Follow us on FACEBOOK where we cover Buckeyes basketball news regularly.
Not everything on Buckeye Fans Only is posted on Twitter, and vice versa. For the most updated daily news, be sure to follow us here and also on TWITTER. Check out our Twitter feed and see our most recent 777 Tweets HERE. Get updates via SMS by texting follow buckeyefansonly to 40404.
"I mean we can't blame it on anything. We had a great season. We had a lot of doubters this season. Nobody expected us to get this far. Real proud of the guys for helping me get to the Final Four my last year." - William Buford after loss to Kansas
Tyshawn Taylor made two big free throws late, and Thomas Robinson finished with 19 points and eight rebounds Saturday night to lift the Jayhawks to a come-from-behind 64-62 win over Ohio State in the Final Four.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, he of six Final Fours and one national championship, joined our crew of Dave Revsine, Gary Williams and Jim Jackson following Ohio State’s 64-62 loss to Kansas in the national semifinal Saturday night (AP recap). His thoughts: “God, it was a game that’s going to frustrate (Ohio State’s) coaching staff, because we’re sitting here now, 20 minutes after, and I still think they won in a lot of ways.” Watch Izzo’s entire segment with the BTN team now. Source: Big Ten Network
After trailing most of the game, Kansas rallies to defeat Ohio State in the Final Four and now moves on to play Kentucky for the National Title. The Bracket Breakdown panel discusses the Jayhawks victory and Ohio State's late game mistakes.
Five plays that mattered March 31, 2012 Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer - 1. With 17:55 left in the first half, OSU's Lenzelle Smith nailed a 3-pointer to give the Buckeyes a 5-2 lead. It was only one shot, but it certainly helped give the Buckeyes confidence that they could hit from beyond the arc -- with a dome as a background or not. The Buckeyes hit 5-of-10 3-point attempts in the first half.
2. With about six seconds left in the first half, OSU point guard Aaron Craft tried to drive to the basket but was denied of a layup by KU's Thomas Robinson. He outlet the ball to Tyshawn Taylor, who passed to Travis Releford, who made a layup as the clock expired. The basket gave Kansas some life, cutting OSU's lead to 34-25 at halftime.
3. With 1:23 left in the first half, the Buckeyes' Deshaun Thomas committed his second personal foul. Thad Matta opted to take him out so he would not pick up his third foul before halftime. The Buckeyes were outscored, 6-2, the rest of the half.
4. Thomas picked up his third foul with 17:36 left in the second half, and Matta took him out again. Over the next 3:36, KU scored on one 3-pointer and a variety of layups and dunks to forge a 38-38 tie with 14:00 left.
Ohio State led for the vast majority of the game, but not when it counted. Not at the end.
The Buckeyes scored only three points in the last 2:22 tonight, and it cost them a shot at a national championship as Kansas rallied to win 64-62 in an NCAA semifinal game in the Superdome.
Trailing by three points with 8.3 seconds to play, Kansas’ Tyshaun Taylor stole the inbounds pass from Lenzelle Smith Jr. but in turn threw the ball out of bounds, giving the Buckeyes a final chance with 3.8 seconds left.
Kansas fouled Aaron Craft with 2.9 seconds left, and he made one free throw before the second was disallowed by a lane violation and the clock ran out on the Buckeyes’ season.
Thomas Robinson scored 19 points to lead four double-figure scorers for Kansas (32-6), which will play top-ranked Kentucky (37-2) for the national championship Monday night. The Wildcats turned back Louisville 69-61 in the first semifinal tonight...
William Buford scored 19 points in his final game to lead Ohio State (31-8). The Buckeyes shot only 24.2 percent in the second half to Kansas’ 53.8.
Kansas took its first lead since 2-0 when Travis Releford’s two free throws put the Jayhawks ahead 56-55 with 2:48 to play. Ohio State scored the next four points to regain the lead, 59-56, with 2:23 remaining. But Kansas scored the next six, including another pair of go-ahead free throws by Releford with 1:37 to play.
Elijah Johnson’s layup with 1:13, after a tremendous block at the other end by Jeff Withey on a drive by Buford, extended the Jayhawks’ lead to 62-59.
Ohio State failed to score on five straight possessions before Buford’s rebound dunk with 10 seconds left cut Kansas’ lead to 62-61.
