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Why Kansas is the right pick tonight against Michigan

Arlington, Texas — With so much talent on the floor, tonight’s game here inside Cowboys Stadium really does have a Final Four feel to it and that is in fact where basketball’s biggest game will take place in April, 2014.

Michigan-Kansas is a South Regional semifinal and one of the more intriguing on the board because it features KU’s tough defense against Michigan’s versatile band of big-time scorers, led by point guard Trey Burke.

The closer it draws to the 6:27 p.m. scheduled tipoff, the stronger my guess grows as to which team will prevail. Kansas has the experience advantage. Michigan relies more on three-point shots than Kansas and domes can be difficult places to shoot three-pointers.

Plus, nothing can prepare a team for playing against Jeff Withey’s defensive brilliance. Freshman Mitch McGary, 6-foot-10, 250-pound bruiser, has come on strong for the Wolverines, but he does not have the shooting range to draw Withey away from the basket. Michigan has gone 8-6 in its last 14 games, Kansas 12-1 in its last 13.

Kansas can play its way into trouble against teams that apply intense pressure on the guards. While Michigan is as good as anybody in the country at protecting the ball, it doesn’t apply full-court pressure and force a ton of turnovers. Kansas 77, Michigan 70.

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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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Five plays that show how Releford shut down Bullock — and how KU’s ‘D’ forced UNC into ‘one bad shot’

Kansas guard Travis Releford watches as North Carolina guard Reggie Bullock heads to the bucket during the first half, Sunday, March 24, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Travis Releford watches as North Carolina guard Reggie Bullock heads to the bucket during the first half, Sunday, March 24, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Before looking ahead to Kansas' game against Michigan, I wanted to take a look back at Kansas guard Travis Releford's defense against North Carolina's Reggie Bullock in the Jayhawks' 70-58 victory over the Tar Heels on Sunday.

Bullock, who led UNC in scoring during conference play at 14.9 points per game, finished with five points on 1-for-7 shooting and 1-for-4 shooting from three.

His three-pointer and two free throws both came on plays when he wasn't guarded by Releford.

"That kind of effort on one of our best players," UNC guard Marcus Paige said, "is really one of the main factors in the game."

Afterwards, when asked about Releford, Bullock said it was "one of the best defenses I've played against."

"He did his film work," Bullock said. "He took me out of my game."

Here are four plays showing how Releford did it.

Let's start by talking about Bullock's tendencies: The 6-foot-7 small forward (No. 35) came in as a 44.3-percent three-point shooter while relying almost entirely on teammates to get those shots. According to Hoop-Math.com, 94 percent of his three-pointers were assisted, meaning — like KU's Ben McLemore — Bullock is primarily a spot-up shooter.

Only 20 percent of Bullock's shots this season were two-point jumpers, so the biggest concern for Releford would be getting out to the perimeter to prevent three-pointers.

We can see Releford playing to Bullock's tendencies starting with this clip from the second half (the YouTube video is posted below as well if the GIF is too hard to see).

UNC sets two screens for Bullock, and notice that Releford goes on the high side of both, running around them toward the perimeter instead of trailing Bullock along the baseline.

If Bullock were more of a threat to drive (or if Releford had not been playing scouting report), Bullock might not be defended this way on screens. Against Bullock, though, Releford is selling out to get to the perimeter. Notice how Releford doesn't hesitate to push around the screens towards the left side of our screen — and notice also how he never gets "stuck" on a screen either, taking a couple of blows while still moving toward Bullock.

At first Bullock thinks he's open and elevates to shoot before realizing Releford is right there. At the last second, he passes it to James Michael McAdoo.

McAdoo attempts to free Bullock again with a screen, but Releford fights over the top to contest the off-balance jumper.

"When I was coming off screens, he was there with me every time," Bullock said. "He was sliding right through the screens. He was just being aggressive and trying to beat me on the catch every time I caught the ball."

Releford was disciplined to stay with Bullock when he didn't have the ball as well.

Here's the clip of Bullock's only three-pointer. Releford and Elijah Johnson had switched after a screen earlier in the possession, and when McAdoo drives, Johnson takes a step into help.

This is a mistake, and McAdoo makes Johnson pay for it. The UNC big man dishes out to Bullock, who bounces in the open three.

Notice what Releford does in a similar situation in the second half when Paige starts to drive around KU's Naadir Tharpe.

Instinct would tell Releford to help here, and on many defensive assignments he would.

Releford is locked in, though, and he doesn't make any move away from Bullock.

Because an open Bullock three-pointer would be considered a success for UNC on almost every possession, Releford stays on Bullock to prevent that shot.

As we see, Paige loses the ball going up, and KU ends up with a steal.

There's another reason it was tough for Bullock to get open looks, and you'll start to see it with this next play.

Here, Releford once again fights over the top side of a ball screen, which guarantees Bullock isn't able to get some space for a three behind McAdoo.

Going over the top of a screen is dangerous, though, because it oftentimes can leave the defense using two defenders to guard a ball-handler.

This isn't an issue for KU, though, because of who's setting the screen. McAdoo is not a threat to receive a pass and shoot it from the outside (two three-point attempts all season) and he's also not a particularly good jump-shooter (45-percent two-point percentage).

These characteristics allow Withey to "soft hedge," meaning he can hang back a few feet to simply keep himself between Bullock and the basket should Bullock decide to drive.

