Size vs. speed.
The ultimate contrast.
It will be Purdue’s imposing size against Kansas’ blinding speed tonight at the Sprint Center in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
The Boilermakers are the Monsters of the Midway. They start 6-9 and 260-pound Caleb Swanigan (a double-double machine) and 6-8 and 225-pound Vincent Edwards, while bringing 7-2 and 290-pound Isaac Haas in early.
That size will try to wear down the jackrabbit Jayhawks, who flash up and down the court like a 4 x 100 relay team.
Whichever team gets the game into their style best is going to win.
Purdue will be one of the best defensive teams the Jayhawks have played all year. It gives up just 67 points a game and allows opponents to make just 42 percent from the field — the same percentage as KU’s defense.
It’s going to be imperative for KU to score in transition, which means it must rebound. The Boilermakers, though, average 7 more rebounds a game than their opponents and the Jayhawks have a 4.6 margin, thanks to Landen Lucas. The 6-10 senior is the unsung player for KU averaging 8.6 boards a game. The most concerning stat, though, for Lucas is that he has 111 fouls, far and away the team leader. If he gets in foul trouble, KU’s chances dry up.
KU is going to have to be proficient from 3-point since offensive rebounds could be scarce. While Devonte’ Graham has fallen off from last year, he seems to make the bombs when they matter most. Svi Myhailiuk has been wildly erratic and the Jayhawks must get at least two or three treys from him.
Purdue gets a lot of production from its bench, something the Jayhawks don’t. After Legerald Vick, it’s basically nil. Carlton Bragg has been terribly disappointing as he has played himself out of important minutes, while Dwight Coleby can only play in short bursts, but has done a good job when given a chance. Since KU plays a four-guard lineup, coach Bill Self has done a great job of rotating them, but the minutes are still off the charts. Frank Mason and Graham play 36 and 35 minutes, respectively, yet they never seem to tire. Josh Jackson plays almost 31, though it would be more because he seems to find himself in foul trouble quite a bit.
I like Kansas by the slimmest of margins. Mason’s eternal toughness has rubbed off on his team and it’s a group that seems to thrive on survival.
The winner gets either Oregon or Michigan, the game right before the Jayhawks. Michigan is cobbling together a Cinderella-like run, but I like Oregon, even without Chris Boucher, one of its best players.