency to sometimes overhelp defensively: Michigan's spacing, which typically puts Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas in the corners, makes it a dangerous offense to help against. Both players can make KU pay if its defenders help too much on drives, as Robinson is a 34-percent three-point shooter and Stauskas is at 43.4 percent from long range. Robinson III also has a tendency to sneak in at the right time for easy baskets, as according to Hoop-Math.com, 54 percent of his shots have been at the rim, where he's shooting 74 percent. Two-thirds of those field goals have been assisted.

3. KU's offense has stopped KU's offense: Michigan's weakness is defensively — especially in the post — so this profiles as a game where both teams should be able to score. KU's offense has been so inconsistent lately, though, that it's hard for me to think that an opponent's poor defense will make much of a difference against the Jayhawks offense. KU's 0.96 points per possession in the first two NCAA games was the lowest by any team in the Sweet 16, and though that's a small sample, it's not an encouraging number considering KU wasn't exactly playing defensive juggernauts in Western Kentucky and UNC.

This should be a great game — the two teams are about as even statistically as you can get — but I'm giving the edge to Michigan.

I see the Wolverines being able to score effectively against KU's guards with pick-and-roll while limiting Withey's impact by shooting a lot of jumpshots.

Against one of the nation's best offenses, this is probably going to be the game where KU needs its offense to keep pace and eventually win the game.

It could happen, but it's hardly a guarantee with the inconsistency this team has played with on the offensive end all season.

Michigan 73, Kansas 69

Hawk to Rock

I've picked him a lot lately, but this is the game to pick Jeff Withey for his offense instead of his defense.

Kansas center Jeff Withey smiles with a black eye while talking with media members during a day of practices and press conference for teams in the South Regional at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Thursday, March 28, 2013. Withey suffered the shiner during the Jayhawks' last game against North Carolina.

Kansas center Jeff Withey smiles with a black eye while talking with media members during a day of practices and press conference for teams in the South Regional at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Thursday, March 28, 2013. Withey suffered the shiner during the Jayhawks' last game against North Carolina. by Nick Krug

I don't think Withey will be blocking many shots — Michigan's jump-shooting style should prevent that — but Withey definitely has the advantage on the other end if KU can get it to him. As mentioned above, Michigan has a porous two-point defense and also a lack of post players that can block shots. UM's forwards also have a tendency to rack up fouls if they are attacked, meaning Withey should get free throw opportunities if he's aggressive. I'll say Withey has a 20-plus-point game for KU as the Jayhawks take advantage of their biggest mismatch offensively.

Predictions tally
29-7 record, 416 points off (11.6 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
West Virginia: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (1st)
TCU: Kevin Young (3rd)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (5th)
Kansas State: Naadir Tharpe (3rd)
Texas: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
TCU: Travis Releford (4th)
Iowa State: Jeff Withey (4th)
West Virginia: Perry Ellis (10th)
Texas Tech: Jeff Withey (1st)
Baylor: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Texas Tech: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (7th)
Kansas State: Jeff Withey (1st)
Western Kentucky: Jeff Withey (1st)
North Carolina: Kevin Young (4th)
Average: 4th in KUsports.com ratings

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Three reasons I think North Carolina doesn’t match up well with KU

North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland hams it up for the cameras outside the team locker room, Saturday, March 23, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland hams it up for the cameras outside the team locker room, Saturday, March 23, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Team: North Carolina
Record: 25-10
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 25
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.

3 Strengths

Ball security: North Carolina has turned it over on just 17.3 percent of its possessions this year, which ranks 36th nationally. The Tar Heels actually have been even more secure in ACC play, lowering their offensive turnover percentage to 16.5 percent. KU isn't a team that forces many turnovers either, as the Jayhawks rank 246th nationally in defensive turnover percentage (18.6 percent).

Creating steals: UNC doesn't always press, but it will almost always pressure the ball, which creates lots of opportunities for steals. The Tar Heels are 73rd nationally in steal percentage, coming away with swipes on 11.2 percent of their defensive possessions. Going primarily with a four-guard look during ACC play, UNC also led all ACC teams in steal percentage.

Avoiding fouls: UNC coach Roy Williams has historically had teams that have done an excellent job of keeping opponents off the free throw line, and this year is no different. The Tar Heels rank 16th nationally in defensive free throw rate, as despite playing at the nation's 18th-fastest pace, they have allowed just 16 free throw attempts per game to opponents.

3 Weaknesses

Getting to the free throw line: North Carolina is primarily a jump-shooting team and because of that, it hardly ever draws fouls. The Har Heels are 329th nationally in offensive free throw rate, putting up 645 free throws this year compared to 2,248 field-goal attempts. UNC averages just 18.4 free-throw tries per game.

Two-point shooting: The Tar Heels' infatuation with two-point jump shots also has hurt their two-point shooting percentage, as they have made just 46.9 percent of its shots inside the arc (199th nationally). According to Hoop-Math.com, 41 percent of UNC's shots are two-point jump shots (NCAA average is 33 percent).

Defensive rebounding: Since going to a four-guard lineup, defensive rebounding has been a struggle for UNC against bigger teams like KU. In each of their last three losses, the Tar Heels allowed Duke (twice) and Miami (Fla.) to grab at least 40 percent of the available offensive rebounds (NCAA average is 31.8 percent). This will be an interesting area to watch, as KU tied for its worst offensive rebounding effort in the Bill Self era against Western Kentucky on Friday (14.8 percent offensive rebounding percentage).

3 Players to Watch

• Much like Oklahoma State's Le'Bryan Nash, UNC's 6-foot-9 forward James Michael McAdoo (No. 43) is a former McDonald's All-American whose reputation is much better than his statistics. The sophomore finished the regular season is in the top 50 in field goal attempts (451) despite putting up numbers that shouldn't warrant that kind of role.