With Releford preventing the three and Withey preventing the drive, Bullock passes to McAdoo, who drives to the rim.

Earlier in the week, UNC coach Roy Williams talked about KU being a great defense because it doesn't necessarily try to take the ball away from you, but it tries to limit you to one bad shot.

This is an example. KU's defense has forced UNC from a shot it wants (44-percent three-point shooter taking a three) to a shot that KU wants it to take (45-percent two-point shooter taking a shot over the 7-foot Withey).

McAdoo's attempt misses, and KU secures the defensive rebound.

Here's another example of KU dictating the shot that UNC gets.

Releford goes over the ball screen to stay close to Bullock and Withey soft hedges, which forces Bullock to pass it to the screener Leslie McDonald.

McDonald fires away from 18 feet against a recovering Withey, and KU trades a potential 44-percent shooter taking a three-pointer for a 32-percent two-point jump shooter taking a mid-range shot.

KU's defense wins. One bad shot.

Here's one final example of this, which also shows some strong team defense from KU.

Releford gets caught briefly on McAdoo's first screen, and when McAdoo re-screens, Releford once again fights over the top.

Withey sees Releford is caught up a bit on the screen, so he hedges harder out to perimeter to make sure Bullock can't get up a three-point shot.

Here, Bullock makes a nice play, bouncing a pass to McAdoo, who makes a strong cut to the rim.

Notice what happens, though. Seeing the play in front of him, KU forward Kevin Young slides over to help on McAdoo*, which gives Withey time to recover.

Young

Young by Jesse Newell

The result is a blocked shot and subsequent fast-break opportunity for KU.

* — This also reminds me of what Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper said after Friday's game about KU's defense. Harper said his biggest frustration was that his team started to drive to score against KU, when to beat the Jayhawks, you have to drive to dish.

Take another look at the photo with Young helping out Withey above.

Young

Young by Jesse Newell

Notice No. 15 on the wing? That's Young's man P.J. Hairston — a 39-percent three-point shooter.

This is exactly what Harper is talking about. If McAdoo drives to dish instead of driving to score, UNC has the opportunity for an open shot from one of its best shooters.

The ball-screen challenges for KU against Michigan will be different. Not only does Michigan have an All-American point guard in Trey Burke, it also has a player like Nik Stauskas who is dangerous setting screens then popping back to the perimeter for open threes.

In the UNC game, though, KU's defense was able to take away one of UNC's best scoring options thanks to relentless — and smart — defense from Releford.

"When I watched them earlier this year, and even back when I was being recruited by them, you just notice how hard he plays," Paige said of Releford. "You've got to respect a guy like that that doesn't stuff the stat sheet, but at the end of the game, he's making winning plays."

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Travis Releford stellar on both ends against North Carolina

Kansas guard Travis Releford (24) shoots in a second-half three that help propel the Jayhawks to a 70-58 win against North Carolina Sunday, March 24, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo..

Kansas guard Travis Releford (24) shoots in a second-half three that help propel the Jayhawks to a 70-58 win against North Carolina Sunday, March 24, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.. by Mike Yoder

1. Travis Releford: Releford held North Carolina's leading scorer in conference play, Reggie Bullock, to a season-low-tying five points on 1-for-7 shooting. The senior Releford was just as good offensively, leading KU with 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting. No shot was bigger than his second-half three, which gave KU its first trey of the NCAA Tournament and seemed to loosen up the Jayhawks' shooters (KU made five of eight threes in the second half). Releford added eight rebounds and three steals to go with two turnovers in 38 minutes.

2. Jeff Withey: The senior was dominant in two areas: rebounding and changing shots defensively. As expected, UNC's James Michael McAdoo's lack of shooting range allowed Withey to camp in the lane, and the center affected shot attempts all night, finishing with five blocks (though it seemed like he had at least a couple of uncredited swats as well). Withey added 16 points (6-for-11 shooting) with a season-high 16 rebounds in 36 minutes. The one negative in his game was turnovers, as he had five giveaways, which included a few errant outlet passes.

3. Naadir Tharpe: Switching in Tharpe for Ben McLemore in the second half (and leaving him out there) was a great coaching move by Bill Self and was a big reason KU pulled away. Though Tharpe had some silly plays (lane violation, flashy behind-the-back pass on a 3-on-1 break), his good plays definitely outweighed the bad ones, as he finished with 12 points on 3-for-6 shooting, which included 3-for-4 accuracy from three-point range. The sophomore added two assists to go with three turnovers in 27 minutes.

4. Kevin Young: Had some careless passes — two at the beginning of the second half immediately come to mind — but Young still played with bounce, grabbed rebounds and did a nice job of sticking with UNC's outside shooters. The senior just missed a double-double with 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting with nine rebounds in 34 minutes. Though he had five turnovers, Young played a valuable role for KU, stepping up as the versatile player needed to help defend UNC's four-guard lineup.

5. Elijah Johnson: For a while in the first half, KU was performing better with Johnson on the bench. The senior played better in the second half, though, and had a low-turnover number (two) considering the swarming defense UNC plays. The senior still struggled from the floor, making one of six shots for five points with four assists and two turnovers in 28 minutes. Through two NCAA games, Johnson has made two of 11 field goals with six assists and five turnovers.

