Final Four Preview: Kansas vs Ohio State, Louisville vs Kentucky
The Final Four takes place this weekend in New Orleans.
By J.J. Buck
Thursday, March 29, 2012
KANSAS vs OHIO STATE
Thomas Robinson and Jarred Sullinger will face each other after all. In the first of what will be rematches of regular season games the Jayhawks and Buckeyes fight for headlines opposite the state of Kentucky. Thad Matta and Bill Self have done great jobs getting their teams to this point in the season. Matta has dealt with Sullinger’s nagging back injury and Self has turned Kansas into a stout defensive team.
Kansas wins if: The Jayhawks control the paint
The Buckeyes and Jayhawks answer to Rick Pitino versus John Calipari is Thomas Robinson against Jarred Sullinger. Robinson has averaged 15.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game during the tournament. While Robinson has been important offensively for Kansas, it has been on the defensive end where the Jayhawks have closed out games. Center Jeff Whitey has recorded 20 blocks in four tournament games and has helped clog the paint alongside Robinson. Teams have only averaged 58.5 points against them this post season. Head coach Bill self has done a good job of adjusting on the fly. Against North Carolina, the Tar Heels advantage was at the forward positions. Self went to a triangle and two defense, which focused on shutting down the paint and forwards and dared freshman point guard Stilman White to shoot. White struggled shooting as Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock were not able to get free for quality shots. The Jayhawks were able to create offense by forcing turnovers and eventually went on to an easy 13 point victory. The size inside also takes pressure off of the Kansas guards as they know if someone gets by they will be meet with a big body. Staying out of foul trouble against a team that won’t be intimidated by their size will be important for Kansas.
Tyshawn Taylor scored 22 points against North Carolina and will need to build off that performance for Kansas. Taylor has not hit a three point shot during the tournament. Self will be happy with Taylor as long as he attacks the basket. If Taylor is shooting ill-advised shots, it will be easier for the Buckeyes defense to focus on Robinson and take away their inside game.
Defense will determine if the Jayhawks will be playing on Monday night. Teams have only shot 38.1 percent against them this season. They have been able to overcome their lack of quality offense at times thanks to their stingy defense.
Player to Watch: Elijah Johnson
Kansas got great production from their starting five against North Carolina, all scored in double figures. Johnson only shot 3-11 from the field against UNC but has the ability to be the best outside presence on the floor. His 18 points against Purdue was pivotal in their victory. In a game that will be played from the paint, a streaky shooter like Johnson could find himself with open looks that could be the difference in the end.
Ohio State wins if: The Buckeyes control the paint
Yes these two teams are built to play inside out. It’s no fluke that Sullinger and Robinson are viewed as potential top-10 picks in the NBA draft. Ohio State shoots 33.3 percent, while Kansas shoots 34.5 percent from three point range; neither team wants to shoot a lot of threes. Sullinger has averaged 18 points and 8.3 rebounds this post season. Not only can Sullinger post up, he also has a solid mid-range game and will take an occasional three, which will help draw out the Jayhawks forwards. The Buckeyes are no slouch on the defensive end either, having held opponents to 40.7 percent shooting this season. As much as Kansas has used defense to create offense, OSU has forced 51 turnovers in four tournament games.
Point guard Aaron Craft leads the team with 2.5 steals a game and gets the task of taking on Tyshawn Taylor. Craft can score, averaging 11.5 points a game this post season, but his man job is setting up teammates. In their win over Gonzaga, Craft dished out 10 assists and leads the team with 4.7 a game. Senior William Buford averaged 14.4 points a game this season, but has only shot 29.9 percent this post season. Head coach Thad Matta said he has not lost confidence in the senior. Buford leads the team in free throw shooting percentage and three point attempts. They will need his presence on the floor as he is someone that can keep a defense honest.
Having faced and beat strong defenses in Cincinnati and Syracuse, their confidence is high going into another defensive minded match-up. Ohio State was overlooked according to Jarred Sullinger. The 2-seed coming out of the East is no longer being overlooked.
Player to Watch: Deshaun Thomas
The 6-foot-7 sophomore forward has exploded this post season, averaging 21.7 points a game. Thomas has also gone 7-17 from three point range this post season; Thomas is the hottest outside shooter from either team heading into this match-up. Thomas Robinson and Jarred Sullinger will have an impact on this game, but the shooters could be huge in creating or stopping momentum.
LOUISVILLE vs KENTUCKY
69 miles is all that separates the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. The Cardinals have one of the nation’s top defenses but still are a bit of a surprise in the Final Four. For the Wildcats this was expected. There are story lines to fill endless headlines, but thankfully this will be decided on the court.
Louisville wins if: The Cardinals control the tempo and keep the score in the 60’s
The Cardinals have only scored more then 70 points just twice in their last eight games. Teams are only scoring 57.5 points against them in the NCAA tournament. The Cardinals like to press full court then fall back into a 2-3 zone. 6-foot-11 center Gorgui Dieng, anchors the middle of their zone. After a sluggish opener against Davidson, Dieng has averaged 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks the last three games. He also has averaged 38 minuets of playing time a game and must stay out of foul trouble, with out him the Cardinals defense changes. Part of slowing down a team on offense is taking quality shots and limiting the oppositions run out chances. Guard Peyton Siva has averaged 7 assists and 4 turnovers a game during the tournament. While he has not scored at the level he did winning the Big East tournament MVP, Siva will need to be aggressive trying to draw in defenders to find open shooters on the perimeter. The Cardinals have shot 39 percent in the tournament from three point range after averaging 31.7 percent during the regular season. It is now a weapon the Wildcats have to respect. Russ Smith has been a big reason why they are improved from deep. He is averaging 13.3 points a game and has gone 7-10 from behind the arc.
Louisville is fourth nationally holding opponents to 38 percent shooting and seventh in steals per game at 8.9. The guards play an important part in Rick Pitino’s defense as the full court press will force the Kentucky guards to take their time getting the ball across center court. Foul trouble can be a problem, Siva fouled out in their victory over Florida. 6-foot-6 forward Chane Behanan has emerged as a consistent offensive threat this post season, averaging 14 points a game while shooting 64 percent from the field. The Cardinals have proven to have enough offense to win when they keep the games low scoring and close.
Player to Watch: Kyle Kuric