Michigan Gets Top-Seeded KU In Return To Sweet 16
SCHUYLER DIXON,AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Michigan coach John Beilein briefly lost track of how long it’s been since the Wolverines reached the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.
Sixteen years, he said. No, 18. Wait. 19.
He was right the third time, but here’s how to make it a little simpler. The Fab Five era of the early 1990s was the last time the No. 4 seed Wolverines (28-7) made it this far.
For top-seeded Kansas (31-5) — their opponent in the South Regional semifinals Friday night — Fab Five means something more like five trips at least this far in the past six NCAA tournaments, not to mention a championship in 2008 and another appearance in the title game last year.
The way Beilein figures it, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. were the only players in his rotation who had any NCAA experience last week, and the Wolverines won twice anyway for the first time since Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard led the way a year after Chris Webber broke up the original class of freshmen by leaving for the NBA.
“It was all new to them then,” Beilein said of the early rounds in suburban Detroit. “And the next step is new to all our guys. I didn’t see our kids affected by that. I think we’re more affected by the opponent right now than how long it’s been or where it’s at.”
Now that Beilein mentions it, the site is noteworthy as well. Cowboys Stadium is about 15 miles from now-demolished Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas, where Howard, Rose, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King played their last game together in a loss to Arkansas in the regional finals. When Webber was still with them, those five lost in back-to-back championship games in 1992-93.
“I actually talked to Jimmy King on Monday,” said freshman Mitch McGary, who had 21 points and 14 rebounds in the win over Virginia Commonwealth that sent the Wolverines to Texas. “He came in and spoke in one of our classes. He knows what to experience from it. And it’s the same game of basketball. He just said go have fun and play your game.”
McGary is one of three freshmen who start alongside Hardaway and Burke, a national player of the year candidate who leads Michigan at 18.8 points per game. The Jayhawks have four senior starters with 45 NCAA games between them.
“I wouldn’t look at it as an advantage because Michigan is a great team,” said Travis Releford, who led Kansas with 22 points in a win over North Carolina that sent the Jayhawks to what will be the school’s 30th game in the round of 16. “We’re not going into it thinking that we’ve been here more times than them.”
Michigan spent a week at No. 1 in the poll before going 6-6 leading into the NCAAs. That included a blowout loss to Michigan State and a slow start against 13th-seeded South Dakota State in the tournament.
Hardaway and Glenn Robinson III — both sons of former NBA players — offset a rough game for Burke in the tournament opener with 21 points apiece before McGary took charge in the next round. The late-season swoon made more sense after four Big Ten teams were among the final 16 for the second straight year.
The Jayhawks had their first three-game losing streak in eight years in the middle of Big 12 play, including a nearly inexplicable loss just down the road at TCU. It was one of just two conference wins for the Horned Frogs, who held Kansas to 19 percent shooting in the first half and 30 for the game.
Now Kansas is dealing with a slump from leading scorer Ben McLemore, a freshman and the only non-senior starter. He played just 24 minutes — his fewest since before conference play — and went 0 of 9 from the field against North Carolina. He had a career-low two points after scoring just five in the Big 12 tournament championship against Kansas State.
“It’s not like a pitcher with a no-hitter going into the seventh, nobody talk to him,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “So we try to work with him, but not work with him from a situation where, hey, you know you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. He’s trying hard.”
McLemore, who averages 15.8 points and is the team’s leading 3-point threat, didn’t mind watching Releford and 7-footer Jeff Withey take over against North Carolina. Withey, the leading shot blocker in tournament history, had 16 points and five blocks for the lone Big 12 survivor among five entrants.
“When I was on the bench, I was still having fun,” McLemore said. “It was just great to see them do all their things without me on the court.”
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