We’re a little late with it here, but Andy Mitts was kind enough to stop by for our blogger interview series. Earlier this week Casey appeared on their podcast to talk Purdue, but today Andy is here to answer our questions about the Jayhawks.
T-Mill: It is Frank Mason III vs. Caleb Swanigan. Is this a “Winner gets National Player of the Year” type of game with Josh Hart out and Lonzo Ball possibly losing in the Sweet 16?
Andy: I think it would be if those two actually were matched up on each other, but there is no way that will happen. Instead, I could see a scenario where one player is lights out and ends up bolstering their case but the team still loses. In all reality though, this might be actually be the case just because the winning team will get an opportunity to showcase their candidate in another game this weekend, effectively erasing any memory of a subpar performance.
I will say that whichever player actually wins the award will have definitely earned it this year. Both candidates are amazing and I do think that it will be either Mason or Swanigan.
T-Mill: This game has the interesting wrinkle in that each team’s previous opponent was from the same conference. Do you think that can help a little bit on both ends in terms of familiarity?
Andy: It’s hard to say that, just because the styles of play are so varied in each of those conferences. I think the fact that there is multiple teams that play a lot like Purdue in the Big 12 (or at least different pieces of what they do) is a big help, and similarly there are multiple teams that play stylistically like Kansas in the Big Ten.
Game planning won’t necessarily be the issue in this matchup. Instead, it’s much more that these are likely the best teams in their respective conferences, and so the talent level and execution is going to be at a higher level than either team has seen in conference or even in the tournament so far.
T-Mill: Kansas is 30-4 and obviously a great team, but Purdue is 3-0 against two of the opponents that beat you guys. Does that raise a concern?
Andy: Not particularly. The Indiana team that started the year is a much different Indiana team than the one Purdue beat twice. And the Iowa State team that beat KU in Allen Fieldhouse just went absolutely insane from deep that day to pull off the victory. I’m much more concerned by what Purdue actually brings to the table than what they were able to do against 2 of the 4 teams that happened to beat us.
T-Mill: This game is going to be defined by who exploits the mismatches the most. Who is the most important player for Kansas in that regard (example: for Purdue, vince Edwards can play both inside and out and guard the perimeter).
Andy: It’s hard to really say who is going to be mismatched, because on paper it would seem that Josh Jackson would go up against Caleb Swanigan, but I keep hearing that Purdue is actively game planning to make sure that doesn’t happen. The only issue with that is that avoiding that would mean that both Swanigan and Haas won’t be on the floor at the same time, which I think would negate a lot of the advantage that Purdue has down low. I just can’t believe that they would take such important pieces out of the game for such long stretches, and so I think that Jackson is going to have a lot of opportunities to pull Swanigan out on the perimeter and open up driving lanes for our guards. If that happens, then Purdue could find themselves in foul trouble pretty quickly.
On the defensive end, I don’t know who would be able to stick with both Haas and Swanigan down low, and so I’m imagining a lot of rotating guys and help defense, which has gotten the Jayhawks into a lot of trouble in the past. The one aspect of the defense where this team has never shown themselves capable this year is rotating and getting back to their man, and so I think the mismatch down low will lead to a lot of open 3s.
T-Mill: How is the Sprint Center in terms of a basketball atmosphere? Is it a better place for a regional than a giant football dome like Purdue has been in for its last two sweet 16s?
Andy: The Sprint Center is a phenomenal place to watch a basketball, especially when you think about the fact that it was constructed to try and lure an NBA tenant here to Kansas City. There aren’t many sight lines that are just downright dreadful, and it isn’t so cavernous that you feel like the basketball floor was just thrown in as an afterthought. And the atmosphere isn’t just limited to the seats and floor itself. The College Basketball Experience is a great place to wander before the game, and the Power & Light District is wonderful if you can’t get a seat in the arena or if you just want to be in a raucous atmosphere cheering on your team.
T-Mill: What is the worst case starting scenario for Kansas against Purdue?
Andy: Every scenario I’m imagining starts with 2 quick fouls to two of Mason, Jackson and Landen Lucas. Bill Self absolutely refuses to play guys in the first half with 2 fouls, and with the short bench that we have, I can definitely see Purdue being able to put together a big run in that scenario. Kansas has shown they have the poise and confidence to come back from big deficits in the second half this year (think West Virginia in Allen Fieldhouse), but I’d much rather not see a repeat of the 2012 tournament game between these two squads. I don’t know that I could handle arguing about whether Devonte’ Graham should have dunked the ball with 3 seconds left to put us up by 3 for the next 5 years.