Kansas, Purdue plan to make for a stylish Sweet 16 matchup
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) 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 on 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, third-seeded Oregon and sensational forward Dillon Brooks will try to end seventh-seeded Michigan's dream postseason by 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.
Oh, and the Michigan plane skidded off the runway before the postseason even began, a terrifying incident that has seemingly galvanized the Wolverines during their March run.
''I try to keep my email and texts all answered,'' Michigan coach John Beilein said, ''but it's not unlikely to see 100 texts on your phone, or e-mails. They're coming in dozens all the time.
''Over the years, you meet a lot of people and the people can sort of identify with this team and appreciate what these young men have done. It's great,'' he added. ''And at some point I'll answer `em all, but it's not going to be until somebody tells me you can't play anymore.''
THE TEAM THAT BEAT THE TEAM
Purdue insists there is no extra benefit to having beaten the Cyclones last weekend, considering Iowa State snapped the Jayhawks' 54-game home win streak this season. It sure caught the Jayhawks' attention, though.
''A little bit,'' senior forward Landen Lucas conceded, ''but we don't look too much into it. We feel like if we go out there and play our game we can match up with anybody.''
DEFENDING THE BIG TEN
Michigan and Purdue represent three of the Big Ten teams still playing in the Sweet 16 - Wisconsin is alive in the East Regional semifinal. And that's been sweet vindication for a conference that many put down early in the year.
''I'm not sure where all the disrespect came from,'' Swanigan said, ''but it's not valid.''
Oregon freshman Payton Pritchard made it clear when he arrived on campus he planned to take the starting point guard job from Casey Benson - and it took him all of five games. Now, he'll face Michigan senior Derrick Walton Jr. in arguably his toughest task all year.
''I look forward to matchups like that and I'm ready to take on the challenge,'' Pritchard said. ''He is a great point guard. He's the one who fuels their team right now. Hopefully we can stop them.''
THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
The Jayhawks will have a massive fan advantage Thursday night, but also an advantage in their familiarity with the Sprint Center. They won the CBE Classic in the building, beat Davidson in a one-off in December and played there in the Big 12 Tournament.
''Even just walking to the locker room, we're familiar with everything,'' Lucas said. ''We've been here so many times. We're happy to be here in front of our fans and it's definitely an advantage.''
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