6. Perry Eliis: Didn't play much, contributing three points on 1-for-3 shooting with two rebounds in eight minutes.

7. Ben McLemore: Was benched for most of the second half because of ineffective play, which reminded me of the KU-Kansas State game in 2010 when Self benched Xavier Henry for most of the second half/overtime for the same reason. For the second straight game, McLemore looked completely out of it, with the best example coming at the start of the second half when the freshman fumbled away an easy lob pass for a turnover. McLemore was 0-for-9 from the floor and 0-for-6 from three-point range. His two points were a season low, while his 24 minutes tied his lowest mark this year.

8. Andrew White III: Won the tiebreaker for eighth place. Played one minute with no other stats.

9. Jamari Traylor: Lost the tiebreaker for eighth place. Played one minute with no other stats.

10. Rio Adams: Had two fouls and one turnover in a minute.

KUsports.com Season Standings
1. Jeff Withey (294 points)
2. Ben McLemore (269 points)
3. Travis Releford (262 points)
4. Kevin Young (223 points)
5. Elijah Johnson (201 points)
6. Naadir Tharpe (186 points)
7. Perry Ellis (174 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (117 points)
9. Andrew White III (55 points)
10. Rio Adams (39 points)
11. Justin Wesley (24 points)

Big 12/Postseason Standings
1. Jeff Withey (203 points)
2. Ben McLemore (180 points)
3. Travis Releford (177 points)
4. Kevin Young (164 points)
T5. Elijah Johnson (125 points)
T5. Naadir Tharpe (125 points)
7. Perry Ellis (122 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (76 points)
9. Andrew White III (32 points)
10. Rio Adams (24 points)
11. Justin Wesley (17 points)

NCAA Tournament Standings
T1. Jeff Withey (19 points)
T1. Travis Releford (19 points)
T3. Perry Ellis (13 points)
T3. Kevin Young (13 points)
T3. Naadir Tharpe (13 points)
6. Ben McLemore (11 points)
7. Elijah Johnson (9 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (4 points)
9. Andrew White III: (3 points)
10. Rio Adams (1 point)

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Injuried Kansas junior Justin Wesley won’t suit up for today’s game against North Carolina

Kansas junior reserve forward Justin Wesley injured his right ankle Saturday in practice and will not suit up for today's game against North Carolina, according to a Kansas source, who added that Wesley was scheduled to undergo an X-ray today. Wesley is wearing a soft cast and using crutches.

A junior from Forth Worth, Texas, Wesley has averaged 3.6 minutes, 0.4 points and 1.1 rebounds in 19 games.

The tipoff for the game has been moved from 4:15 p.m. to 4:25 p.m.

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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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Jeff Withey shines, KU guards struggle against WKU

Jeff Withey (5) drives to the basket in the second-half of the Jayhawks 64-57 second-round win against Western Kentucky Friday, March 22, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Jeff Withey (5) drives to the basket in the second-half of the Jayhawks 64-57 second-round win against Western Kentucky Friday, March 22, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Mike Yoder

1. Jeff Withey: Easily Kansas' best player offensively and defensively. Withey once again feasted on a team that wasn't ready for his impact defensively, as he contributed seven of KU's nine blocks. The senior also was efficient when he received it in the post, scoring a game-high 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. He added six rebounds and an assist to go with three turnovers in 30 minutes.

2. Travis Releford: Playing good but not great was enough to be KU's second-best player Friday night. The senior guard posted 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting, adding a nice pass in the post to Withey for his only assist to go with a turnover. Releford led KU with 37 minutes.

3. Perry Ellis: When nothing was going right offensively for KU, Ellis provided a boost with a couple nice spin moves in the post. The freshman didn't play as well late, missing a bunny and also hesitating on a mid-range jump shot — one that he would have, without thinking, stepped up and made in last week's Big 12 tournament. Ellis posted nine points on 3-for-7 shooting with seven rebounds, a steal and no turnovers in 12 minutes.

4. Ben McLemore: One of his worst games of the year. McLemore looked fazed and had about as many head-scratching plays against WKU on Friday as he'd had the whole season. One time, he chased down a loose ball at the other end of the court only to unnecessarily slide with both feet out of bounds before clumsily trying to call timeout. Having said that, he still made crucial free throws at the end, putting in seven of eight freebies to finish with 11 points (2-for-5 shooting) with six rebounds, two assists and four turnovers.

5. Kevin Young: Gave KU one of its few highlights, rebounding his own miss before going up for a reverse jam. Young's passes Friday seemed to be either brilliant or awful ... and there wasn't much in between. The senior had five points on 2-for-4 shooting with team-highs in rebounds (eight) and steals (two), but he also tied for the team-high with four turnovers in his 26 minutes.

6. Naadir Tharpe: Like McLemore, he didn't play well, but he did hit clutch free throws. Without Tharpe's 4-for-4 effort from the line in the final minute, the game could have gotten a lot closer than it already was. The sophomore showed poor judgment when rushing up shots, though, including one forced jumper that he took during a 1-on-3 break with no rebounding help. Tharpe had four points (0-for-3 shooting) with three assists and two turnovers in 20 minutes.

7. Jamari Traylor: Made one of two shots for two points in seven minutes.

8. Elijah Johnson: Didn't do anything to convince fans and analysts that KU's guard play — widely considered the Jayhawks' biggest weakness — is improving. Johnson scored five points on 1-for-6 shooting (0-for-2 from three) and made some horrible decisions against WKU's press, which included one leaping, overhead pass from one side of the court to the other that was easily intercepted by WKU in the final minutes. Johnson finished with two assists and three turnovers in 36 minutes.

