KU-Michigan: McGary-Withey one to watch

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
12:30
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Seven-foot Kansas center Jeff Withey couldn’t help but do a double-take when he spotted Michigan’s Mitch McGary in the bowels of Cowboys Stadium Friday.

“He’s not as tall as I thought,” Withey said of the 6-foot-10 McGary. “But he definitely looks strong.”

[+] EnlargeMitch McGary
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAfter a bruising game against VCU, Michigan freshman Mitch McGary must deal with Jeff Withey next.
Indeed, McGary -- who had started just two games all season before last week -- has been one of the top performers in the NCAA tournament thus far. He averaged 17 points and 11.5 rebounds in victories over South Dakota State and VCU to help Michigan advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 19 years.

His matchup against Withey in Friday’s Sweet 16 showdown could be one of the more entertaining battles of the evening.

“[McGary] brings intensity to the game,” Wolverines point guard Trey Burke said. “He’s kind of like our X factor. He’s the guy that gives us the spark and makes our engine run in the frontcourt.”

McGary’s biggest test to date will come against Withey, the second-leading shot-blocker in NCAA tournament history. Withey may have a few inches on McGary, but there aren’t many players in all of college basketball as thick and strong and agile as the UM freshman, who weighs 250 pounds.

“I guess I kind of have a football mentality,” McGary said. “I played it growing up, but that’s my mentality. I’m just a hard-nosed, blue-collar guy who likes to do the nitty-gritty stuff.”

The attitude is fitting for where McGary plays, as Michigan natives have always adored physical bruisers such as Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and Rick Mahorn.

McGary certainly commanded Withey’s attention during film sessions last week.

“Just how physical he is and how hard he plays,” said Withey when asked what impressed him the most about McGary. “He loves to dive after loose balls and he loves to screen people. He likes to hit [people].

“I’m used to getting hit and whatnot. I’m not worried about that.”

Michigan coach John Beilein is counting on McGary to do everything he can to neutralize -- or at least limit -- Withey on both ends of the floor. ESPN.com’s Big 12 Player of the year, Withey averages 13.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks. He had 16 points, 16 rebounds and five swats in Sunday’s victory over North Carolina.

“You run a beautiful play,” Beilein said, “it couldn’t be run better, and he somehow blocks a shot and they’re going the other way. It can be very deflating to a team.”

WHO TO WATCH

Burke, Michigan's point guard, averages 18.8 points and 6.7 assists per game and leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. “He’s the national player of the year,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He deserves it. He’ll get it. I think he’s terrific.” KU's Ben McLemore is a projected top-five pick in this summer’s NBA draft, but he’s averaging just seven points in his last four games.

WHAT TO WATCH

Michigan, which is making its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1994, was ranked No. 1 in early February but hasn’t played as well down the stretch. The Wolverines lost five of their final 10 regular-season games and ended up with the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Kansas, which has a huge alumni base in Dallas-Fort Worth, will have the homecourt advantage.

STAT TO WATCH

Kansas ranks first in the nation in field goal percentage defense (35.7 percent) ... Jayhawks coach Bill Self has won 300 games and counting during his 10 seasons in Lawrence for an average of 30 wins per year ... All of Michigan’s key players are non-seniors.

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