By Rustin Dodd
LAWRENCE — Back home on campus after a successful trip to Kansas City, the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks now have four days to prepare for their next challenge: No. 4 seed Michigan at 6:37 p.m. on Friday in palatial Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It’s a battle between programs that split the No. 1 ranking in the polls on Jan. 28. Michigan topped the Associated Press poll for the first time since 1992-93, the second season of the Fab Five, while the Jayhawks rose to No. 1 in the coaches poll before losing three straight.
The Jayhawks, of course, rallied to win the Big 12 regular-season crown and earned a No. 1 seed. Meanwhile, Michigan finished 7-6 while facing a brutal schedule in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines, one of the youngest and most talented teams in the country, appear to have found something in the NCAA Tournament, posting blowout victories over No. 13 South Dakota State and No. 5 seed VCU. Here’s a first look at Michigan, which is making its first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 1994.
THE BREAKDOWN: Michigan and Kansas offer polar opposite styles — at least, according to the advanced stats. The Wolverines, led by sophomore guard Trey Burke, are second in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.) Michigan scores 1.21 points per possession, trailing only No. 1 seed Indiana.)
The Wolverines shoot a respectable 37.5 percent from three-point range, but they also do a solid job of getting good shots, hitting 53.8 percent from two-point range.
Kansas, of course, has the nation’s best interior defender in Jeff Withey, and thus the nation’s best defense inside the three-point line. (The Jayhawks hold opponents to just 38.7 percent on two-point attempts, the best mark in the country by a substantial margin.)
So why did the Wolverines struggle down the stretch in the Big Ten? For one, they rank 41st in defensive efficiency, the fourth worst among teams still in the tournament. Florida Gulf Coast (97th), La Salle (86th) and Marquette (52nd) are the only teams with worse defensive numbers.
Can Michigan stop Kansas? After KU’s victory over No. 8 seed North Carolina on Sunday, the Jayhawks had dropped to 32nd in the country in offensive efficiency.
Which leads to an interesting point: The computer profiles of both teams offer tournament red flags. In the last 10 years, the national champion has ranked in the top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. Of course, if Kansas or Michigan play well enough to advance to the Final Four and beyond, their efficiency numbers will likely climb.
THE HISTORY: Michigan leads the all-time series 5-2, but KU has won the last two: a 75-64 victory at Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 19, 2009, and a 67-60 victory in Ann Arbor on Jan. 9, 2011. Kansas coach Bill Self is 8-0 against the Wolverines, including a 6-0 mark at Illinois.
BEST WIN: The Wolverines took down Ohio State 76-74 in overtime in Ann Arbor on Feb. 5. They had dropped the first matchup at Ohio State, a place where Kansas won back in December.
WORST LOSS: Michigan cratered in an 84-78 loss at Penn State on Feb. 27 — a loss that was nearly as bad as Kansas’ loss at TCU. The Wolverines allowed Penn State to shoot 27 of 57 from the floor and committed 15 turnovers.
BEST PLAYER: Sophomore guard Trey Burke is a National Player of the Year candidate after averaging 18.8 points and 6.7 assists and shooting 47.0 percent from the floor.
ONE MORE TO WATCH: Freshman Mitch McGary is a 6-foot-10 forward who played at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, the same prep school that produced former KU All-American Thomas Robinson and current KU guard Naadir Tharpe. Similar to KU freshman Perry Ellis, McGary has had a breakout March. He’s averaging just 6.8 points per game, but he finished with a career-high 21 and 14 rebounds while making 10 of 11 shots against VCU in Michigan’s 78-53 victory over VCU in the round of 32.