KUsports.com Season Standings
1. Jeff Withey (285 points)
2. Ben McLemore (265 points)
3. Travis Releford (252 points)
4. Kevin Young (216 points)
5. Elijah Johnson (195 points)
6. Naadir Tharpe (178 points)
7. Perry Ellis (169 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (115 points)
9. Andrew White III (52 points)
10. Rio Adams (38 points)
11. Justin Wesley (24 points)

Big 12/Postseason Standings
1. Jeff Withey (194 points)
2. Ben McLemore (176 points)
3. Travis Releford (167 points)
4. Kevin Young (157 points)
5. Elijah Johnson (119 points)
T6. Naadir Tharpe (117 points)
T6. Perry Ellis (117 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (74 points)
9. Andrew White III (29 points)
10. Rio Adams (23 points)
11. Justin Wesley (17 points)

NCAA Tournament Standings
1. Jeff Withey (10 points)
2. Travis Releford (9 points)
3. Perry Ellis (8 points)
4. Ben McLemore (7 points)
5. Kevin Young (6 points)
6. Naadir Tharpe (5 points)
7. Jamari Traylor (4 points)
8. Elijah Johnson (3 points)

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Not recruiting (Dorian) Green reason purple nation feels so blue

Kansas City, Mo. — Sitting court-side watching Kansas State's spirited comeback from 18 points down fall short reminded me of how the Wildcats could have had an even better season.

If then Kansas State coach Frank Martin and his staff had deemed Lawrence High standout Dorian Green worth recruiting, Green would have made a perfect complement to point guard Angel Rodriguez. Instead, Green went to Colorado State and became a starter from Day 1. He scored 26 points to lead the Rams past Missouri in Lexington, Ky. Thursday night. Meanwhile, K-State starting guard Will Spradling scored two points in 17 minutes in the 63-61 loss to La Salle.

Announcers talked more about Green than anyone else during the telecast of the Colorado State's first NCAA Tournament victory in 24 seasons. Yet, nobody made the connection of Green growing up in a town where the average kid grows up despising all things Missouri.

Green was asked about it in the post-game press conference.

"It feels good to be from Kansas and beat Missouri," Green said. "I just wanted to be aggressive tonight. Didn't matter who we were playing, but, you know, it's good to beat them from where I'm from."

Next up for Green and CSU's other four starters is Louisville, the tournament's overall No. 1 seed.

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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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NCAA Tournament Tidbits on Opening Day

March Madmen all over the globe are about to become one with their favorite sporting event. A quick look at some NCAA Tournament tidbits with quotes spiced in from press conferences:

Eight New Mexico State players, including its top five scorers, were born outside the United States. The Aggies feature four players from Canada, two from France, one from Croatia and and one from South Africa.

New Mexico State not only has the most international team in the tournament, it also has the tallest player. Sim Bhullar, a freshman from Toronto, is a 7-foot-5, 355-pound starting center for the Aggies. Bhullar averages 10.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 24.3 minutes per game.

“I think he changes the whole game for us and other teams as well because a lot of teams are not used to seeing that (much size) in there,” teammate Daniel Mullings said. “And while guys are driving in he’s just a big force, just blocking everything and altering shots. So it’s a great advantage for us having him inside.”

St. Louis junior Rob Loe is the biggest player in most games he plays, but he’ll be giving up six inches and 110 pounds to Bhullar.

*Michigan starters Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and reserve Jon Horford all are sons of former NBA players.

“Purely coincidence, but we feel really good about it because you know their dads do know basketball,” Wolverines coach John Beilein said.

*One of the better individual tourney matchups pits Michigan’s Trey Burke and South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters, two of the nation’s top point guards, on each other.

“We’ll have Nate on Trey,” South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said. “I don’t know what they’ll do. ... And I’ve said this before, Nate is a tremendous defender, but we’ve relied on him so much to play 40 minutes and to handle a basketball that I think sometimes people don’t get to see how good a defender he is."

*Bryce Drew is the third member of his family to serve as head coach at Valparaiso University, which faces Michigan State today. His father, Homer Drew, coached the Crusaders for 22 seasons. Bryce’s brother, Scott, was head coach for one year and is in his 10th season at Baylor. Bryce is in his second season as head coach at Valpo. He played six seasons in the NBA after hitting one of the most famous shots in recent NCAA Tournament history. Drew hit a 23-foot buzzer-beater to score an upset of Ole Miss in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament. He said he enjoys watching replays of the shot but never brings it up to recruits.

“I think the last thing that players want to hear is a coach talk about himself or what he’s done,” Drew said.

*At times, it looks as if a rebound or pass sneaks up on Marquette center Chris Otule, catches him by surprise, and he drops it. The temptation is to downgrade his hands when that happens, but it’s actually not the case. Otule wears goggles when he plays to protect his right eye. His left eye is artificial.

“I guess you could call it glaucoma,” Otule told the Milwakuee Journal-Sentinel. “I was born with one ye, actually, and the other one wasn’t full developed. So I had to get an artificial eye, since I was 1 or 2. And every time I grew out of it, I had to go back to the doctor and they’d make a new one.”

