In the Sweet 16 for the 28th time in school history, the Kansas Jayhawks set out to earn a spot in the Midwest Regional final, as they take on the NC State Wolfpack at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
Kansas is making its 41st appearance in the Big Dance, including a national- best 23 straight including this season. The Jayhawks are an impressive 90-39 all-time in this event with three national titles (1952, 1988, 2008) and have navigated their way through the tourney field thus far as the second-seed. KU has advanced to the Sweet 16 in six of the nine seasons under Bill Self and reached the regional semifinals this year with wins over Detroit (65-50) and Purdue (63-60).
Mark Gottfried's first season in Raleigh has been highly successful. The team showed glimpses of its strong play during the regular season both in and out of the ACC, but has really come together of late. After losing in the ACC Tournament on a questionable non-call against North Carolina (69-67), the 11th-seeded Wolfpack have rallied with upsets of both sixth-seeded San Diego State (79-65) and third-seeded Georgetown (66-63). NC State is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005 and just the second time since 1989. The Wolfpack are 34-21 in the NCAA Tournament all-time with a pair of national titles to their credit (1974, 1983).
This marks the 12th meeting between these two teams on the hardwood. Kansas has dominated the series with wins in 10 of the previous 11 matchups. NC State won the first meeting in 1958, but Kansas has captured the last 10. Exactly 26 years ago from the date of this Sweet 16 affair, Kansas knocked off NC State (75-67) en route to the 1986 Final Four.
The winner of this game will take on either North Carolina or Ohio University in the Midwest Regional final on Sunday.
It took some time, but the Wolfpack were able to capture a lead late in the first half against Georgetown and then never relinquished it en route to their first Sweet 16 in seven years. NC State, which converted just four field goals in the first 15 minutes of the first half, trailed 25-15, but rallied with a 15-2 run to take a three-point lead into the break. Four players notched double figures in the win, led by C.J. Leslie, Scott Wood and C.J. Williams, who finished with 14 points each. Point guard Lorenzo Brown had a strong game as well, posting 12 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
It has been a similar formula all season long for NC State, as the team has shown the ability to spread the wealth around at the offensive end. The Wolfpack boast five players averaging double figures. Leslie, an All-ACC Second-Team selection, leads the team with 14.6 ppg. Brown picked up All-ACC Third-Team honors, netting 12.8 ppg to go along with 6.4 apg. Wood adds 12.4 ppg and is the resident sharp-shooter on the team, converting just under 42 percent from behind the arc, while amassing 93 three-pointers thus far. Richard Howell is a perfect complement in the paint, averaging a near double- double with 11.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Rounding out the strong quintet is Williams at 10.6 ppg.
The Jayhawks played from behind for most of their game against Purdue last weekend, taking their first lead with just over three minutes to go in the game. The team couldn't find its range, shooting just .339 from the floor, its lowest shooting percentage in a victory this year. KU managed a mere .294 effort in the first half, its lowest shooting percentage in a half in NCAA Tournament action ever. The team was able to get past the Boilermakers thanks to strong play on the glass, outrebounding Purdue 44-36, including grabbing a season-high 21 offensive boards. Despite the poor showing at the offensive end, four Jayhawks managed to finish in double figures, led by Elijah Johnson, who scored 15 of his team-high 18 points in the second half. Thomas Robinson recorded his 25th double-double of the season with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Tyshawn Taylor and Travis Releford chipped in 10 points apiece in the victory.
Robinson has been a force to be reckoned with all season long. His double- double against the Boilermakers now ties him with Drew Gooden for the school's single season record. A First-Team All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year, Robinson has been unstoppable. The 6-10 junior is averaging team- highs of 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Taylor runs the point, and while his ability to get others involved in the offensive flow shouldn't be minimized (4.7 apg), it is his ability to fill up the basket (16.9 ppg) that makes him so dangerous. Johnson (10.0 ppg) is a perfect complement and is not shy about taking shots. He leads the team with 62 three-pointers on the season and has combined with Taylor for 119 of the team's 209 three-pointers to date. While Johnson provides perimeter support, center Jeff Withey (9.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg) plays a similar role down low. The Jayhawks have plenty off offensive firepower, but the success the team has had is also due to stingy defensive play. Kansas comes into this game allowing just 61.5 ppg, holding foes to a mere .381 shooting (sixth nationally).