But the Buckeyes were forced to foul on the inbounds play, and Taylor’s two free throws gave Kansas a 64-61 lead with 8.3 seconds to play.
Kansas scored the last four points of the first half to get its deficit under 10 points at halftime and carried the momentum to start the second half.
The Jayhawks outscored Ohio State 13-4 in the first six minutes of the half to tie the score at 38 before the Buckeyes steadied themselves. They had only four free throws by Buford until a three-pointer by Craft in transition gave them their first field goal of the half and regained the lead at 41-38 with 13:07 to play.
Despite playing without Deshaun Thomas because of foul trouble, the Buckeyes mixed and matched inside and stretched their lead to six points three times in the next eight minutes. But Kansas responded each time.
After a pair of free throws by Jared Sullinger gave Ohio State a 55-49 lead with 5:22 left, Kansas scored the next seven points to take its first lead since 2-0...
Dienhart: Ohio State-Kansas Reaction March 31, 2012 Source: Big Ten Network - Ohio State led by as many as 13 points in Saturday night’s national semifinal against Kansas, but it couldn’t hold on in a 64-62 defeat at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart offers his rapid reaction to Ohio State’s season-ending loss in this post.
Key player: William Buford. The senior forward led Ohio State with 19 points, hitting 6-of-10 shots, and also grabbed seven rebounds. Jared Sullinger had 13 points, Aaron Craft 11 and Lenzelle Smith, Jr., 10. But it all was for naught, as the Buckeyes blew a 34-25 halftime lead (AP recap).
Key number: 33.9, Ohio State’s shooting percentage (box). If that wasn’t bad enough, the Buckeyes got outrebounded 41-30. Sullinger hit just 5-of-19 shots, getting out played by Kansas big man Thomas Robinson, who had 19 points and eight rebounds. Deshaun Thomas hit just 3-of-14 shots, missing late attempts that could have tied the game and committing a key turnover.
What’s next for Ohio State: A painful way for the Buckeyes (31-8) to end the season, blowing a 13-point lead on a few occasions and allowing the Jayhawks to rally for victory. This year’s team advanced farther than last year’s squad, which got beat in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky after entering the Big Dance as the No. 1 overall seed. William Buford was the lone senior on the team. He’s gone. Now, the question looms: Will Jared Sullinger turn pro after his sophomore season? If not, this will be a very good team capable of winning another Big Ten title and contending for a national title. If Sullinger goes, the Buckeyes figure to take a step back, but will welcome back the likes of Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Evan Ravenel, Deshaun Thomas and Sam Thompson. And big man Amir Williams will need to take the next step as a sophomore.
Key stat: Offensive rebounding percentage. The Jayhawks grabbed 37.5 percent of their misses and limited Ohio State to just 25 percent of theirs, the key difference between two defensively dominant teams in a game in which the smallest of statistical margins made outsized impacts.
Key player: Withey. Every Jayhawk played a role in their comeback and eventual win, and Robinson's night -- 19 points, 8 rebounds, 8-of-18 from the field -- can't be overlooked. But the most important performance came from the 7-foot Withey, whose incredible reach and interior defense made Sullinger a nonfactor on the offensive end. Withey finished with 7 blocks and 8 rebounds; Sullinger posted just 13 points on 5-of-19 from the field. In a game filled with tricky matchup issues, Withey was the biggest mismatch ace up Bill Self's sleeve. He proved why Saturday night...
Five Pressing Questions: OSU-Kansas March 31, 2012 Source: Cleveland Bucknuts.com - 1. How will the Buckeyes contain Kansas All-American Thomas Robinson? – Robinson is a big guy at 6-10 and 237 pounds. Kansas also has 7-0 Jeff Withey at the center position. It is likely that the 6-9 Sullinger and 6-7 Deshaun Thomas will take turns defending Robinson. He is an absolute load and had 21 points in the teams’ first meeting.
It is likely that OSU will need a guard to double down on Robinson, particularly when the smaller Thomas has to guard him in the post. Keep an eye on these match-ups.
2. Can Deshaun Thomas continue his hot play? – Thomas has been the leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament to date, averaging 21.8 points and 8.5 rebounds in his four tournament games so far. Kansas will try and do its best to limit Thomas’ touches, but he is so versatile he can score from just about anywhere on the court. The Buckeyes need him to come up big again.