North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo heads to the bucket over Villanova forward JayVaughn Pinkston during the first half on Friday, March 22, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo heads to the bucket over Villanova forward JayVaughn Pinkston during the first half on Friday, March 22, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

McAdoo is a well-below-average two-point shooter, making just 45.3 percent of those shots in the regular season (198 of 437). His shot selection is mostly to blame, as a whopping 67 percent of his shots this year have been two-point jumpers — statistically the worst shot in basketball. He's not a good jump-shooter, either, as he made 33 percent of his two-point jump shots (NCAA average is 35 percent), has missed both of his three-pointers this year and is just a 57.3-percent free-throw shooter.

McAdoo's biggest strength is his defense, as he is 302nd in defensive rebounding percentage and 466th in steal percentage — a stat that big men usually don't specialize in. Offensively, he also is UNC's best player at drawing fouls (5.2 per 40 minutes, 215th nationally).

• Six-foot-5 guard P.J. Hairston (No. 15) was inserted into the starting lineup mid-season, and for good reason.

North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston pulls up for a three over Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono during the first half on Friday, March 22, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston pulls up for a three over Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono during the first half on Friday, March 22, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

The sophomore was UNC's highest volume shooter in the regular season (taking 28.5 percent of the shots when he's in; 152nd nationally) while remaining exceptionally efficient. Hairston is best from three-point range, making 38.9 percent (81 of 208), but he also is an above-average two-point shooter with 77.8-percent accuracy from the free-throw stripe. Hairston also rarely turns it over (75th nationally in turnover rate), is decent at drawing fouls (4.7 per 40 minutes) and is a good perimeter defender (332nd in steal percentage). Statistically, he's UNC's best player.

• Think of 6-foot-7 guard/forward Reggie Bullock (No. 35 and has a mohawk) as UNC's version of Iowa State's Tyrus McGee.

North Carolina guard Reggie Bullock pulls up for a three over Villanova guard James Bell during the first half on Friday, March 22, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

North Carolina guard Reggie Bullock pulls up for a three over Villanova guard James Bell during the first half on Friday, March 22, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

If you remember, McGee combines great three-point shooting with a microscopic turnover rate, and Bullock is the same way. In the regular season, the junior made 43.8 percent of his threes (84 of 192) while posting the nation's 62nd-best turnover rate. Though he doesn't shoot as many twos, Bullock is accurate from there as well, making 55.7 percent of those shots, which includes 39-percent accuracy on two-point jump shots (NCAA average is 35 percent). Bullock isn't as strong of a defender as McGee is (Bullock's 2.3 percent steal percentage is about average for a guard), but he's still an elite player because of his offense. If you see a UNC player with a mohawk firing an open three, just know there's a great chance it's going in.

Prediction

North Carolina has played much better since going to its four-guard lineup, making an impressive jump from 44th to 25th in the KenPom rankings in just over a month.

Having said that, I think there are a lot of reasons that this is a great matchup for KU.

1. Pace: UNC plays the 18th-fastest pace nationally, and KU is a team that plays much better offensively when it can get into a running game. UNC coach Roy Williams said Saturday his team wasn't going to change its style against KU, which means the Tar Heels are likely to play a high-possession game against a better team.

2. James Michael McAdoo: A lot of people have been concerned that the four-guard lineup could give KU's defense problems, but there is one big difference between UNC's small lineup and Iowa State's: UNC has an anchor in the middle in McAdoo. The sophomore has only shot two threes all year, and while he has shot a lot of jumpers (unsuccessfully), his range won't be enough to take KU center Jeff Withey away from the bucket. Much like Kansas State forwards Thomas Gipson or Jordan Henriquez, McAdoo should allow KU to "anchor" Withey in the lane defensively, which is where he is at his best blocking shots and rotating as a help defender.

UNC will have stretch 4s in Bullock and Hairston, but KU has a better lineup to counter that this year compared to last. A season ago, a four-guard look was tough because KU had two true post players in Thomas Robinson and Withey. Robinson is gone now, and Kevin Young is one of KU's best players at closing out on three-point shooters.

3. UNC's struggles against big teams: Since going to the four-guard lineup, North Carolina's worst games have come against bigger teams in Duke and Miami. As mentioned above, UNC was dominated on the glass in those games, and KU also should have success scoring if it's able to get the ball inside to allow Withey, Young and Perry Ellis to go after undersized defenders.

The one wildcard is UNC's three-point shooting, but barring a Wichita State-like effort there, I see KU — in front of a fired-up crowd — winning this one going away.

Kansas 79, North Carolina 63

Hawk to Rock

Kevin Young is a big key for KU, as he will have to get out to three-point shooters while also making good decisions and passes when he receives the ball close to the rim. Against an inconsistent rebounding team, I see Young having a big game, as his versatility should help him play well on both ends while allowing KU to adapt to UNC's offense.

Predictions tally
28-7 record, 412 points off (11.8 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
West Virginia: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (1st)
TCU: Kevin Young (3rd)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (5th)
Kansas State: Naadir Tharpe (3rd)
Texas: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
TCU: Travis Releford (4th)
Iowa State: Jeff Withey (4th)
West Virginia: Perry Ellis (10th)
Texas Tech: Jeff Withey (1st)
Baylor: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Texas Tech: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (7th)
Kansas State: Jeff Withey (1st)
Western Kentucky: Jeff Withey (1st)
Average: 4th in KUsports.com ratings

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Will KU ‘run Western Kentucky off the line’ Friday night?

Western Kentucky forward George Fant puts up a shot during the Hilltoppers' practice on Thursday, March 22, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Western Kentucky forward George Fant puts up a shot during the Hilltoppers' practice on Thursday, March 22, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Team: Western Kentucky
Record: 20-15
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 184
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.

• For a refresher of Western Kentucky's strengths/weaknesses, check out the Five-minute Scout from March 17.

3 Numbers to Know

65.1 percent — The two-point percentage for WKU center Aleksejs Rostov. The Hilltoppers' tallest player also is one of their best shooters thanks to great shot selection. The freshman has made 84 percent of his shots at the rim according to Hoop-Math.com, which is just outside of a top-20 ranking nationally. Rostov doesn't shoot it often, putting up 16 percent of WKU's shots when he's in, but he's still a guy that KU can't ignore inside.

