As we enter the Sweet 16, we continue with individual posts previewing the upcoming games for the NCAA Tournament games involving Big 12 teams.
(1) Kansas (29-7) vs. (5) Clemson (25-9), Friday, 7:07 p.m. CT, TBS
How they got here: Kansas won its 14th-straight Big 12 title this season and then went on to win the Big 12 tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament for a 47th time in program history. Clemson finished T-3 in the ACC and lost to Virginia (LOL) in the ACC Tournament Semifinals.
Tournament results: Kansas – def. Penn 76-60, def. Seton Hall 83-79; Clemson – def. New Mexico State 79-68, def. Auburn 84-53
Expected starters and head coach
Kansas Jayhawks — G Devonte’ Graham (17.3 ppg, 7.5 apg), G Svi Mykhailiuk (15.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg), G Malik Newman (13.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg), G Lagerald Vick (12.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg), C Udoka Azubuike (13.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg) Head coach — Bill Self (651-200 overall, 444-95 Kansas)
Clemson Tigers — G Marcquise Reed (15.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg), F Donte Grantham (14.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg), G Gabe Devoe (13.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg), G Shelton Mitchell (12.3 ppg, 3.9 apg), F Elijah Thomas (10.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg) Head coach — Brad Brownell (316-197 overall, 149-112 Clemson)
About Kansas Jayhawks: The Jayhawks may not have that one-and-done star, but this is a complete team that improved as the season went on. Devonte’ Graham is a senior leader running the point and the Big 12 Player of the Year. The talent around him is quality and there is plenty of depth off the bench with Mitch Lightfoot, Marcus Garrett, and Silvio De Sousa. It’s the third-straight season Kansas has been a No. 1 seed and 14th time in program history. Azubuike is a force down low and leads NCAA Division I in field goal percentage at 77.4%. Kansas is poised for a deep run and Bill Self would love to remove the notion that despite all his success in Lawrence, his teams have fallen short of expectations come March Madness. On Thursday, the Jayhawks got off to a slow start against Penn, trailing by 10 in the first few minutes. But a 19-2 run late in the first half propelled Kansas to the win over the 16 seed Quakers. Against Seton Hall, the Jayhawks had to grind out a win as Azubuike had a great match up down low with Angel Delgado.
About Clemson: After a 17-16 season in 2016-17, resulting in a first round defeat in the NIT, the Tigers turned things around in the highly-competitive ACC. Non-conference wins over Ohio State, Florida and South Carolina set the table for an impressive winter. The Tigers won conference games against Louisville, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Miami. Clemson made its money on defense, ranking 3rd in the ACC in points allowed per game and fourth in field goal percentage defense. In their win in the round of 32, the Tigers held Auburn to 26% from the floor and 22% from three-point range. They were also +18 in rebounding margin. Marcquise Reed is who the offense runs through, and he can get trigger happy from three, as he once attempted 20 in a game against Virginia Tech.
Prediction: Clemson is good defensively, but doesn’t do anything particularly great. Despite owning Auburn on the boards, they’re a middle-of-the-road team in rebounding margin, averaging at shooting and stopping the three pointer, and have a negative turnover margin. Meantime, the Jayhawks are at or near the top of the Big 12 in field goal percentage, three point shooting, assist/turnover ratio and more. If it comes down to shooting the three ball, Kansas wins. Down low, how is Azubuike’s knee? If he’s 100%, can Elijah Thomas stop him? I have a hard time seeing that happening. The Jayhawks roll with relative ease 79-68.
Next up: The winner faces either Syracuse or Duke on Sunday for a chance to go to the Final Four.