Guarding KU’s guards
Michigan has tried to sharpen its focus on defense over the course of the season, and that was evident as the Wolverines’ backcourt talked about what they needed to do to stop Kansas’ guard-heavy lineup.
“Elijah Johnson is a talented scorer at point guard, and we’re going to have to contain him ... we can’t let him go off and have a big game like he had against Iowa State,” Michigan guard Trey Burke said. “Then you have (Naadir) Tharpe, who comes off the bench and you have to contain him, too, because he becomes an extra threat on the perimeter.”
The Wolverines have even taken to going defense-heavy at some recent practices.
“We’ve had some practices where it felt like all we were doing was defense,” Michigan guard Nik Stauskas said. “And that’s what our mindset needs to be. Defense first. That’s how (Kansas) beats people.”
A different team
Free from the grind-it-out nature of the BIg Ten schedule, Michigan seems to relish in playing a different style of basketball in the NCAA Tournament — specifically their ability to push the ball in transition and open up the floor.
“We’re not playing in the Big Ten right now, so teams aren’t going to be able to scout us the same anymore,” Stauskas said. “We’re still going out and playing our game with defense and rebounding, but there are some different things we can do now that might surprise some people.”
Kansas coach Bill Self isn’t surprised. And he’s taking a simple approach.
“I think when you scout an opponent, it would be nice to be able to say we’re going to watch them from this game and watch them from this game and this is when they’re good and this is when they’re not,” Self said. “You don’t really do that. We’ll show Michigan when they’re playing well, without question, to our guys.”
Kansas has shown it has depth in the postseason, getting big games out of freshman forward Perry Ellis and Tharpe in the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments. Another big man, Jamari Traylor, is there if the Jayhawks need him.
“We just want to come in and make things happen,” Ellis said. “That can be through defense, rebounding, getting baskets ... there are a lot of ways to help.”
Michigan’s bench hasn’t had the same effect. Wolverine reserves have scored five points in 55 minutes of NCAA Tournament games, blowout wins over South Dakota State and VCU.
“We feel like we’ll be ready when we’re called upon,” Michigan reserve Jon Horford said. “As you’ve seen, we haven’t really needed to get a lot out of our bench in the last two games. Our bench performed well when we’ve been called on this season.”
— Tony Adame