45.3 percent — Western Kentucky's three-point percentage in the second half of its last eight games. The Jayhawks would be well-served to try to open up a comfortable lead in the first half, as this WKU team has made a habit of playing well after halftime. In fact, three of the Hilltoppers' four victories in the Sun Belt tournament two weeks ago were come-from-behind wins.

192 — The number of three-pointers reserve Brandon Harris has shot this year, which is more than any KU player. Usually when huge upsets happen, an unexpected player has a hot-shooting night, and Harris would most likely be that guy for WKU. He's made just 33 percent of his three-point tries this year, but in a one-game setting, that number doesn't mean much. Harris definitely isn't hesitant to shoot threes (he's only shot 62 twos all year), so keep a close eye on when No. 12 checks in.

3 Players to Watch (and one sentence explaining why)

Six-foot-4 guard T.J. Price (No. 52) is a high-volume shooter who leads WKU in three-point shots taken (218) and three-point percentage (36.4 percent).

Six-foot-3 guard Jamal Crook (No. 14) is WKU's best penetrator, and though he's not a threat from three-point range, he's a great passer, a good two-point shooter and a strong perimeter defender.

Six-foot-6 George Fant (No. 44) is a good rebounder on both ends and a decent shot-blocker for his size, but he's not a great shooter, as his best offensive skill is drawing fouls inside (49th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes).

Prediction

While talking to Wisconsin's players in the locker room Thursday about their three-point defense, I heard one phrase constantly: "Run them off the line."

What the Badgers mean by this is pressuring offensive players on the perimeter to force them to drive. If opponents are going to take a three, it is going to be a tough one.

In essence, the Badgers want to funnel you inside the arc, where long jump shots are only worth two and are made at about the same rate as threes.

Pay close attention to see how well KU "runs WKU off the line" in this game. The Hilltoppers have had 10.6 percent of their two-point jump shots this year blocked, meaning KU's defenders funneling the Hilltoppers into the lane might not be a bad thing. We saw last week how poorly Kansas State performed offensively when its guards tried to take it over KU center Jeff Withey.

WKU is most dangerous not because it makes a lot of threes (33 percent), but in that it takes a lot of threes (36.4 percent of field goals are three-pointers).

Three-pointers are the biggest danger for KU. The Jayhawks should force some turnovers and also should be able to get some second-shot opportunities.

If KU can limit three-point damage, it should be able to take control of this game in the first half.

Kansas 73, Western Kentucky 51

Hawk to Rock

WKU hasn't been afraid to take it into shot-blockers this year, making this an ideal matchup for KU center Jeff Withey. Big 12 teams tended to shy away from the big man, but sometimes, teams that haven't faced KU before need a few minutes against Withey before realizing how good he is defensively. Withey had five blocks in KU's NCAA opener against Detroit last season, and I see him having a similar defensive impact in this one.

Predictions tally
27-7 record, 397 points off (11.7 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
West Virginia: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (1st)
TCU: Kevin Young (3rd)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (5th)
Kansas State: Naadir Tharpe (3rd)
Texas: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
TCU: Travis Releford (4th)
Iowa State: Jeff Withey (4th)
West Virginia: Perry Ellis (10th)
Texas Tech: Jeff Withey (1st)
Baylor: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Texas Tech: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (7th)
Kansas State: Jeff Withey (1st)
Average: 4.1st in KUsports.com ratings

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Western Kentucky has two of three traits that huge underdogs want

Western Kentucky's T.J. Price (52) celebrates with teammates after the Sun Belt Conference championship game against Florida International on Monday, March 11, 2013, in Hot Springs, Ark., Monday, March 11, 2013. Western Kentucky won 65-63. Price was named the tournament's most valuable player. WKU will face Kansas University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 22, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo.

Western Kentucky's T.J. Price (52) celebrates with teammates after the Sun Belt Conference championship game against Florida International on Monday, March 11, 2013, in Hot Springs, Ark., Monday, March 11, 2013. Western Kentucky won 65-63. Price was named the tournament's most valuable player. WKU will face Kansas University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 22, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo.

Team: Western Kentucky
Record: 20-15
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 183
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Offensive rebounding: Let's get the scary part out of the way for Kansas fans: ESPN's "Giant Killers" blog has identified three high-risk, high-reward characteristics that most NCAA Cinderellas share, and WKU is strong in two of the three. The first is offensive rebounding, which helps an underdog avoid a knockout scoring run by a favorite.

The Hilltoppers rank 73rd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, pulling down 34.8 percent of their missed shots. That number was even higher (36 percent) during Sun Belt Conference play. The good news for KU? It has been a strong defensive rebounding team all year, ranking 61st nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

Shooting a high percentage of threes: This is the second characteristic that Cinderellas often have, as shooting lots of threes is another strategy that has the potential to reward an underdog in a one-game setting. The Hilltoppers rank 78th nationally in percentage of three-pointers taken, as 36.4 percent of their field goals are threes.

WKU hasn't shot it particularly well from the outside (33.2 percent is slightly below NCAA average), but again, that number can fluctuate up or down in a one-game sample size. Allowing threes has been a weakness for KU this year, as 36.2 percent of the field goals against the Jayhawks this season have been treys (291st-lowest split nationally).

Defensive rebounding: WKU ranks 139th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage and actually improved in that area during conference play. The Hilltoppers ranked third in league play in that stat, pulling down 69.7 percent of the available defensive rebounds.

3 Weaknesses

Creating steals: The third item on the "Giant Killers" Cinderella checklist is defensive steal percentage, and this is one of WKU's biggest weaknesses. The Hilltoppers rank 240th nationally in defensive steal percentage, coming away with swipes on just 9.1 percent of opponents' possessions.

Carelessness: Western Kentucky's biggest issue offensively has been turnovers, as it ranks 300th nationally in offensive turnover percentage while giving it away on 22.4 percent of its possessions. This doesn't match up with a KU strength, though, as the Jayhawks are 242nd nationally in forcing turnovers.

Gettting shot blocked: WKU appears to be a team that KU center Jeff Withey should affect. The Hilltoppers had 10.6 percent of their two-pointers blocked this year, which ranks 273rd nationally. Withey, meanwhile, has the nation's seventh-best block percentage, rejecting 13.6 percent of opponents' twos when he's in the game.

