Kansas Overcomes Horrible First Half to Beat North Carolina, Advance to Sweet 16

USA TODAY Sports

The Jayhawks have advanced to their sixth Sweet 16 in their last seven years behind great games from Jeff Withey and Travis Releford

Granted there are only 16 teams left standing, but I think you can count on one hand how many of them could survive an 0-9 effort from a possible #1 overall pick to beat anyone, much less a team that had won 9 of their last 11 games.

But that is what the Jayhawks did yesterday. Despite shooting just 25% from the field in the first half, the Jayhawks turned it on in the second half and ended up scoring just under a point per possession for the game. They also made 5 threes in the second half, their first 5 of the entire tournament, and ended up shooting 35% from beyond the arc for the game.

The biggest problem offensively was turnovers. They turned it over on 30% of their possessions, and this was the last game they'll be able to win doing that, regardless of how well their defense plays or how well they shoot. It was fixed somewhat in the second half, as they were able to use their size to bully the Heels inside and grab a ton of offensive rebounds and get to the line, but the turnovers need to get fixed and fixed quickly.

Defensively, the Jayhawks were great again. They held the Heels to just .8 points per possession while holding them to just 31% shooting from two. Fortunately they got a little lucky in terms of three point defense, with the Heels shooting just 6-21, but they probably would have won with UNC shooting 50% from three as well, which is something I never thought going into the game.

At halftime, with the Jayhawks down 30-21, Bill Self turned the halftime speech over to his 4 Seniors, and those Seniors responded. Kansas erased the North Carolina lead less than 5 minutes into the half, and it was never closer than a two point lead again. In the end the Jayhawks outscored the Tar Heels by 21 points in the second half, and each Senior played a big part in it.

Now the Jayhawks take on an offensive juggernaut in Michigan, and probably the best player in the country in Trey Burke. The Wolverines will probably be favored by Vegas and all of the advanced metrics, and their performance in their first two games probably backs that up. But last year's team and this year's team taught me that Kansas is never out of a game until the clock reads 0:00

  • Jeff Withey had just the fourth ever 15+ point, 15+ rebound, 5+ block performance in the history of the NCAA tournament. He shot just 6-11 from the field but had 16 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and had 5 blocks. Those rebounds will be especially important in the next round because Mitch McGary is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country.
  • Travis Releford loves Kansas City. He had 22 points, shooting 8-12 from two and making his only three, and he grabbed 8 rebounds and made 3 steals.
  • Kevin Young set the tone in the second half with his rebounding, and ended up with 9 of them (4 offensive). Like Withey, he will have to do well on the glass as well as guarding McGary on the perimeter. Young also had 10 points.
  • Elijah Johnson made a big three, but that was the only one of his 6 shot attempts he made. He did have 4 assists and just 2 turnovers, which was crucial in a game where nearly everyone else was turning it over. Michigan doesn't really force turnovers, so that will help in the next game, not just for Johnson but for everyone (hopefully).
  • True to form, Naadir Tharpe stepped up when Johnson wasn't shooting well, going 3-4 from three and makien 3 of 4 free throws. He didn't have the best game ball control wise, but he did have it in his hands a lot, especially in the second half.
  • I covered McLemore a bit above, but I'm not completely discouraged. He shot the ball 9 times, and finished with the third most shots on the team despite sitting for almost the whole second half, so it's not like he disappeared. He just had a bad shooting night. With how well he shoots I would wager we don't see an off game like that again, and I can live with him shooting 9 times in 24 minutes more than I can with him floating around the perimeter not wanting the ball.
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