Buckeyes Set for Rematch with Kansas in Final Four
By Tony Gerdeman
After Saturday's win over Syracuse in the East Regional Final, the Ohio State basketball team had been waiting to find out which team they would be facing in the Final Four.
By virtue of their 80-67 win over North Carolina on Sunday, the Buckeyes now know that they will once again be facing the Kansas Jayhawks.
Kansas held Carolina to just 20 points in the second half after allowing 47 points in the first half. It was the Jayhawks' first double-digit win since they defeated Detroit 65-50 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas has had their issues in this tournament, needing Purdue to implode in the final minutes to pull out a 63-60 win against the Boilermakers. The next round saw another three-point victory, this time a 60-57 win over North Carolina State.
The matchup against the Tar Heels proved a beneficial one, however, thanks to the absence of UNC's injured star point guard Kendall Marshall. The Jayhawks tightened their defensive clamps in the second half and stifled any offense the Tar Heels had hoped to produce.
Kansas' win now sets up a rematch with the Buckeyes, whom they defeated 78-67 back on December 10th of last year.
Photo by Jim Davidson
When they met the last time, the Buckeyes traveled to Phog Allen Fieldhouse without the aid of Jared Sullinger. They were undermanned, yet were within six points in the final 90 seconds of the game.
Also in that game, William Buford shot 8-23 from the field, which he will not do again if by no other reason than simple constraint. Jordan Sibert played 15 minutes in that game, which is also unlikely to happen again.
This will be a different Ohio State team that faces the now 31-6 Kansas Jayhawks, but that doesn't guarantee a different outcome. That will come only through execution.
It is unlikely that a single Buckeye takes 23 shots from the field in the upcoming game, and if they do, it's because they're making them, not missing them.
Ohio State will come into the rematch on a bit of a roll, having controlled each of their tournament opponents enough to build a double-digit lead in the second half of every game to this point.
They have done it on the shoulders of forwards Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, both of whom have set the scoring pace for the Buckeyes. Sullinger was named the Most Outstanding Player of the East Regional, and Thomas joined him on the All Regional Team along with Lenzelle Smith Jr..
Aaron Craft struggles to shoot over Jeff Withey.
Photo by Jim Davidson
This game will likely come down to the front courts, where Kansas matches up their own All Regional accolades with power forward Thomas Robinson and center Jeff Withey.
Robinson will be matched up with Thomas, and if he can't cover the versatile Buckeye scorer, then expect him to move to center and Withey would then be moved to the bench at times.
Against Purdue, Withey only played 15 minutes, and it was key to Purdue keeping their lead for as long as they did.
Matchups and plans are nice, but it will still come down to execution, and it won't be easy for Ohio State. Of Kansas' six losses, only two of them didn't come against opponents ranked in the top eleven.
In other words, the Jayhawks don't succumb to just anybody.
Still, the Buckeyes have momentum and they have confidence. The bulk of their team is playing their best basketball at the exact right time. Thad Matta couldn't have asked for much more than what he has gotten from his team to this point.
But he's about to ask for just a little more.
The best part for Matta is that he knows what his team is likely to give him. He has finally figured them out. There really are no surprises for him anymore, and he can now plan accordingly. And if there are surprises, they are likely to be of the positive variety.
Matta knows this team from every angle, which allows him to accentuate the positive and protect the negative. He can hide the bad and showcase the good, putting his team in the best possible position for success.
Now he just has to figure out the Jayhawks—and do so in the span of about four days.
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