3 Players to Watch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1625ZxJ0Ujk

Six-foot-4 guard T.J. Price (No. 52) takes on the biggest offensive load for WKU.

The sophomore takes 29.4 percent of WKU's shots when he's in (111th nationally), and his specialty is threes, as he's shot more threes than twos this year (218 to 199) and has made a high percentage of them (79 of 218, 36.2 percent). Price isn't much of a penetrator (only 20 percent of his shots this year have been at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com) and also doesn't draw many fouls, so he looks to be an ideal matchup for KU's best perimeter defender Travis Releford.

• Six-foot-3 guard Jamal Crook (No. 14) is the player that can attack KU off the dribble and also find teammates, ranking 74th nationally in assist percentage. The senior draws five fouls per 40 minutes (265th nationally) and is dangerous inside the arc, making 53 percent of his twos (94 of 179).

Crook is a good shooter off the dribble, as according to Hoop-Math, he has made 42 percent of his two-point jumpshots (NCAA average is 35 percent), though only 28 percent of those shots were assisted. Though Crook is not a threat from the outside, making just nine of 33 three-pointers (27.3 percent), he is WKU's best perimeter defender, ranking 223rd nationally in steal percentage.

Six-foot-6 George Fant (No. 44) is an undersized forward whose best skill is getting to the free throw line. The sophomore draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes (50th nationally) and has shot 197 free throws, which is more than any KU player. Fant also is WKU's best rebounder, ranking 263rd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 473rd in defensive rebounding percentage. Overall, though, Fant is one of the Hilltoppers' least efficient players because of a high turnover rate, below-average free throw shooting (60.4 percent) and poor two-point jump shooting (32 percent on two-point jumpers, according to Hoop-Math).

Bottom Line

KU opening as a 20-point favorite sounds about right, but WKU's style of shooting a high percentage of threes and grabbing a lot of rebounds leaves the possibility for a large number of outcomes to be possible. The Hilltoppers' perimeter shooting should play a huge factor in whether the game turns out to be a laugher or one that is decided in the second half.

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Grabbing defensive rebounds critical for KU against Kansas State

KU's center Jeff Withey (5) looks to control a rebound against KSU defenders Thomas Gipson and Angel Rodriquez (13) as KU hosted the K-State Wildcats on Monday February 11, 2013 in Allen Fieldhouse.

KU's center Jeff Withey (5) looks to control a rebound against KSU defenders Thomas Gipson and Angel Rodriquez (13) as KU hosted the K-State Wildcats on Monday February 11, 2013 in Allen Fieldhouse. by Richard Gwin

Team: Kansas State
Record: 27-6
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 27
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.

• For a refresher of Kansas State's strengths/weaknesses, check out the Five-minute Scout from Feb. 11.

3 Numbers to Know

0.867 — The number of points per possession Kansas State's defense allowed against Oklahoma State on Friday night — the second-worst output for the Cowboys this season. OSU especially struggled with its shooting, as its 34.7 effective field goal percentage against KSU was its worst in the last two seasons. The Wildcats also played exceptional defense against Texas on Thursday, holding the Longhorns to 0.862 PPP.

38.8 percent — Kansas State's offensive rebounding percentage this season, which ranks 13th in the country. Interestingly, KSU's offensive rebounding, according to KenPom's correlation stats, seem to have a positive impact on the Wildcats' offense and defense. The numbers seem to reflect this. When KSU's offensive rebounding percentage is over 33 percent this year, the Wildcats are 25-0. When KSU's offensive rebounding percentage is under 33 percent, the Wildcats are 2-6.

39.6 percent — Kansas State's two-point percentage against KU this year (23-for-58). The Wildcats have tried two different styles of play offensively against KU with similar results. KSU avoided KU center Jeff Withey altogether in the first matchup, shooting 30 threes compared to 27 twos (Withey had no blocks) while putting up 0.92 points per possession in a 59-55 loss. In the second matchup, KSU shot quite a few more twos (31 twos, 19 threes) but that also resulted in getting to the foul line more for 0.91 PPP. Still, the tradeoff was that KU had six blocks that led to transition baskets, and consequently, KU scored 1.22 PPP to blow KSU out. If I'm KSU coach Bruce Weber, I go back to option No. 1, slow it down and believe that guys like Rodney McGruder and Shane Southwell will hit shots (and hope if they don't, the big guys underneath will battle to get the rebound).

3 Players to Watch (and one sentence explaining why)

Six-foot-4 guard Rodney McGruder (No. 22) is a high-volume shooter that rarely turns it over, though his strength is actually two-point jumpshots (40 percent according to Hoop-Math.com; NCAA average is 35 percent) more than it is three-point jumpers (33 percent; NCAA average is 34 percent).

Five-foot-11 point guard Angel Rodriguez (No. 13) has always been a good passer (15th nationally in assist rate), but now he's shooting with confidence too, as he's made 42 percent of his threes in his last 10 games (26 of 62).

• KU has had problems guarding 6-foot-6 Shane Southwell (No. 1) on the perimeter, as he's made 44 percent of his threes against the Jayhawks this year (7-for-16), which also matches his season percentage from three (43 of 98, 44 percent).

Prediction

Kansas State's best chance against KU is trying to "out-possession" the Jayhawks. By that, I mean the Wildcats — by grabbing offensive rebounds and winning the turnover margin — can gain a few points by simply having more shot attempts than KU.

So the two keys for KU are simple: Be strong on the defensive glass and limit turnovers against a KSU team that forces a lot of them (46th nationally in defensive turnover percentage).

In KU's two wins against KSU, it has done well in both areas. The Jayhawks have been especially dominant on the defensive boards, as KSU had its second- and sixth-worst offensive rebounding games against KU.

The Jayhawks will have to chase down shooters like McGruder and Southwell on the perimeter, but the advantage for KU is that KSU plays traditional 5 men like Thomas Gipson and Jordan Henriquez around the rim. This allows Withey to stay where he's comfortable and also gives KU an advantage on the defensive glass.

As mentioned above, if KU can play well in that area, it puts itself in great position to beat KSU.

