Finally, it’s here. The game we’ve all been waiting for is upon us. After losing to the Jayhawks in New Orleans in the Final Four last season, most of Buckeye Nation has been looking forward to this opportunity. While the same teams are involved, the players on each squad look quite a bit different.
For Kansas, losing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor has given them a bit of a different look this season. Robinson found his way to Sacramento to play for the Kings of the NBA, while Tyshawn Taylor is playing in the newest NBA city, Brooklyn, for the Nets. Robinson and Taylor were probably two of the biggest factors in the Final Four run last season, but they unfortunately ran into the wall that was the Kentucky Wildcats.
Ohio State lost two stars of their own in Jared Sullinger and William Buford. We all know that Jared has made a home at the TD Bankworth Garden in Boston with Celtics, but William Buford has also found a basketball home in Spain. Undoubtedly the best player for the Buckeyes, Sullinger left a massive hole in the paint for Ohio State. Buford had a very disappointing senior season, but nevertheless left an offensive hole for the Buckeyes.
So where do they stand now?
The Jayhawks starting roster looks as follows: Kevin Young at forward, Jeff Withey at center, Travis Releford at guard, Elijah Johnson at guard, and Ben McLemore at guard. The Buckeyes group has Aaron Craft at the point, Lenzelle Smith Jr. at the 2, Sam Thompson at the small forward spot, DeShaun Thomas as a small forward/power forward hybrid, and Evan Ravenel in the middle. Now that we have the lineups down, let’s see if we can’t analyze this matchup for the Buckeyes.
If you watched the Final Four matchup last season between the Buckeyes and Jayhawks, you saw Kansas heavily out rebound the Buckeyes thanks to the bigger bodies of Robinson and Withey clogging up the middle. That’s again going to be a problem for the Buckeyes. Especially with Sullinger no longer in Columbus, Ohio State is going to have a big problem with Kansas’ inside presence. Ohio State needs to be incredibly physical against Withey and Kevin Young if they want to even have a chance against Kansas. Ohio State lacks a true center, as they did for much of last season, so Amir Williams is going to have to step up off of the bench and be incredibly physical, not one of his strong suits, against Withey.
Ben McLemore is an emerging star for the Jayhawks. This season, McLemore is averaging 15.9 points on 49.1% shooting from the field. Against Colorado and Oregon State, McLemore scored 45 total points and shot 50 percent from behind the three point line. As a true freshman, McLemore is making people notice with his ability to score the basketball. He will definitely cause problems for the Buckeyes, but there is no one I would rather trust to cover Mr. McLemore than the best on-ball defender in college basketball, Aaron Craft.
As for the rest of the Jayhawks, the only other concern for the Buckeyes should be Travis Releford, the 6’6 senior guard out of Kansas City, Missouri. He averages 13 points per game and shoots 58 percent from the field. This season has been a sort of coming out party for Releford, as he’s brought his scoring average up from 8.5 per game last season. He could definitely give the Buckeyes a taste of his new identity, but Sam Thompson could also bottle up his attempt to do so.
The Jayhawks bench is definitely weak. Naadir Tharpe is the only threat coming off of the bench. He brings 4.6 points off of the bench for the Jayhawks, and is by far the leading bench scorer. Jamari Taylor is another threat off of the bench for the Jayhawks, averaging 2.6 a game. Outside of them, however, the bench is very slim for the Jayhawks. Christian Garrett and Niko Roberts are the only two other viable options on the bench, and they definitely struggle.
So what does all of this mean for the Buckeyes?
There are going to be two big problems for the Buckeyes. First is going to be stopping Withey in the paint. He could be dominant against the Buckeyes and their lack of size. The second is scoring points. The Jayhawks are very, very good defensively.
For the Buckeyes to win this game, DeShaun is going to have to be DeShaun. He has to take his shots and make his plays. He’s also going to have to be able to dish the ball, as I’m sure Kansas will guard DeShaun just as Duke did. Hopefully this time around, Aaron Craft can make the shots he is more than capable of making. He will be more comfortable playing in Columbus, away from the raucous crowd in Cameron Indoor, so hopefully he can step up his game. LaQuinton Ross is going to have to step up as well. As the second option on offense for the Buckeyes, Ross is going to need to be efficient and step up on the big stage. Scoring is not going to come cheap, so we’re going to need all the points we can get.
The biggest key to this game is going to be the play of Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel. We know Withey is great, but we have yet to see how good Amir Williams can be. If he can step up and play against Withey, one of the best in the business, Williams could be a big part of this Buckeyes team going forward. As Evan Ravenel is going to start for Ohio State, he’s going to have to take the brunt of the Withey force, and as a physical and large presence himself, Ravenel is going to have to shut him down if the Buckeyes are going to have a chance.
I’m not all that scared of Kansas in terms of dynamic scorers. They are going to run the offense through Withey, and even at his best, Withey isn’t going to be the scorer that Kansas needs to win a shootout. It’s defensively that Kansas gives me the most concern. Lenzelle, Aaron, Sam, and LaQuinton are going to have to make some sort of offensive impact for the Buckeyes if they want to win this game. Ohio State is going to have to score, and score at will, if they are going to win this game.
Contain Withey and score in the 70’s and Ohio State should win this game easily. They have much more depth than Kansas does and have the dynamic scoring from DeShaun Thomas that Kansas can’t dream of. The only thing they don’t have is the size that Withey has. He’s big and physical, something that Amir WIlliams and Evan Ravenel are going to be.
I believe Ohio State will win this game handily. They are at home in Columbus facing an experienced, yet, less talented team. You can become more physical, you can’t become more talented.
The bottomline is, the Buckeyes will beat the Jayhawks 75-60.