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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

KU basketball: N.C. State's basic approach isn't so simple

By Blair Kerkhoff
The Wichita Eagle

Maybe North Carolina State should operate with five guards against Kansas in its Midwest Regional semifinal game.

Or trot out five centers. Or have point guard Lorenzo Brown jump center and big man Richard Howell bring the ball up the floor.

An off-speed pitch, anything to throw the Jayhawks off their stride.

It won’t happen, but a unique style forced KU out of its comfort zone on Sunday, and the Jayhawks believe North Carolina State’s more conventional approach can be an elixir.

“We got guards on guards, bigs on bigs, so it matches up evenly,” Kansas guard Travis Releford said.

And not that confounded Purdue motion system that at times had five guards on the floor and discombobulated the Jayhawks, who pulled out a three-point victory.

The Wolfpack is an athletic team with a star attraction in forward C.J. Leslie. N.C. State’s starting guards have size in 6-foot-5 point Lorenzo Brown, 6-6 shooter Scott Wood and 6-5 combo C.J. Williams.

Should Kansas be careful about its wishes?

“The challenge for Kansas is: N.C. State is a team that can beat you at all five positions offensively,” said analyst and former coach Fran Fraschilla. “There’s no one player to key on. The entire starting lineup at various times during the year has proven to be dangerous.”

A spread-the-wealth quality finds the Wolfpack with five starters averaging in double figures and everybody in the group credited with 300 to 350 field-goal attempts.

Contrast that to Kansas, with Thomas Robinson leading the team with 449 shots and Jeff Withey with 187.

“They have balance, and balance is the hardest thing to guard,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.

Wait a second. Wasn’t Purdue and 6-8 Robbie Hummel raining threes the harder team to guard?

Tough in a different way.

“Even though it’s more conventional,” Self said, “it’s still creating obvious problems.”

But until the 11th-seeded Wolfpack defeated San Diego State and Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament there had been no signature victories. And some of the defeats were crushing, by two to North Carolina in the ACC tournament and a loss at Duke after holding a 20-point lead.

Which brings Fraschilla to the counterpoint.

“N.C. State has two good inside players. But are they going to be able to score over Robinson and Withey?” Fraschilla said. “Can they contain Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson? The way Johnson has been playing lately, this is one of the best backcourts in the country right now.”

The Wolfpack, like Purdue last week, sees containing Robinson as crucial. On Sunday, a frustrated Robinson made 2 of 12 shots for his worst shooting game of the season.

“I don’t think you can keep a good player like him down,” Howell said.

Leslie sees himself guarding Robinson.

“He’s going to use his strength, and I’m going to use my quickness,” Leslie said.

But Kansas often has opted to put Withey on the better inside scorer to take advantage of his shot-blocking ability and to keep Robinson’s foul tab low.

If that happens, Robinson will start on Howell. Releford is a likely matchup for Wood with Taylor on Brown and Johnson on Williams.

The Jayhawks switch often. Last weekend against Purdue, as many as five players guarded Hummel.

Kansas sees its defense at the game’s critical component.

“We always do,” reserve forward Kevin Young said. “Keep them from scoring, and we can withstand a poor offense game.”

Which is what KU has delivered in two NCAA games. Nearly every Kansas player is fighting though a shooting malaise. The only player on the roster who has made at least half of his shots is Johnson, who is 13 of 22. The rest of the team is hitting 34 percent combined.

Reliable shooters like Taylor haven’t made a three-pointer since the Big 12 tournament. The team leader in field-goal percentage, Jeff Withey at 54 percent, has missed four of six shots in limited time.

“I think some of it is we’ve been defended pretty well,” Self said. “But some of it is we haven’t made shots.”

The Jayhawks’ 48-percent accuracy for the season is low by recent standards. Only one team in the past six years shot worse. But this is also a KU team that can score in bunches once it gets started.

“As long as we take good shots, I have confidence we’ll knock them down,” Self said.

What Kansas doesn’t want to do is chase five guards or centers.

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