Kansas 66, Kansas State 58

Hawk to Rock

Because KSU's offensive rebounding will be so important, I'll go with Jeff Withey as the Hawk to Rock. The senior might not have many blocked shots — the Wildcats actually are best in the conference at avoiding blocks because of the high number of jumpers they shoot — but I think he'll still have a huge defensive impact by grabbing KSU's misses.

Predictions tally
26-7 record, 389 points off (11.8 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
West Virginia: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (1st)
TCU: Kevin Young (3rd)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (5th)
Kansas State: Naadir Tharpe (3rd)
Texas: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
TCU: Travis Releford (4th)
Iowa State: Jeff Withey (4th)
West Virginia: Perry Ellis (10th)
Texas Tech: Jeff Withey (1st)
Baylor: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Texas Tech: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (7th)
Average: 4.2nd in KUsports.com ratings

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Here’s why Iowa State’s offense is tough on Jeff Withey

Kansas forward Perry Ellis dives for a loose ball with Iowa State defenders Korie Lucious, front, and Tyrus McGee during overtime on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis dives for a loose ball with Iowa State defenders Korie Lucious, front, and Tyrus McGee during overtime on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

Team: Iowa State
Record: 22-10
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 35
All statistics from KenPom.com

• For a refresher of Iowa State's strengths/weaknesses, check out the Five-minute Scout from Feb. 25.

3 Numbers to Know

1.157 — The number of points Iowa State scored per possession against Kansas in its 108-96 loss to the Jayhawks on Feb. 25. That's the third-highest number KU has allowed this season and the most KU's defense has given up in a win. ISU also scored 1.102 PPP against KU at Allen Fieldhouse in a 97-89 overtime loss, which was the fourth-highest total against KU's D this year.

47.5 — The percentage of Iowa State's field goals attempts in Big 12 play that have been three-pointers. The Cyclones don't care how many threes they shoot, and for good reason: Even with the high volume of threes taken, ISU leads the conference with 39.1-percent accuracy from long range.

17.3 — Iowa State's defensive turnover percentage in conference play, which is the worst mark in the Big 12. The Cyclones play passive defensively, an in trying to keep up with the league's best offense, KU can't afford unforced turnovers against a defense that usually doesn't create them.

3 Players to Watch (and one sentence explaining why)

• The Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year (start him already, Fred!) 6-foot-2 guard Tyrus McGee (No. 25) has three elite skills: He can shoot threes (87 of 185, 47 percent), never turns it over (nation's 48th-best turnover rate) and is ISU's best perimeter defender (289th-best steal rate nationally).

Six-foot-7 freshman Georges Niang (No. 31) is a nightmare matchup for KU at the 5, as he forces KU center Jeff Withey to guard perimeter because of his 39 percent three-point shooting (33 of 85).

• The Big 12 Newcomer of the Year 6-foot-7 forward Will Clyburn (No. 21) is dangerous because he can penetrate and get to the free throw line (116th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes) while also shooting well enough that teams still have to pay attention to him on the perimeter (31 percent three-point shooting).

Prediction

A team that can shoot from all five spots is the worst possible matchup for KU's defense, which is centered on Withey camping in the lane and blocking shots.

Here are a couple plays that show why ISU's spacing and offense are so difficult to defend.

In this first play, notice how the high ball screen puts Withey (and KU) in a bad spot. Ben McLemore is late to recover, and because of that, both Withey and Kevin Young step up to help on the ball-handler Chris Babb.

Notice what this does to KU's defense.

With Withey sagging to help on a possible drive, Babb stops to pass to Georges Niang on the perimeter. The pick-and-pop results in a wide-open three, as Withey has no chance of recovering in time.

In this play, Korie Lucious' lob attempt luckily goes in, but pay attention instead to how many options ISU has.

After Perry Ellis helps up top, he hustles back to guard Melvin Ejim, who cuts to the basket.

Travis Releford takes one step forward to help Ellis recover, and that leaves Clyburn open on the baseline for a lob if Lucious would have gotten it next to the rim.

Notice also how Withey instinctively takes a step back to guard the basket. If Lucious had made a short pass to the wing, Niang would have had another open three-point attempt.

Fred Hoiberg's NBA experience is serving him well at ISU, as his team's spacing and pick-and-roll offense is tough to guard, especially for a team with a true center like Withey.

The Jayhawks, who aren't as good offensively this year as some years past, simply outscored the Cyclones in the first two meetings.

I don't see KU being able to do it a third time.

Iowa State 79, Kansas 75

Hawk to Rock

After scoring just eight points in his last two games combined, I think we'll see a bounceback effort offensively from Travis Releford. ISU has poor transition defense, so look for Releford to try to leak out whenever possible to get KU easy buckets. Releford also took advantage of some openings on the perimeter against ISU, making five of nine three-pointers in the last matchup. Give me 15-plus points for Releford — a total he hasn't hit since the last ISU game.

Predictions tally
26-6 record, 370 points off (11.5 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
West Virginia: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (1st)
TCU: Kevin Young (3rd)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (5th)
Kansas State: Naadir Tharpe (3rd)
Texas: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
TCU: Travis Releford (4th)
Iowa State: Jeff Withey (4th)
West Virginia: Perry Ellis (10th)
Texas Tech: Jeff Withey (1st)
Baylor: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Texas Tech: Kevin Young (2nd)
Average: 4.1st in KUsports.com ratings

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Don’t be surprised if this KU senior has a big game against Texas Tech

Kansas guard Ben McLemore tries to wrap up a pass by Texas Tech guard Dusty Hannahs during the first half, Monday, March 4, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ben McLemore tries to wrap up a pass by Texas Tech guard Dusty Hannahs during the first half, Monday, March 4, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Team: Texas Tech
Record: 11-19
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 254
All statistics from KenPom.com and are as of Thursday unless otherwise noted

• For a refresher of Texas Tech's strengths/weaknesses, check out the Five-minute Scout from March 4.

