On Friday, Kansas will attempt to reach its second Elite 8 in a row and fourth in the last six years. Their opponent is 11 seed NC State who was one of the last teams in the tournament but beat NC State and upset Georgetown to reach the Sweet 16.
Key 1 - Run
Kansas doesn't necessarily play fast, playing exactly the Big 12 average pace in league play, but they should on Friday. For one, they need transition baskets to score, and we've all seen how much KU can struggle in the half court at times. But secondly, NC State plays just seven guys, and two of them have played in under half of the team's minutes. Fatigue from last week won't be a big issue, but over the course of the game it could absolutely make the difference if the game is close. The devil's advocate position here of course is that Kansas wouldn't want to tire itself out for a big game against North Carolina on Sunday, and that if they're tired they won't beat the Heels, so why not just risk a loss on Friday to play slow. While I do semi understand that, I'd rather go get the win and worry about Sunday.
Key 2 - Limit the CJs
Sophomore CJ Leslie isn't NC State's best player statistically, but he is probably their most physically talented player. He's 6'8" and has a nice mix of back to the basket and face up game. Thomas Robinson might end up guarding him, and hopefully will fare better this time out. Thankfully Leslie doesn't shoot the ball well from three, making only 4 of his 13 attempts on the season. He shoots even worse at two point jumpers, making 29% of them, so the key will be to keep him from getting to the rim - or hoping Jeff Withey can keep him from converting. After not playing much against Purdue, Withey should be a big factor on Friday.
The other CJ is Senior CJ Williams. He doesn't offer much other than efficient scoring, but he shoots 57% from two. He doesn't get to the line often, bu when he does he shoots 80%, so he is the guy to avoid fouling at the end of the game if it comes to that.
Key 3 - Defensive Rebounding
NC State isn't the most efficient team in terms of shooting, but they pound the glass like crazy, ranking 51st nationally and 2nd in the ACC. Overall Kansas has been a good defensive rebounding team (48th nationally and 2nd in the Big 12), but they have struggled lately, allowing rates of 34%, 33%, 38%, and 40% in postseason play. Having Withey playing more regular minutes will help, but someone other than Robinson needs to hit the defensive glass. Keeping then under 33% on the offensive glass is probably the key to holding them under a point per possession, and thus winning the game.
Key 4 - Defend Scott Wood
Wood has the 22nd best offensive rating in the country, and makes his living at being a spot up shooter. He shoots 41.7% from beyond the arc, and has taken 223 threes, so he is obviously an important person to shut down. The 223 threes he's taken are only 50 or so fewer than the rest of the team has taken combined, so he is pretty much their whole offense from deep. He stands 6'6" so he'll probably draw Releford as a defensive assignment to start.
Key 5 - Feed Robinson and Withey
This one is more of a general key to every game, but after each guy struggled a bit against Purdue it will be important to get them back on track. NC State's front line stands 6'8", 6'8" and 6'9", so Kansas has the size advantage inside. Unlike vs. Purdue Withey will have a role to play because the Wolfpack like to attack the rim.
According to KenPom, Kansas is 79% to win the game on Friday. Being in St. Louis (and having the better team) will be a big help, but as we've all seen, anything can happen in the tournament. Hopefully Kansas can accomplish these five keys and thus (hopefully) advance to the Elite 8.