Otule, who splits time with more gifted offensive center Davante Gardner, had one of his better games, last season against UConn, the day he met Charlie Krauss, a 2-year-old boy from the Milwaukee area who lost his left eye to a congenital disorder known as Coats’ disease.

“It felt so good holding him, knowing that he’s going through the same thing I went through and that he looks up to me,” Otule told the Journal-Sentinel. “It helped motivate me more in that game, and for the rest of my life, to play for people like him.”

*Three factors contribute greatly to No. 14 seed Davidson becoming such a popular upset pick against third-seeded Marquette: 1. Davidson has won 17 in a row; 2. The Wildcats lead the nation in free-throw shooting, making 80.1 percent; 3. Forward Clint Mann, out since mid-January with an injury, is expected to play.

Not only that, Davidson has all 80 points back this season from the team that scored an 80-74 upset victory against Kansas on Dec. 19, 2011 in Sprint Center.

*If Josh Pastner ever leaves Memphis for another college job, he left himself open for an obvious question at his introductory news conference by saying, “I think our fan base is the best fan base in the entire country, hands down, and that’s not just coach-speak.” The question: How would you compare the fan base of your new school to that of your last one?

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Though he’s paid most, Bill Self 7th in Big 12 in dollars/win; the best GIFs, buzzer-beaters of 2012-13

A lot of links for your Tuesday ...

Journal-World news reporter Shaun Hittle posed an interesting question to me earlier in the week: Which Big 12 coach produces the best value when comparing his salary to his wins?

If you remember, USA Today did a similar study a few months ago with college football showing KU had the highest cost-per-win ratio in the nation ($2.5 million/win).

With help from Hittle and the Des Moines Register, which pulled each Big 12 coach's salary for a piece it did last week, here's a look at the Big 12 coaches and their wins compared to their salaries.

Big 12 coaches

Big 12 coaches by Jesse Newell

Note: We previously had 30 wins for KU, which was one too many. It should be fixed now with 29.

Though KU coach Bill Self is easily the highest-paid coach in the Big 12, he ranks seventh in cost per win because of the Jayhawks' success. Obviously, West Virginia and Texas can't be happy with the results they received from their well-paid coaches this season.

While we're on the topic of money, a study by Forbes Magazine finds Kansas has the second-most valuable basketball team at $32.9 million, trailing only Louisville ($38.5 million).

KU was third last year on the Forbes list but passed North Carolina, which checked in right behind KU at $32.8 million.

This is one of the best blogs I've seen all year: Barstoolsports put together the top 14 GIFs of the college basketball season. (Warning: There's some language in the link above that might not be appropriate for the workplace.)

KU makes three separate appearances on the list, with KU guard Ben McLemore's locker room dance earning the No. 3 spot.

Seriously, though, it'll be tough to have a bad day if you take a few minutes to watch all of these (and especially No. 1, which is mesmerizing).

Here's a video showing the top 26 buzzer-beaters of the college basketball season. CBS's Gregg Doyel described the video well on Twitter, saying, "My goosebumps have goosebumps."

New York Times' statistician Nate Silver gives his analysis of the NCAA brackets in this column, and he also does a good job of explaining why statistical models like the third-seeded Florida Gators so much.

The answer boils down to margin of victory. Florida’s losses came by margins of 1, 3, 3, 4, 6, 6 and 11 points. By contrast, its wins came in blowouts; the Gators didn’t win a single game by fewer than 10 points.

As much as the conventional wisdom might chide Florida for having performed poorly in the clutch, there is an abundance of statistical evidence that a team’s record in close games is mostly a matter of luck, and that this luck turns around often enough. Had Florida split its single-digit games, for instance, it would have gone 29-4 this year, which may be a better indication of its strength.

Facebook has released some color-coded maps based on people "liking" the teams in the NCAA Tournament. KU seems to be well-represented in the Midwest, especially when compared to the other No. 1 seeds. The final map also compared KU basketball fans to Kansas State basketball fans ... and the result isn't surprising.

KU Athletics released its highlight video following the Jayhawks' 70-54 Big 12 championship victory over Kansas State. And for those fans of the "McLemore" dance, you'll want to be sure to make it to the 2:05 mark.

Want to look at some unconventional brackets? Ecollegefinder.org took a look at how the current bracket would end up if teams won each game based on enrollment, tuition, student/faculty ratio and acceptance rate.

And finally, in case you haven't heard, the Kansas women's basketball team made the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, earning a No. 12 seed. The Jayhawks will take on fifth-seeded Colorado at 5:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.

I love this photo from Journal-World photographer John Young of the players' reactions once they saw "Kansas" on the TV screen. The best facial expression is from KU guard CeCe Harper right in the middle of the front row.

Members of the Kansas women's basketball team celebrate as they learn their fate in the 2013 NCAA Women's Tournament Monday evening at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks earned the 12th seed in the Norfolk region and will play fifth seeded Colorado at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Members of the Kansas women's basketball team celebrate as they learn their fate in the 2013 NCAA Women's Tournament Monday evening at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks earned the 12th seed in the Norfolk region and will play fifth seeded Colorado at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. by John Young

Also, here's some video of the scene from KU Athletics. Be sure to pay attention to Carolyn Davis (back row, far left), who couldn't play in last year's NCAA run to the Sweet 16 because of a torn ACL. She gets the most congratulations, and at the end, she also wipes away a tear.