3 Numbers to Know

27.8 — The Red Raiders' three-point percentage during the regular season, which was the worst mark in the conference and 10th-worst in the NCAA. It was a shock, then, when Texas Tech hit eight of 12 three-pointers in Wednesday's 71-69 victory over West Virginia in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament. Jaye Crockett — previously a 29-percent three-point shooter — made three of three, while Ty Nurse — a 25-percent long-range shooter — was 3-for-4.

0.61 — Texas Tech's points per possession in March 4's 79-42 loss at KU. That was the second-worst offensive performance by a Red Raiders' team in the last 16 seasons and also was the worst offensive effort by a team in a Big 12 game this season. Texas Tech's biggest nemesis was poor shooting, as the Red Raiders' 27.4 percent effective field-goal percentage that night was their worst mark since at least the 1997-98 season.

• 2-18 — Texas Tech's record this season against KenPom top-200 opponents. TTU defeated Iowa State (No. 35) at home on Jan. 23, 56-51, and West Virginia (No. 119) on Wednesday, 71-69. Take out those two wins, and the Red Raiders had only three other Big 12 games in which they stayed within single digits of their opponent.

3 Players to Watch (and one sentence explaining why)

Six-foot-7 Jordan Tolbert (No. 32) is automatic around the basket, making 55 percent of his twos in the regular season with 62 percent of his field goal attempts coming at the rim (according to Hoop-Math.com).

Six-foot-7 forward Jaye Crockett (No. 30) plays bigger than his size, ranking in the top 100 in offensive rebounding percentage while making 78 percent of his layup/tip/dunk attempts (NCAA average is 61 percent).

Six-foot-1 guard Josh Gray (No. 5) had six assists against West Virginia on Wednesday, but his offensive production is hurt by a high number of turnovers and a poor three-point percentage (15 of 79, 19 percent).

Prediction

KU hasn't always played well in its opening game of the Big 12 tournament. Still, the Jayhawks have never played an opponent this bad.

Since 2003 when KenPom started posting his numbers, KU has never played a team ranked in the Pomeroy 200s in the Big 12 tourney. In fact, KU's only played one foe that was in the 100s, and that was Nebraska back in 2006 (104th).

This was a good year to be the No. 1 seed, and KU shouldn't have any issues against an overmatched Texas Tech team that doesn't do much well offensively or defensively.

Kansas 71, Texas Tech 51

Hawk to Rock

Kevin Young has made 12 of 15 field goals against Texas Tech this year (80 percent), and if he stays out of foul trouble, he should be able to put up numbers again Thursday. Texas Tech allows a lot of layups, struggles with defensive rebounding and is vulnerable to opponent steals, and those three weaknesses match up with Young's strengths. Mark me down for double-figure scoring and at least four offensive rebounds and two steals from the senior.

Predictions tally
25-6 record, 362 points off (11.7 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
West Virginia: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (1st)
TCU: Kevin Young (3rd)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (5th)
Kansas State: Naadir Tharpe (3rd)
Texas: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
TCU: Travis Releford (4th)
Iowa State: Jeff Withey (4th)
West Virginia: Perry Ellis (10th)
Texas Tech: Jeff Withey (1st)
Baylor: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Average: 4.2nd in KUsports.com ratings

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Unlucky Baylor should play KU close

Kansas guard Travis Releford comes away with the ball as both Baylor center Isaiah Austin and teammate Jamari Traylor lock their arms around him during the second half on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Travis Releford comes away with the ball as both Baylor center Isaiah Austin and teammate Jamari Traylor lock their arms around him during the second half on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Team: Baylor
Record: 17-13
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 53
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Three-point defense: It's been tough to shoot — much less make — threes against Baylor this year. Just 29.7 percent of the field goals taken against the Bears in Big 12 play have been threes (second-best mark in conference), and teams have made just 29.7 percent of those long-range tries.

Interior defense: Behind Kansas, Baylor is the second-best shot-blocking team in the Big 12, rejecting 11.4 percent of opponents' two-point attempts during conference play. Big 12 foes have made just 45.2 percent of their twos against BU (third in conference), which is significantly lower than the NCAA two-point average (47.5 percent).

Offensive rebounding: Baylor ranks 25th in KenPom's effective height measure, which takes into account the tallest two players on the floor at one time. That size allows the Bears to get quite a few offensive rebounds, as BU ranks fourth in conference play in offensive rebounding percentage, bringing down 34.2 percent of its misses.

3 Weaknesses

Forcing turnovers: Baylor plays passive defensively, only creating turnovers on 17.9 percent of its Big 12 defensive possessions (eighth). The Bears also don't come away with many steals, ranking ninth in the conference in that statistic.

Getting to the free throw line: Baylor has a high number of players that rely primarily on jump shots while shying away from contact. This list includes starters Isaiah Austin, A.J. Walton and Brady Heslip along with top reserve Gary Franklin. Because of this characteristic, the Bears do not draw many free throw attempts, ranking ninth in conference play in offensive free throw rate.

Getting shots blocked: Baylor has a high percentage of its two-point shots blocked, ranking seventh in conference play in offensive block percentage. This was illustrated in BU's first matchup against KU, when the Bears had 13 of their 42 two-point attempts rejected. Interestingly, only three of those blocks came from KU center Jeff Withey.

3 Players to Watch

Five-foot-10 point guard Pierre Jackson (No. 55) is one of the best offensive players in the Big 12. He's Baylor's go-to guy on that end, as he takes 28 percent of his team's shots when he's in (186th nationally) while also ranking 23rd nationally in assist rate. Jackson's shooting percentages are impressive considering the high volume of shots he takes, as he's comfortably above the NCAA average in two-point percentage (100 of 206, 48.5 percent) and three-point percentage (73 of 207, 35.3 percent). Jackson's quickness also helps him get to the free throw line, as he draws 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes (107th nationally) and is a 77-percent free throw shooter. Jackson doesn't provide much on the defensive end, but that can be forgiven considering he gives elite offensive production.

Six-foot-9 forward Cory Jefferson (No. 34) is having a great year that is being overlooked because of Baylor's win-loss record, as the junior does a little bit of everything. He's an efficient player offensively, and though he doesn't shoot often (19.5 percent shot percentage), he has made 58 percent of his twos (135 of 232) and 77 percent of his shots at the rim while almost never turning it over (15th nationally in turnover rate). Jefferson also does a good job of getting to the foul line, posting the nation's 239th-best free throw rate while making 70 percent of his free throws. He's also strong in the paint, ranking 103rd in block percentage while also posting top-160 marks in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.

