KU vs. Purdue has star power
Tough Mason meets bruising Swanigan
kansas city, mo.» Two national player of the year front-runners, Frank Mason III of Kansas and Caleb Swanigan of Purdue, will lead their teams against each other in the Midwest Regional semifinals Thursday night.
In many ways, they’re a microcosm of their teams.
Mason is the granite-tough point guard whose ability to get up and down the floor in a blink has caused nightmares for the rest of the Big 12 the past four years. Swanigan is the 6-foot-9, 250-pound bruiser whose ability to dominate the post helped the Boilermakers dominate the Big Ten.
The Jayhawks are the essence of speed and shooting, Purdue the epitome of size and strength.
“There is no doubt they’re going to attack us with that match-up,” Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said Wednesday, “and there is no doubt we’re going to attack their match-up at the other end. And both teams are going to try to prevent that.”
With clashing styles, the No. 1 seed Jayhawks and fifth-seeded Boilermakers promise to deliver a slobber-knocker when they meet at the sold-out Sprint Center, a short drive down Interstate 70 from the Kansas campus in Lawrence.
In the other Midwest semifinal, thirdseeded Oregon and sensational forward Dillon Brooks will try to end seventhseeded Michigan’s dream postseason by
No. 7 Michigan (26-11) vs. No. 3 Oregon (31-5)
Bottom line: Michigan has won seven in a row and 12 of its last 14 after knocking out second-seeded Louisville in the second round. The Wolverines have been a tournament darling since they escaped tragedy during an aborted takeoff on their way to the Big Ten Tournament. Oregon has withstood the loss of big man Chris Boucher to a season-ending knee injury in the Pac-12 semifinals to make the Sweet 16 for a second year in a row. All about Walton: When Michigan lost at home to Ohio State in early February, coach John Beilein said the mood around the team was “lower than low.” He demanded that everyone give just a little more effort. Derrick Walton Jr. took it to heart and has carried the team during its run. In the last six games, he’s averaging 19.7 points, 7.0 assists and 5.2 rebounds and shooting 41.7 percent from behind the 3-point line. Going for 32: The Ducks would set the school record for wins if they beat Michigan. Oregon, Kansas and Villanova are the only three teams in the nation to have won 30 games each of the last two seasons. Did you know? Michigan is 4-0 all time against Oregon. The Wolverines won the most recent meeting 70-63 in a Thanksgiving tournament in 2014. earning a spot in the Elite Eight.
The Jayhawks (30-4) have hardly been tested after their stunning Big 12 quarterfinal loss to TCU, a game in which top freshman Josh Jackson was suspended for off-the-court incidents. They’ve blown out UC Davis and beat Michigan State by 20 to cruise into Kansas City on a hot streak.
“What makes them effective is they’re not just fast and skilled,” Swanigan said. “They can shoot a high percentage from three and have guys that can make plays. They’ve got playmakers at four positions, so that’s what makes them hard to guard in transition.”
Purdue (27-7), which lost to the Wolverines in overtime at the Big Ten Tournament, dropped Vermont in the NCAA Tournament’s opening round before holding off Iowa State’s frantic comeback bid.
“The thing that makes us worried is that we’re not as big of a team as they are,” said Jackson, who along with Mason, Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk give Kansas coach Bill Self a rare four-guard lineup. “We’ve got work to do to make sure we’re ready.”
Meanwhile, the Ducks (31-5) blew out Iona before rallying to beat Rhode Island in the tournament’s opening weekend, while the Wolverines (26-11) followed four wins in four days at the Big Ten tourney with nip-and-tuck wins over Oklahoma State and Louisville by a combined four points.
No. 4 Purdue (27-4) vs. No. 1 Kansas (30-4)
Bottom line: Kansas ran roughshod through UC Davis and Michigan State to reach the Sweet 16, which will be played about 40 miles from its campus in Lawrence. These Jayhawks are a departure from coach Bill Self’s typical teams in that they use a four-guard lineup, led by standout Frank Mason III and star freshman Josh Jackson. Purdue will counter with a whole lot of size, led by 6-foot-9, 250-pound sophomore Caleb Swanigan and 7-footer Isaac Haas. The Boilermakers had a first-round tussle with Vermont before fending off another Big 12 foe, Iowa State, to reach the regional semifinals. Fabulous freshmen: Jackson has sent his NBA draft stock soaring with two exemplary games in the NCAA Tournament, likely locking up a spot in the lottery if he departs after this season. Purdue also has a key freshman in guard Carsen Edwards, who averages more than 10 points coming off the bench. Home sweet home: The Jayhawks will have a massive home-court advantage at the Sprint Center, and it has generally paid off — they’re 34-7 in the building. But their last game in Kansas City was a loss to TCU in the Big 12 quarterfinals, when Jackson was serving a one-game suspension.
Kansas’ Frank Mason III attempts to control the ball against Michigan State last week in Tulsa, Okla. Ronald Martinez, Getty Images