We’re just hours away from the start of the Final Four! The Ohio State Buckeyes and Kansas Jayhawks will meet in the second game of the day today, tip-off set for 8:49 PM. I still don’t know what’s stranger. The fact that both teams will be playing basketball inside a Superdome, or that the floor that both teams will be playing on is made in the small “unicorporated community” of Amasa – A small part of Hematite Township in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Though all 250 citizens of the city are upset that either Wisconsin or Michigan State isn’t in the Final Four, they will be among the millions of fans with their eyes fixed on what could be one hell of a Saturday.
According to the folks at the Worldwide
Failure Leader, this is the first time since 2005 that all playing on the final weekend of college basketball have finished the year ranked in the top ten in terms of attendance. Yesterday, over 6,000 fans made their way to a football stadium to watch practice (practice man!),
Kicking things off is the inner-state battle between Kentucky and Louisville. AP Player of the Year Anthony Davis and his Wildcat squad might be the most talented squad to take the court in bluegrass blue since the Days of Rick Pitino and Ron Mercer. You know the former Kentucky coach is firing up his guys simply based on how the nation is disrespecting his team as they head into today’s play as nine point underdogs. There is no doubt that the Louisville Cardinals have been put on an island all by themselves by the national media. Nobody has given this team a chance.
Yes, they are heavily over-matched and Kentucky is by far the odds-on favorite to win the whole shebang. But I can’t remember a time when three teams flew this far under the radar heading into the last three games of the year. That in itself should set off some fireworks tonight.
Which means Ohio State fans should expect one heck of a battle in what’s being dubbed the “Most Competitive Game in the Tournament.”
Earlier in December, we took a sneak peak at the Jayhawks before the two heavyweights took the court early in the season. Since that point, both teams have changed drastically. Without Sullinger, the Buckeyes gave it all they could at Allen Fieldhouse, but they did fall short.
Since then, Ohio State has seen the emergence of Deshaun Thomas offensively, with a major decline from senior William Buford. Defensively, players such as Shannon Scott and Amir Williams have worked their way into rotation. Aaron Craft has not just even more cemented his role as this offense’s igniter — He can let it fire.
Both teams come into this one with 31 wins and intriguing match-up issues. The Jayhawks will run a three guard system, but have some major size inside. Ohio State matches up well defensively size wise up front, and will have an advantage at small forward offensively.
Let’s break it down position by position.
PG – Aaron Craft vs. Tyshawn Taylor – It was a battle the first time these two met, and I think it’s safe to say that both players have improved drastically throughout the season. Taylor, who had 13 assists and 7 turnovers the first time these two met, is considered the offensive cog of Kansas. He is best when he drives to the lane, and is either able to get to the line or dish it out. At the end of the season and into the tournament he has been unable to do that to an extent. The 6’3″ senior hasn’t been to the charity stripe more than five times since the opening of the Big 12 tournament.
Opposing him will be the defensive cog of the Buckeyes. As successful as scoring point guards are in this league, the game starts at the top with defense. That’s what makes Ohio State’s lead man so special. It’s not adding anything new to this article by telling everyone that he can change the game in a matter of minutes. That being said, it’s good to hear every single analyst and their brother finally admitting that he is the best on the ball defender in all the land. He will have a tough matchup against Taylor, but if he can deny the passing lanes off screens right off the bat, it will be tough for Kansas to score. Adding onto that is the fact that the Kansas point is 0/17 in the tournament from three point land. There will be plenty of weapons for Kansas no matter what happens at the point. If you can slow down the control center of the offense though, good things can always happen.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. vs. Elijah Johnson – The second guard in a three guard set, Johnson is a sure fire NBA draft pick next season and if not guarded right, can really end a game plan. He is clutch enough to hit big shots and has the talent to take over ball games. What’s funny though is he has only scored double figures in back to back games 4 times this season. Kansas fans would call him the William Buford of this Jayhawk team. However, he has turned it up as of late, scoring in double figures every single game of the NCAA tournament. He only shot 3/11 last time out though against North Carolina. Lenzelle Smith will be given the duty to guard him to start the game. As much as it was nice to get 18 points from him against Syracuse, the main focus for the sophomore will be to cover Johnson and help out on either Tyshawn Taylor or Travis Releford. What makes Smith stand out in this match-up is his rebounding ability. He should have an advantage on the box out and offensive glass. If he can get hot from downtown, that could be one of the major factors in a Buckeye victory.
William Buford vs. Travis Releford – Plain and Simple – William Buford needs to get things going if the Buckeyes want to have a chance to win tonight. He has shot 4/20 the last two games, and just hasn’t seemed himself. According to Lenzelle Smith Jr. on Friday, Buford is making the swing back. He told ESPN’s Myron Medcalf that Buford didn’t miss in practice on Friday. He went on to say that he thinks Will is back.
Let’s hope so.
His size will definitely give him an advantage. Last time against Kansas, he turned it up in the second half. Releford, who is considered the glue guy for the Jayhawks. Not only is he a ballhawk on the offensive side, he just understands the game. His grit is probably going to play a factor in this one. Not only is he a good defender one on one, he is really good on the help d. Buford is going to have to get to the hoop to get things started because Releford is a monster on the perimeter defensively.
If Deshaun Thomas gets hot, look for Releford to make the switch over to him defensively. If that happens, look for Buford to get a lot of looks from the floor.
Deshaun Thomas vs. Thomas Robinson – This is one of the biggest mismatches on both ends of the floor. Robinson is athletic, but there is no doubt he can hang with the D Train outside. Thomas doesn’t have the defensive intangibles to go into the post with Robinson. A lot of help defense will be needed on both sides and it will be interesting how the Bucks come out defensively against Robinson. We might see a heavy amount of the bench just to get some size in the game with a seven footer starting at center for Kansas. Our X factors off the bench will break this battle down a bit further coming up.
Jared Sullinger vs. Jeff Withey – Size vs. strength and speed. That’s what this inside post battle will be about on both sides. Offensively, Sully is want to get as far in the lane as possible before the inlet pass. Withey is going to want to use his strength and size to hold him as far out of the post as possible and make Sullinger work his way to the hoop, either causing turnovers or foul trouble. Of course, that is easier said than done. Withey is a seven footer that has improved on positioning so much during the season. So far in the tournament, he has 20 blocks. 10 of those coming against the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Surprisingly, he doesn’t get to the glass as easy as he should. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t create a mismatch problem that opens up his teammates to get rebounds from out of the post, base on pure hustle.
The X Factors - On defense, both teams are going to need help fending off each other’s top offensive weapons as of late. Thomas Robinson is such a brute force, that there is no doubt that the Buckeyes will need depth in the post. Amir Williams, who played 15 minutes against Kansas with Sullinger out in December, could play a huge role. He had three offensive rebounds in short time, and with him and Sullinger on the floor, Ohio State evens up the size in the paint. Evan Ravenel will be key to bring physical pressure inside on Robinson throughout the contest.
For Kansas, the biggest answer to stopping Deshaun Thomas is to go to the bench and get the athletic Kevin Young involved. He had 5 points, 8 rebounds and four blocks in December against Ohio State and presents a much more athletic defender. He can get offensive boards too that keep possessions alive. In spells, he could be the answer to not only shutting down Thomas, but also keeping an eye on Willie B. He has the size to lock down both players.
In order to play to their full potential, the Buckeyes need everything they can get from William Buford from this point forward. Remember when this team ran over the likes of Duke and Florida? It’s going to take an all-around team effort like those games to get to Monday.
Here’s to hoping it all comes together tonight.