Seven-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin (No. 21) is a below-average player offensively for Baylor because of his shot selection. The thin freshman is almost exclusively a jump-shooter, and somehow, he has shot more threes this year (84) than free throws (71). Austin isn't a bad two-point jump-shooter (he's made 39 percent of them; NCAA average is 35 percent), but he's just fallen in love with those low-percentage shots, as only 35 percent of his field-goal attempts this year have come at the rim (to compare, 56 percent of Jefferson's shots have come at the rim). With his size, Austin does provide some help in the lane, as his numbers in block percentage (213th), defensive rebounding percentage (174th) and offensive rebounding percentage (250th) are all good but still behind Jefferson's marks.

Prediction

This probably won't surprise you, but Baylor is a much better team than its 17-13 record indicates.

Scott Drew takes a lot of heat for being a poor game management coach, but even bad ones usually have better records in close games than the Bears have this season.

At home, the Bears lost to Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas State by a combined 11 points. Three other Bears' losses this year have come by four points or less.

I think this one will be close as well, but it's hard to go against recent history, as the Bears have never beaten the Jayhawks at home under Drew and haven't beaten KU in Waco since Feb. 12, 2001.

I'll say KU comes back from a first-half deficit to improve to 9-1 all-time at Ferrell Center.

Kansas 66, Baylor 64

Hawk to Rock

KU guard Elijah Johnson has had three of his best games in the last two weeks, and I think the senior will have another big game against BU. Offensively, Johnson is a key for the Jayhawks, as his penetration could lead to open shots for himself and also teammates if he is aggressive. Defensively he'll be important as well, as his improving knees will be tested against Jackson, who is one of the quickest guards in the nation. I'll say Johnson finishes with double-figure scoring and limits his turnovers against a Bears team that doesn't create many steals.

Predictions tally
25-5 record, 337 points off (11.2 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
West Virginia: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (1st)
TCU: Kevin Young (3rd)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (5th)
Kansas State: Naadir Tharpe (3rd)
Texas: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
TCU: Travis Releford (4th)
Iowa State: Jeff Withey (4th)
West Virginia: Perry Ellis (10th)
Texas Tech: Jeff Withey (1st)
Average: 4.2nd in KUsports.com ratings

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Will this be ‘meat necklace’ part two?

Kansas forward Kevin Young is fouled by Texas Tech forward Jordan Tolbert after grabbing a steal during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013 at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas. At right is Texas Tech forward Dejan Kravic.

Kansas forward Kevin Young is fouled by Texas Tech forward Jordan Tolbert after grabbing a steal during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013 at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas. At right is Texas Tech forward Dejan Kravic. by Nick Krug

Team: Texas Tech
Record: 10-17
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 249
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Defensive pressure: Texas Tech ranks fourth in Big 12 play in defensive steal percentage, swiping the ball away on 10.7 percent of its defensive possessions. The Red Raiders' season numbers are even better in the stat, as they rank 38th nationally (12 percent).

• Deep bench: TTU coach Chris Walker uses his reserves extensively, as 39.6 percent of his team's minutes come from the bench (27th nationally). The Red Raiders go 10 deep on their bench, so Walker's team might not be as affected by foul trouble as some other squads that come into Allen Fieldhouse.

Slow tempo: After playing the non-conference season at a fast pace, Tech has slowed it down in Big 12 play to try to keep games closer. The Red Raiders are eighth in conference play in adjusted tempo, and a slow-it-down game is their best chance at hanging in the game with the Jayhawks.

3 Weaknesses

• Offensive rebounding: Texas Tech is at the bottom of the Big 12 in offensive rebounding percentage in conference play, grabbing its own misses just 28.5 percent of the time. For reference, KU pulls down offensive rebounds on 35.8 percent of its misses (second in conference).

Carelessness: No Big 12 team has had a higher percentage of possessions stolen than Texas Tech, as opponents come away with steals on 11.6 percent of the Red Raiders' possessions. That could be trouble in Allen Fieldhouse, where steals often lead to quick transition points for the Jayhawks.

Defense: Texas Tech has allowed the most points per possession in Big 12 play, allowing 1.12 points per trip to its foes. The Red Raiders struggle in quite a few areas, ranking ninth in the league in effective field-goal percentage defense, defensive rebounding percentage and defensive free throw rate. Forcing turnovers is about the only thing that Tech's defense does at an about-average level.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-7 junior Jaye Crockett (No. 30) is Texas Tech's best offensive player. Though he's a below-average three-point shooter (32 percent), Crockett has been one of the league's most efficient players inside the arc, making 57 percent of his shots there while shooting a high number of twos (103 of 181). Crockett thrives on close shots, making 77 percent of his attempts at the rim (NCAA average is 61 percent). Crockett also is the Red Raiders' best defensive rebounder, ranking 101st nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

• Six-foot-11 junior Dejan Kravic (No. 11) is the second-best offensive option for the Red Raiders. The center takes 25.4 percent of the shots when he's in (406th nationally), and like Crockett, he's well-above average from two-point range (103 of 198, 52 percent). Kravic relies more on two-point jumpshots to score than Crockett, and he's talented in that area, making 41 percent of those shots (35 percent is NCAA average). Kravic also is a consistent rebounder, ranking in the top 260 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage while also blocking a high percentage of shots (104th nationally in block percentage).

• Six-foot-1 guard Josh Gray (No. 5) takes on the biggest offensive load for Texas Tech even though his production doesn't warrant that kind of role. He takes 26.6 percent of the Red Raiders shots when he's in (285th nationally), but he's been below-average from two-point range (84 of 189, 44 percent) and dreadful from three-point range (15 of 77, 20 percent). Gray also turns it over too often, as his 87 turnovers are 37 more than any other Red Raider. Despite his offensive deficiencies, Gray is TTU's best perimeter defender, ranking 24th nationally in steal percentage.