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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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Jeff Withey flummoxes Kansas State once again

Kansas center Jeff Withey defends against a shot from Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez during the second half of the Big 12 tournament championship on Saturday, March 16 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas center Jeff Withey defends against a shot from Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez during the second half of the Big 12 tournament championship on Saturday, March 16 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

1. Jeff Withey: After three games, Kansas State is still no closer to solving the defensive riddle that is Jeff Withey. Though KU's senior center had only one block, he altered numerous shots and was the big reason KSU made just 15 of 36 shots from two-point range (42 percent). Withey also came up big on the defensive glass against a strong offensive rebounding team, contributing 17 points (5-for-9 shooting), nine rebounds (seven defensive) and two assists with two turnovers in 34 minutes.

2. Perry Ellis: Though Withey took Most Outstanding Player honors, Ellis' play in the last two games certainly put him in the conversation. Ellis was key during a second-half run that put the game away, finishing with 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting with six rebounds in just 14 minutes. KU coach Bill Self said after the game that Ellis "looks like a different guy from a confidence perspective."

3. Kevin Young: Saved KU's sluggish offense in the first half, as he posted seven rebounds, six rebounds (three offensive) and two assists before halftime. The senior didn't appear hampered by a lower right leg injury, finishing with nine points (4-for-8 shooting) and nine rebounds with three assists to go with two turnovers in 27 minutes.

4. Travis Releford: After the game, Self said Releford "did an unbelievable job" defensively on KSU's Rodney McGruder, who finished with 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting. Self also said many times when McGruder scored, it was the result of a switch and, therefore, not Releford's fault. The senior added six points on 3-for-7 shooting and had three of KU's seven steals.

5. Naadir Tharpe: When Elijah Johnson struggled at point, Tharpe stepped in to provide needed stability for KU at that position. It also ended up being one of his best shooting nights of the year. Tharpe scored a career-high 12 points on 4-for-6 three-point shooting, making four threes for the first time in his career. He also added two assists to go with one turnover in 19 minutes.

6. Ben McLemore: McLemore was quiet offensively, scoring a season-low five points on 2-for-7 shooting. The rest of his line was OK, though: three rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal to go with a turnover.

7. Elijah Johnson: Was careless in the first half, then let those mistakes affect his play after that. The senior scored nine points on 3-for-9 shooting, but he had just three assists to go with six turnovers. His three-game hot streak seems like a distant memory, as in his last four games, he's made 12 of 40 shots (30 percent) with as many assists as turnovers (16).

8. Jamari Traylor: Missed his only shot but also had an impressive block in his two minutes.

9. Rio Adams: Played in the final seconds. Winner of the three-man KUsports.com lottery for ninth place.

10. Andrew White III: Played in the final seconds. Second place in the three-man KUsports.com lottery for ninth place.

11. Justin Wesley: Played in the final seconds. Loser in the three-man KUsports.com lottery for ninth place.

KUsports.com Season Standings
1. Jeff Withey (275 points)
2. Ben McLemore (258 points)
3. Travis Releford (243 points)
4. Kevin Young (210 points)
5. Elijah Johnson (192 points)
6. Naadir Tharpe (173 points)
7. Perry Ellis (161 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (111 points)
9. Andrew White III (52 points)
10. Rio Adams (38 points)
11. Justin Wesley (24 points)

Big 12/Postseason Standings
1. Jeff Withey (184 points)
2. Ben McLemore (169 points)
3. Travis Releford (158 points)
4. Kevin Young (151 points)
5. Elijah Johnson (116 points)
6. Naadir Tharpe (112 points)
7. Perry Ellis (109 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (70 points)
9. Andrew White III (29 points)
10. Rio Adams (23 points)
11. Justin Wesley (17 points)

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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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Bench play a highlight for KU against Iowa State

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe hangs for a shot past Iowa State center Percy Gibson and teammate Jamari Traylor during the first half of the semifinal round of the Big 12 tournament on Friday, March 15, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe hangs for a shot past Iowa State center Percy Gibson and teammate Jamari Traylor during the first half of the semifinal round of the Big 12 tournament on Friday, March 15, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

1. Perry Ellis: The more he plays, the more teams will have to start respecting KU's 4 man offensively, which in turn should open up some room for Jeff Withey in the lane. Ellis scored in a variety of ways Friday, which included pinning his defender deep for layups and shooting jumpers over the top. The freshman scored a career-high 23 points on 10-for-12 shooting, adding six rebounds and two steals to go with no turnovers in 28 minutes.

2. Naadir Tharpe: Attacked ISU's defense well, especially in the first half. Tharpe finished with eight points on 4-for-6 shooting, which included perfect 4-for-4 two-point accuracy. He also had eight assists — tying for his second-highest mark this season — with a steal and just one turnover in 21 minutes.

3. Elijah Johnson: Though he didn't have a good shooting game, Johnson still posted 14 points (4-for-12 on field goals) and seven assists to go with five turnovers. Other than a late giveaway, the senior managed KU's late possessions well, breaking the press and also nailing a deep three late in the shot clock to put KU up 17 with 2:25 left.

4. Kevin Young: Played with great energy — especially on the offensive glass — before his playing time was limited because of a leg injury. In just 10 minutes, Young had four points on 2-for-3 shooting with six rebounds (four offensive). He also added an assist and a block with no turnovers.

