#1 Kansas (31-4) vs. #9 Connecticut (25-10)
Saturday, March 19, 2016
7:45 EST, CBS
Top seed Kansas gets set to continue its tournament march with a game against the ninth-seeded Connecticut Huskies. This game will pit two of the best programs in the country against each other. Between this contest and the other game in Des Moines, Indiana and Kentucky, there are 20 NCAA championships between the teams (UK with 8, IU with 5, UConn with 4, and KU with 3). 2008 national champion Bill Self is looking to win veteran Perry Ellis a ring before he graduates, but will have to go through 2014 champion Kevin Ollie to get there.
Kansas looked good, but not impressive in their game against Austin Peay. The offense was clicking on all cylinders, but the defense left a lot to be desired. The team committed too many fouls (27) and were nearly outrebounded by the Governors. Still, the offense played to its typical efficient form. The 105 points were the Jayhawks’ most scored since the classic game against Oklahoma in January. Ellis did what he usually does, and paced the Jayhawks by scoring in the paint. The battle between KU’s ability to score in the paint and the Huskies’ shot blocking prowess will be critical.
UConn looked like two different teams against Colorado; a tight, slow squad in the first half, and a loose, explosive, and tenacious unit in the second. That kind of slow start will not do the Huskies any favors against the best team in the country. It is going to take the type of defensive effort, and rebounding tenacity, that the Huskies showed in the second half. Daniel Hamilton and Rodney Purvis will need to score in bunches again. Beating Kansas will take the best 40 minutes of UConn’s season, but it is entirely possible.
MATCH-UP TO WATCH
Both Daniel Hamilton and Wayne Selden lead their teams from the wings. The utilitarian Hamilton posted a double-double against Colorado, while Selden poured in 14 points in only 19 minutes during the glorified warm-up against Austin Peay. Selden has come on strong towards the later half of this season, and is now hitting over 40 percent on his shots from deep. The talented wing from Roxbury, Mass. (the same hometown as Shabazz Napier and current Husky Jalen Adams) could possibly be bothered by the length of the taller Hamilton, but is definitely the better athlete. The two future pros will be critical both in scoring the ball, and likely playing defense on each other.
X-FACTOR FOR KANSAS
Hitting Threes: Unlike other Bill Self teams, this Jayhawks incarnation frequently plays with four competent three-point shooters on the floor at once. Both Devonte’ Graham and stud Frank Mason hit well over 40 percent from deep. The three-point shots also open up Ellis’s advanced post game, and driving lanes for the bevy of slashers Kansas has at their disposal. This is all without mentioning Ukrainian hotshot off the bench, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. The sophomore hit four of five threes against Austin Peay. Should Kansas come out and drill shots from deep in the first half, expect them to score over 80 points, even against UConn’s elite defense, and win by double digits.
X-FACTOR FOR UCONN
Shonn Miller Avoiding Foul Trouble: Miller is one of UConn’s leading scorers, at 12.6 a game. But, he only played 16 minutes against Colorado due to foul trouble. He is UConn’s only true threat in the post game, and the offense tends to stagnate when he is not in the game to score in the paint. In addition, he will likely be matched up on Perry Ellis. Miller is a talented defender, when he can play without fouling. He has the ability to at least challenge Ellis and his versatility, and for the Huskies to pull off the upset, they will need the Cornell transfer on the floor for at least 25 minutes.
Rebounding: UConn comes into this game after outrebounding the fourth best team in the country on the glass. However, the depth and experience of Kansas will be a whole different challenge. The Jayhawks did not perform up to their usual standards on the glass against the Governors, and a similar effort against UConn may not be enough to get the job done. Kansas has often controlled the glass, as they on average outrebound opponents by nearly five. If they are unable to dominate the boards, such as their loss to Oklahoma St. (outrebounded 38-31), they can be vulnerable.
UConn can win this game. They have to contain Ellis by keeping Miller on the floor, and maintain the high level of perimeter defense they showed in the second half of the game against the Buffaloes for 40 minutes. The true danger will be when Ellis slides to the center position, and gives the Jayhawks five offensive threats. When Landen Lucas or Jamari Traylor is in the game, Amida Brimah can camp in the paint, and help negate the driving ability of the Kansas guards. Should this defense hold down Kansas, UConn can make enough free throws to hold off the Jayhawks at the end.
All this being said, there is little chance the Husky bigs avoid foul trouble enough to stay on the floor and challenge Ellis. The Jayhawks are also a competent team from the line, shooting 71 percent, but they are not as good as the Huskies. However, their versatility on offense, combined with a tenacious brand of defense that is spearheaded by Frank Mason, should be enough to close out a moderately tight game against the Huskies. I will now do something I have never done: make a losing prediction for my school. The Huskies need to play not just a great, but near perfect effort to even have a chance. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that will happen. Kansas 70, Connecticut 61.
Mario Chalmers and Emeka Okafor: http://sportzedge.com/2015/03/05/greatest-ncaa-champion-tournament-west-regional-quarterfinal-3-2008-kansas-vs-6-2004-uconn/
Perry Ellis: http://isportsweb.com/2016/03/18/connecticut-basketball-vs-kansas-preview-prediction/
Rodney Purvis: http://www.newsday.com/sports/college/college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-uconn-vs-colorado-pictures-1.11586477