Prediction

In 2008, Texas Tech coach Pat Knight's team lost to KU, 109-51 on the Jayhawks' senior night, with Knight giving the famous quote, "I feel like someone put a meat necklace around my neck and just threw me into a lions' den."

Though Monday night's game shouldn't be that bad, this still is a talent mismatch that will be played on KU's home floor.

Like the West Virginia game, KU's offense will have to worry most about keeping its turnovers down. If the Jayhawks do that, they shouldn't have any problem scoring ... or turning this game into a rout quickly.

Kansas 88, Texas Tech 56

Hawk to Rock

Texas Tech is a poor rebounding team that fouls too often and has a lot of shots blocked. In other words, Jeff Withey should put up plenty of numbers on his senior night. Give me a double-double for him in a game where he probably won't play 30 minutes.

Predictions tally
24-5 record, 332 points off (11.4 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
West Virginia: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (1st)
TCU: Kevin Young (3rd)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (5th)
Kansas State: Naadir Tharpe (3rd)
Texas: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
TCU: Travis Releford (4th)
Iowa State: Jeff Withey (4th)
West Virginia: Perry Ellis (10th)
Average: 4.3rd in KUsports.com ratings

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Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers resemble Frank Martin’s Wildcats

Kansas center Jeff Withey battles with West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli (13) in the Jayhawks' game against the Mountaineers on Monday night in Morgantown, W.Va.

Kansas center Jeff Withey battles with West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli (13) in the Jayhawks' game against the Mountaineers on Monday night in Morgantown, W.Va. by Mike Yoder

Team: West Virginia
Record: 13-15
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 115
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Offensive rebounding: The three strengths I'm about to describe are going to sound a lot like Frank Martin's previous teams at Kansas State. Martin, obviously, was a disciple of WVU coach Bob Huggins, so this shouldn't be too surprising. The Mountaineers are the top Big 12 team in conference play in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 37 percent of their missed shots. Part of the reason for this is WVU's height in the post, as 6-foot-9 Deniz Kilicli, 6-10 Aaric Murray and 6-10 Kevin Noreen all rank in the top 350 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.

Getting to the free throw line: West Virginia boasts the Big 12's best free throw rate in league play, averaging 23.2 free throws attempted per game despite playing at the conference's eighth-slowest pace. Kilicli and 6-2 guard Eron Harris are the team's two best players at getting whistles, as both rank in the top 250 nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

• Forcing turnovers: West Virginia has created turnovers on 22 percent of its defensive possessions in Big 12 play, which is the best mark in the conference. KU struggled with giveaways in its first game against WVU, turning it over 16 times in a slow, 61-possession game (26.2 percent).

3 Weaknesses

Shooting: West Virginia has struggled to shoot it from everywhere. In Big 12 play, the Mountaineers have made 44.5 percent of their twos (eighth) and 67.3 percent of their free throws (seventh). They've actually improved their three-point percentage to 33.9 percent (fifth), but even that isn't as good as it seems, as WVU's season three-point percentage is 30.5 percent (302nd nationally).

Carelessness: The Mountaineers have given it away on 21.7 percent of their Big 12 possessions, which ranks eighth in the conference. WVU's big men actually are the team's most turnover-prone players, as reserves Dominique Rutledge, Noreen and starter Kilicli have the team's three highest turnover rates.

Fouling too often: In conference play, West Virginia ranks eighth in defensive free throw rate, allowing 21.1 free throws per game. Huggins does have a deep bench to help counter this, as WVU ranks 18th nationally in bench minutes.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-2 guard Eron Harris (No. 10) is one of West Virginia's best scoring options thanks to a diverse offensive skillset. Not only is the freshman good at drawing contact, averaging 5.1 fouls drawn per game (237th nationally), but he's also the Mountaineers' best three-point shooter, making 37 of 100. What limits Harris the most is his playing time; he's played just 48.5 percent of the Mountaineers' minutes this season.

Six-foot-10 center Aaric Murray (No. 24) is a great talent that too often finds himself in Huggins' doghouse. Like Harris, he's played less than half of WVU's minutes this year, but when he's in, he's been productive. He's an elite rebounder, ranking 68th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage and 142nd in offensive rebounding percentage. He's also a good shot-blocker (78th in block percentage) and a great two-point jump-shooter, as he's made 42 percent of his two-point jumpshots (NCAA average is 35 percent).

Six-foot-9 forward Deniz Kilicli (No. 13, looks like a mountain man) has two skills: rebounding and getting to the free throw line, though he only makes 55 percent of his attempts when he gets there. Beyond that, his numbers aren't impressive. He has the highest turnover rate among WVU starters and also has made just 46.5 percent of his twos, which is a percentage point below the NCAA average. Though he has good height, Kilicli is not a shot-blocker, and he also fouls too often, averaging 4.9 whistles per 40 minutes.

Prediction

Like so many other games, KU's offensive turnovers should be a huge factor.

If the Jayhawks can limit turnovers, there's not much reason to think it will be challenged in this game.

If KU gives it away often, though, it risks letting a poor offensive team in WVU hang around by getting some easy points in transition.

KU has been a good defensive rebounding team this year, and WVU probably won't get a lot of free throws when playing at Allen Fieldhouse, so I think the Jayhawks should be able to counter those two Mountaineers' strengths Saturday.

That means if KU gets shots, it should be fine.

I'll predict an above-average but not game-threatening number of turnovers for KU against WVU.

Kansas 69, West Virginia 57

Hawk to Rock

West Virginia is a team that allows a high two-point percentage and fouls a lot, so I'll take a gamble and say that Perry Ellis has a nice offensive game off the bench for KU. The freshman scored eight points in 15 minutes against Iowa State on Monday, and he'll have to give great effort on the defensive glass Saturday to remain in the game against WVU. I'll say he provides another strong offensive game while continuing to peak at the right time.

Predictions tally
23-5 record, 318 points off (11.4 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
West Virginia: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (1st)
TCU: Kevin Young (3rd)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (5th)
Kansas State: Naadir Tharpe (3rd)
Texas: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
TCU: Travis Releford (4th)
Iowa State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Average: 4.1st in KUsports.com ratings

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