5. Jeff Withey: A rare inefficient scoring night for Withey, who shot under 50 percent from the floor for the first time in six games. The senior still posted 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting with six rebounds in 29 minutes.

6. Ben McLemore: The freshman shot it well — making four of five shots and two of three three-pointers for 10 points — and also led KU in rebounding with seven boards. That still didn't make up for a sloppy night offensively, as he posted a season-high six turnovers.

7. Travis Releford: Releford found some openings in transition early, but he never could get his three-pointers to fall. The senior made just three of nine shots and one of six threes, ending with nine points and six rebounds to go with two assists and two turnovers in a team-high 36 minutes.

8. Jamari Traylor: Solid production in limited time, as Traylor scored six points with help from 4-for-4 free throw shooting (he now has made 13 straight free throws). The freshman also had a rebound, two blocks and no turnovers in 10 minutes.

9. Justin Wesley: Recorded no stats in one minute at the end of the first half.

KUsports.com Season Standings
1. Jeff Withey (265 points)
2. Ben McLemore (253 points)
3. Travis Releford (236 points)
4. Kevin Young (202 points)
5. Elijah Johnson (188 points)
6. Naadir Tharpe (167 points)
7. Perry Ellis (152 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (108 points)
9. Andrew White III (51 points)
10. Rio Adams (36 points)
11. Justin Wesley (24 points)

Big 12/Postseason Standings
1. Jeff Withey (174 points)
2. Ben McLemore (164 points)
3. Travis Releford (151 points)
4. Kevin Young (143 points)
5. Elijah Johnson (112 points)
6. Naadir Tharpe (106 points)
7. Perry Ellis (100 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (67 points)
9. Andrew White III (28 points)
10. Rio Adams (21 points)
11. Justin Wesley (17 points)

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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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KU’s big men battle for No. 2 spot behind Ben McLemore

Kansas guard Ben McLemore looks to maintain possession against Texas Tech players Daylen Robinson, left, and Toddrick Gotcher during the second half of the second round of the Big 12 tournament on Thursday, March 14, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas guard Ben McLemore looks to maintain possession against Texas Tech players Daylen Robinson, left, and Toddrick Gotcher during the second half of the second round of the Big 12 tournament on Thursday, March 14, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

1. Ben McLemore: An elite shooter when he has his feet set on the perimeter. McLemore helped KU get off to a good start with hot shooting, posting a game-high 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting, which included 4-for-8 accuracy from three-point range. The freshman also added four rebounds, an assist and steal to go with a turnover.

2. Kevin Young: In a game where three guys could make a claim for the second spot, Young takes it with an efficient line. In 21 minutes, the senior made all three of his field goals to finish with nine points, which tied for the second-most among KU's regulars. Young also had three assists, two rebounds, a block and a steal to go with a turnover.

3. Jeff Withey: For the second straight game, Withey only shot three field goals but made all of those attempts. Withey struggled early against the physical Jordan Tolbert inside, but he also scored KU's final five points of the first half to give the Jayhawks some breathing room at the break. The senior added four rebounds, three blocks, two assists and a steal but also had a team-high four turnovers.

4. Perry Ellis: Another encouraging step for the freshman, who posted eight points (3-for-5 shooting) with a team-high seven rebounds. He also had one assist and no turnovers in 14 minutes.

5. Travis Releford: Quiet game for Releford, who scored six points on 2-for-4 shooting with five assists and three turnovers in 31 minutes.

6. Jamari Traylor: Didn't miss a shot, making both of his field goals and all three of his free throws to finish with seven points in 11 minutes. He also had no turnovers.

7. Elijah Johnson: Led KU with three steals, but he wasn't efficient offensively on an afternoon when his team shot 66 percent. The senior made two of six field goals for four points with four assists and two turnovers.

8. Naadir Tharpe: Angered KU coach Bill Self with some poor passes, but the sophomore's final line wasn't bad: five points, 2-for-3 shooting, three assists, two turnovers and two steals in 13 minutes.

9. Rio Adams: Great game for Adams, and the only reason he's not higher on this list is that his offensive production came when the game was already decided. Still, scoring 11 points in five minutes on 4-for-5 shooting (2-for-2 three-point shooting) is tough to do regardless of the circumstances.

10. Andrew White III: The freshman doesn't hesitate to fire up threes, and that's a positive since his main purpose on the floor is to produce offensively. White made two of three three-pointers to finish with six points in six minutes. That ends a mini-slump, as he'd missed seven threes in a row before Thursday.

11. Justin Wesley: Made both field goal attempts, had two rebounds and two assists to go with a turnover in five minutes.

KUsports.com Season Standings
1. Jeff Withey (259 points)
2. Ben McLemore (248 points)
3. Travis Releford (232 points)
4. Kevin Young (195 points)
5. Elijah Johnson (180 points)
6. Naadir Tharpe (158 points)
7. Perry Ellis (142 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (105 points)
9. Andrew White III (51 points)
10. Rio Adams (36 points)
11. Justin Wesley (22 points)

Big 12/Postseason Standings
1. Jeff Withey (168 points)
2. Ben McLemore (159 points)
3. Travis Releford (147 points)
4. Kevin Young (136 points)
5. Elijah Johnson (104 points)
6. Naadir Tharpe (97 points)
7. Perry Ellis (90 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (64 points)
9. Andrew White III (28 points)
10. Rio Adams (21 points)
11. Justin Wesley (15 points)

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Position-by-position look at Kansas football: wide receiver

Throughout spring football, I’ll be writing a series of blogs looking at each position unit on the Kansas football team, starting with the one that on paper — rather in cyberspace — looks like the weakest and building to the strongest. Wide receiver has the dubious distinction of batting leadoff.

