In a stereotypical big vs. small clash, the small is actually favored as No. 1 seed Kansas “hosts” No. 4 seed Purdue in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
It’s listed as a neutral-site game, but Sprint Center is less than an hour from Allen Fieldhouse — the home of the Jayhawks — and the majority of the 18,972 in attendance likely will be clad in crimson and blue.
“We get a chance to play 35 miles away from Lawrence,” Kansas guard Frank Mason III said. “I think it’s just great for the fans and for us to get a chance to play there in the Sweet 16. We’re all so excited.”
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Purdue is ready for the atmosphere.
“We know it’ll be hostile there, but we can draw energy from that,” center Isaac Haas said via Twitter. “Gotta put ourselves in best position possible.”
The two teams won their regular-season outright conference titles by multiple games. Purdue (27-7) won the Big Ten by two games while No. 3 Kansas (30-4) won the Big 12 by four games.
The Jayhawks start four guards, although two are Josh Jackson and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who both stand 6-foot-8. They get a majority of their scoring (more than 60 of their 83 points per game) from their four guards.
Purdue, meanwhile, depends heavily on its bigs, especially national player of the year candidate Caleb Swanigan, the double-double machine. He leads the NCAA with 28 double-doubles this season.
The Boilermakers also have 6-8 Vince Edwards (12.7 points per game) and the 7-2 Haas (12.6), creating matchup problems for Kansas. Swanigan is 6-9, 250 pounds, but he averages 18.5 points and 12.6 rebounds. He’s also a deft passer, averaging 3.0 assists.
Purdue leads the Big Ten and is 12th nationally with a scoring differential of 12.6 points per game. The Boilermakers are second in the Big Ten (13th nationally) in rebounding margin at 7.0.
Kansas boasts its own player of the year candidate in Mason, but he does his damage outside the post. He led the Big 12 in scoring at 20.8 points per game. The Jayhawks use two point guards, as Devonte’ Graham handles the ball as often as Mason.
Mykhailiuk is mostly a long-range threat for Kansas. He takes 63 percent of his shots from beyond 3-point range, connecting on 39.5 percent of them. But he’s not the only good shooter. The Jayhawks rank fifth in the country at 40.6 percent from 3-point range.
The matchup problem on Kansas’ roster is Jackson, one of the leading freshmen in the country. He’s averaging 16.6 points and 7.1 rebounds. His height makes him a tough matchup for opposing guards, and his athleticism makes him tough to guard for forwards.
Ironically, both teams reached this round by beating a team from their opponent’s conference. Purdue advanced with an 80-70 victory over Vermont. In the second round, the Boilermakers gave up a 19-point second-half lead, but rebounded to defeat Iowa State 80-76.
Kansas reached the Sweet 16 with convincing wins over UC Davis (100-62) and Michigan State (90-70).