Midwest regional semifinal preview: NC State vs. Kansas

The venue: The 70,000-seat Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis isn’t too long a commute for Kansas fans who are already accustomed to yearly visits to Columbia, which is half way across the Show Me State. However, the giant venue is home to mixed memories for Jayhawks fans who in 2004 witnessed Bill Self’s first Kansas team (a 4-seed that year) score 100 points to beat 9th-seeded UAB in the regional semifinal before falling to third-seeded Georgia Tech in the Elite Eight, 79-71. Advantage > Kansas.

When: Friday, 10:17 p.m. EST. Watch on TBS.

How they got here: The Jayhawks are one of only two surviving 2-seeds. They handled No. 15 Detroit, 65-50, and held on against No. 10 Purdue, 63-60.

No. 11 NC State’s run has been much more improbable. While anyone could have picked the Wolfpack to beat out a well-overated and rebuilding No. 6 San Diego State, their third-round win over No. 3 Georgetown was a serious achievement. Just 2.4 percent of Yahoo! brackets had NC State reaching the Sweet Sixteen (28th). This is their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2005. Mark Gottfried is one of only two first-year head coaches from the power six conferences to make the NCAA tournament (Frank Haith being the other).

Pomeroy: 79% in Kansas’ favor.

5 reasons the Wolfpack could take it:

1. Turnovers The Jayhawks already almost were taken down by the best ballhandling team in the nation in Purdue, who notches a turnover in just 13.6 percent of possessions. At 18.7 percent the Wolfpack won’t give KU many chances on turnovers. Kansas is ranked 122nd at 19.4 percent.

2. Long backcourt Kansas’ only starting carryover from last year’s tourney run, 6-3 senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor is used to being tall for his position. The Wolfpack may have an answer for him though in their two 6-5 starting guards — Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Williams.

3. The Kim English Effect Key for the Wolfpack will be eliminating the advantage given the Jayhawks by 7-0 center Jeff Withey. He’s a shot-blocking machine (see below) that has a clear advantage at the rim on the other end. But 6-6 Missouri guard Kim English kept Withey scoreless in their last meeting. Self made Withey run the stairs for it, but has he yet figured out how to get past a smaller defender? NC State’s 6-6 177-pound Scott Wood might make for a good experiment.

4. Pace Both teams run essentially the same upbeat tempo (~68 possessions per game). NC State won’t be outmatched by Kansas’ legs which have had success running down lesser teams.

5. Defense actually coming around Pundits like to call Gottfried’s teams defensive-minded. But really, over the course of the season, the Wolfpack have let teams score 0.96 points per possession (73rd). That’s not great. But things have been improving, mostly thanks to the Lesley-Howell combo in the defensive post (both grab defensive boads at a rate higher than 20 percent). In the ACC tournament NC State held opponents, including UNC, to 0.90 ppp.

5 reasons they won’t:

1. Jeff Withey The Wolfpack have struggled against shot-blocking big men in the ACC this season. In their February matchup with UNC, Tyler Zeller blocked four Wolfpack shots, John Henson blocked two, Harrison Barnes had one and Reggie Bullock had one. That’s eight. None of them match the skill of Kansas’ 7-0 Withey, though. He gets one in every 14.8 percent of his chances. That’s second best in the nation.

2. Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie have struggled to stay on the court Howell especially has trouble with personal fouls. The junior has garnered four in each of the Wolfpack’s first two games, and he averages 5.0 fouls called/40 minutes for the season. Leslie averages 3.5 and reserve DeShawn Painter also fouls a lot with 4.7/40.

3. The Wolfpack don’t have the versatility of Robbie Hummel Purdue was able to force KU into a triangle and two defense because of Hummel’s hard-to-guard offensive footprint (and the Boilermakers led until the final 3:04). He uses a lot of possessions (25.0 percent) to take a lot of shots (28.6 percent) from all over the court (40.4 percent of his shots are from three-point range). Leslie takes a lot of possessions (26.1 percent) and a lot of shots (25.5 percent), but 337 out of his 350 shots this season have been from inside the arc. Don’t expect any threes.

4. The crowd Kansas fans can be wild. Ask any team that’s played at Allen Fieldhouse. They flocked to Omaha in droves for Kansas’ first two games, and they’re by far the closest fanbase among the four teams playing in St. Louis Friday. Blue will dominate the Edward Jones Dome. I hate factoring in the crowd, but they’re hard to ignore in this case.

5. Traditional offense Unlike Purdue, Gottfried has his guys playing a traditional offense featuring Leslie in the four spot. Self’s teams can guard this schema in their sleep.