NCAA: Ohio-Kansas breakdown

Ohio State Buckeyes Jared Sullinger stands with head coach Thad Matta during practice for their...

Ohio State Buckeyes Jared Sullinger stands with head coach Thad Matta during practice for their men's NCAA Final Four basketball game in New Orleans. (REUTERS)

Ryan Wolstat, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:24 PM ET

The matchup between Kansas and Ohio State features a meeting of the best low post player in college basketball, Jared Sullinger, against the more versatile Thomas Robinson, but it is much more than that.

It is a game between two evenly matched teams who each have an excellent shot at getting to Monday’s title game.

Here, in no particular order, is a breakdown of what needs to happen for either side to prevail:

KANSAS KEYS:

* Get Jeff Withey engaged and involved: The laid-back big man often needs help to get up for games. Sometimes his teammates punch him, sometimes they just shake him a bit. He should be ready for this one and he’ll need to be because OSU has a lot of talent up front.

Star teammate Thomas Robinson knows Withey’s importance to the club:

“For me, he’s meant everything. Without Jeff, I probably wouldn’t have nowhere close as good of a season as I’m having. He changes the game by deflecting shots and being in the way. He’s a 7-footer, athletic, can move,” Robinson said.

* Don’t let Aaron Craft get the better of Tyshawn Taylor:

Craft is a great defender who comes up with a ton of steals. Taylor is not only extremely streaky, but averages 3.5 turnovers per game. That could be a massive problem for the Jayhawks, though Taylor knows what to expect:

“I think he’s a terrific on-ball defender, a terrific guard and it’s going to be a really good matchup,” Taylor said. He had seven turnovers in the prior matchup.

* Play like they belong: Nobody expected Kansas to be here coming into the season and even halfway through. But the perennial power has sped up its rebuild after losing many talented players.

“We’ve been the hunted, it seems like, for a while. It’s nice to kind of be able to flip that a little bit,” said head coach Bill Self.

But Kansas can’t act like it is an underdog, the team must play with confidence.

* Limit Sullinger’s production:

Easier said than done and Kansas knows it (see Self’s comments in OSU keys), but the Jayhawks need to slow the mega-talent down without double-teaming of fouling him too much. If Sullinger is shut down, Kansas could win in a walk, but not too many teams make him look bad.

* Get everybody to play as determined as Robinson does:

It’s not just Withey, the rest of the Kansas regulars have to play with an edge and can’t hold anything back, even though they will play heavy minutes.

“The common denominator with our teams is primarily energy,” Self said.

“We’re not real deep. With only playing, really, six guys, you’ve got to have five of those six playing well or you’re not going to look very good.”

OHIO STATE KEYS

* Take advantage of Sullinger’s ability inside: Sullinger sat out Kansas’ win over OSU earlier in the season and was greatly missed. Kansas has the size and athleticism to give Sullinger problems, but he’s good enough to get it done anyways.

“He’s as good a low-post scorer as there is in the country,” said Kansas’ Self.

“He brings a lot to the table.”

Sullinger’s 27 made free throws are a tournament high.

* Wake up William Buford: The talented guard has missed 31 shots and made just 13 so far during March Madness. He can’t be worse than the 4-for-20 he has put up over his past two games. If he can shoot 8-for-14 against No. 1 seed Michigan State (which he did earlier this month) he can do the same against Kansas. What can’t happen is a repeat of his 8-for-23 performance against Kansas back in December.

* Use Sullinger (and others, but mostly him) to get Kansas into foul trouble: As we’ve established, the Jayhawks aren’t deep. Take Robinson out of the equation and they’re in trouble. The same goes for Withey. The Jayhawks bench can’t match up with the OSU reserves.

“I think that’s been something we’ve been able to do this year, is really develop some depth at some positions,” said OSU head coach Thad Matta.

“Being as young as we are, I think that’s probably helped us.”

* Back up the talk: Sullinger could have left for the NBA last summer and would have been a top seven selection but the Columbus, Ohio native chose to return in search of a title. He has a lot to say about the importance of the game and must back it up.

“Me coming back was pretty much I wanted to make a statement, that not everybody is using college basketball as a pit stop to go to the next level,” Sullinger said,

“That there’s more than money and endorsements. There’s championships that you got to win at every level. That’s what I pride myself on. I’ve won championships all the way from elementary to now.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: Ohio State will get where it should have a year ago. The deeper, more talented squad will prevail unless Sullinger gets into horrible foul trouble.

 


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