When Kansas and Purdue meet in the Sweet 16 late Thursday in Kansas City, a national player of the year candidate will present a wealth of potential matchup problems for his opponent.
In that vein, Kansas coach Bill Self answered a handful of questions Wednesday regarding exactly how he plans to defend Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan.
But the dilemma applies both ways.
Inside the Purdue locker room only moments earlier, the Boilermakers examined another national player of the year candidate and another defensive predicament — Kansas point guard Frank Mason.
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“Anytime you can score at all three levels — with mid-range, going to the basket and the three — it makes you a tough matchup. And he can do all three,” Purdue guard P.J. Thompson said of Mason. “He’s had a heck of a year. I look forward to the matchup.”
As simply-stated as Kansas’ defensive focus might be Thursday — limiting Purdue’s front-court effectiveness — the plan on the other side is just as straightforward.
Slow the transition game, led by the aforementioned Mason.
Purdue guard Dakota Mathias said “Kansas will probably end up being the fastest” team the Boilermakers have played against this season. That description was echoed often Wednesday.
“They’re fast. They’re athletic. They get up and down,” Swanigan said. “They make you pay, (and) if you turn the ball over, they’re going to get a layup. If you take a bad shot, they’ll get a layup. It’s not just sometimes — it’s every time.”
He added: “We have to try to keep them in the half court, but a lot of teams have tried that this year, and they haven’t succeeded.”
And therein will lie the coaching maneuvers behind the juxtaposition of the two teams — play to your strength or guard against an opponent’s strength?
Purdue coach Matt Painter has the option to play two big men against Kansas, which has typically used a four-guard lineup this season. Swanigan is averaging 18.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game, and reserve 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas has scored 12.6 points per outing.
If Swanigan and Haas share the floor together, it would force an adjustment from top-seeded Kansas. But it wouldn’t be a particularly helpful lineup for slowing Kansas in transition.
Instead, Painter said he will start the more athletic Vincent Edwards at power forward, a better defensive matchup opposite Kansas’ Josh Jackson.
“Jackson’s a tough cover, man, just because he’s so athletic,” Painter said. “He can attack the rim. He can get offensive rebounds. They throw him lobs.
“ … He’s not a high-volume three-pointer shooter, but he has shown those games where he can knock down three or four threes (and) hit setbacks.”
The potential to pair Swanigan and Haas, therefore, will depend on how the game progresses.
“It’s definitely a give and take,” Painter said. “There is no doubt that they’re going to attack us with that matchup. There’s no doubt we’re going to attack the matchup at the other end.
“I can’t speak for them, (but when) it does happen, you’ve got to utilize it.”