Logic says if a wide receiver couldn’t earn playing time as a junior on a team that didn’t have a single touchdown reception from the position for the entire 12-game season there is no reason to believe he’ll do anything memorable as a senior.

So why am I thinking, yet again, that things finally will click for Christian Matthews? Maybe it’s because when he does do something well he does it in a way that makes it look as if a big-time athlete is trapped in there waiting to bust loose. This will be his last chance and that senior sense of urgency sometimes can lead talented athletes to stop thinking and start playing.

In limited action the past two seasons as a running quarterback in the wildcat formation, Matthews has blended speed with sharp cuts to make moves that would seem to translate well to yards after catches. So far though his spring-game success hasn’t carried him into autumn. He followed a 37-yard TD reception in the 2010 spring game with a 53-yard score in the 2011 game. His regular-season receiving stats: A 41-yard catch in 2010, 11 receptions for 100 yards in 2011, no receptions in 2012.

Without having anything solid to back up my hunch about Matthews in 2013, I thought about keeping it quiet. Then I asked tight end Jimmay Mundine for his opinion as to the best wide receiver on the squad.

“If I had to pick a guy now I’d pick Christian Matthews,” Mundine said. “He’s working hard. He’s starting to take more of a leadership role. We’re expecting more out of him than last year, that’s for sure.”

Why?

“His work ethic,” Mundine said. “When we’re out there doing seven on seven, he’s catching the ball, finishing his route, exploding upfield, things that you hate doing. You hate the coach being on you about it. When you see a guy doing it when no one’s telling him to do it, it makes you realize he really cares.”

Mundine said he thinks Matthews and Chris Omigiee are the two hardest workers among the receivers participating in spring football.

“I’m going to try my hardest senior year,” Matthews said. “I don’t want to go out like a sucker, so I’m going to give it my all.”

Matthews lined up at receiver at the end of a few games last season but said he didn’t have a single pass thrown to him. He’s listed behind Tre’ Parmalee on the depth chart at the slot, a big step toward more snaps.

Matthews has something in common with every player except one listed on the roster at receiver in that he is seeking his first career TD catch. Andrew Turzilli, who is entering his red-shirt junior season, caught a TD pass against Georgia Tech in 2011. That makes one Division I TD catch on the entire roster at the position. (Junior-to-be JaCorey Shepherd, who shifted to cornerback last season, had two TD receptions in his first college game, against McNeese State in 2011, and picked up a third against Oklahoma State.)

Asked to name a receiver who has caught his eye, Matthews said, “Drew Turzilli. He’s big. He can catch, fast. Can’t stop that.”

Things didn’t work out at Oklahoma for Justin McCay and the Sooners had no trouble signing off on letting him transfer to another Big 12 school. Chances are he never would have played his way onto the depth chart in Norman, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make an impact for Kansas. He’s not a burner, but he’s not slow either. He’s physical with sure hands.

With no sure things on hand, the Jayhawks needed to score big at this position in recruiting and didn’t. Or did they? Mark Thomas, a junior college receiver from New York, runs a 4.4 40 and was overlooked early because he played in a run-first offense. West Virginia recruited him late and the Mountaineers don’t mess with slow receivers. Something about the way head coach Weis looks when he talks about Thomas indicates he thinks he might be the sleeper of the recruiting class.

Weis talked up the receiving unit a year ago at this time and, next to quarterback, it became the team’s most disappointing unit. Don’t look for disappointment to enter the picture this year because expectations hang low.

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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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Bill Self does his version of the Ben McLemore dance; Jack Harry says KU deserves Big 12 title

An abbreviated Seen It? blog for your Tuesday ...

• The regular-season finale trailer of the "Pay Heed" videos series from the KU Athletics department was released late Monday, and once again, dancing is the highlight.

This time it's from KU coach Bill Self after he receives his 500th win gameball in the locker room after the Jayhawks' overtime victory over Iowa State.

At first Self doesn't dance, and then he does, going into full Ben McLemore mode.

You'll definitely want to watch the video below (starting at the 1:32 mark) at least twice: once to watch Self's dance moves and another time to watch McLemore's face as Self is dancing.

The Kansas City Star's Rustin Dodd points out in his latest "KU Chalkboard" blog that heading into the season, KU coach Bill Self had the same number of conference losses at KU as NCAA Tournament wins (23).

To keep that streak going, Self will have to get four NCAA wins with KU this season, meaning the Jayhawks would have to advance to the Final Four.

The Jayhawk Talk blog had CBS senior blogger Matt Norlander on a podcast to discuss the NCAA Tournament and KU.

Former Lawrence Journal-World staffer Alex Parker had a story last week about how backlash over the KU alternative adidas uniforms helped bring a spike in traffic for the Zubaz website ... even though Zubaz has no affiliation with the new uniforms.

And finally, KSHB's Jack Harry — a well-known Missouri Tigers supporter — says that KU deserved the Big 12 title outright over Kansas State because it beat the Wildcats twice in his latest "Jack's Smack."

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