3. Can Aaron Craft force Tyshawn Taylor into some mistakes? – Kansas committed 18 turnovers in the teams’ first meeting. Craft hounded Taylor into seven of them, although Taylor also had nine points and 13 assists in that KU win. Craft is one of the top on-ball defenders in the country. He needs to pack his lunch and get ready for another tough match-up.
4. Can the Buckeyes close out on Elijah Johnson? – Johnson matched his career high with five three-pointers and 15 points in the teams’ first meeting. OSU’s perimeter defense needs to be on guard.
5. Will the real William Buford stand up? – He had a 25-point game in OSU’s win at Michigan State on March 4. In the seven games since then, Buford is hitting only 34 percent of his shots. He was a combined 4 of 20 in OSU’s regional wins over Cincinnati and Syracuse. You know he does not want his OSU career to end here, one game before the national title game.
Bonus Question: Is this a national championship team? – We won’t know the answer to that question until Monday night, of course. But you can’t win the championship unless you get to the title game. OSU is 5-5 all-time in national semifinal games, but has only made the title game once (2007) in the last 50 years. I will stay with my original pick here: Ohio State 75, Kansas 69...
Four Things I Think ... about the Final Four in New Orleans: Doug Lesmerises March 31, 2012 Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer - 1. This will be the biggest defensive challenge of Deshaun Thomas' career, and Ohio State needs the sophomore to handle it. OSU assistant coach Jeff Boals said Thomas impressed him with the way he guarded Purdue's Robbie Hummel and Michigan State's Draymond Green late in the season, but those players are athletic power forwards who play inside and outside, and might be most dangerous shooting jumpers. Kind of like Thomas. And very unlike Kansas' Thomas Robinson, who is a beast inside, averaging 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.
"What poses a problem with Thomas Robinson is he's more of a back-to-the-basket post guy -- that's what Kansas wants to do, it wants points in the paint," Boals said.
Boals confirmed the plan is to at least start Thomas guarding Robinson, with Jared Sullinger on center Jeff Withey. That could change, but the Buckeyes might also be worried about Robinson potentially getting Sullinger in foul trouble. So Thomas, with defensive help from the guards either doubling or digging down to harass Robinson, might be the Buckeyes' best answer.
2. Give me Kentucky and Ohio State in the title game Monday night.
3. In January, there were complaints about a championship rematch in the Superdome between LSU and Alabama. That was football. Now Kentucky-Louisville and Ohio State-Kansas are rematches, with the Wildcats and Jayhawks winning the regular-season games. And there aren't any complaints. It's amazing what a playoff can do to take the griping out of your postseason.
4. Sullinger's Ohio State career is almost certainly winding down. The NBA awaits. He is a two-time All-American. But he is also the kind of player who offers an answer like this when asked for his first impressions of the Superdome:
"The first thing that hit me when I stepped inside the Superdome was how Hurricane Katrina came in and wiped this whole city out and how so many people lived here. I thought about all the people that didn't make it and how this place saved a lot of peoples' lives."
Ohio State (31-7) vs. Kansas (31-6)
Tipoff: 8:49 p.m. today (approximate) at Superdome, New Orleans.
Where Ohio State can steal an edge: Look at these numbers -- 37.6 rebounds per game for Kansas, 37.1 for Ohio State; each team has 274 steals; 75 points per game for Ohio State, 74.1 for Kansas; 48 percent shooting for Ohio State, 47.6 percent for Kansas. Is there an edge? At least this game, unlike the first matchup, isn't at Allen Fieldhouse.
Where Kansas can steal an edge: The Jayhawks block almost twice as many shots as the Buckeyes. A block here or there could create momentum swings in tight moments.
OSU player who must be locked down: Still Deshaun Thomas. I don't know if Thomas said it or not -- because I didn't hear him say it -- but a Kansas TV reporter told the Jayhawks' Thomas Robinson that Thomas implied he would be too quick for Robinson. Robinson, who talks like Batman, sounded peeved. "He said he's too quick for me?" Robinson asked. "Nah. I don't think he's too quick for me. I don't think he's nowhere near quicker than me." Actually, Ohio State must hope that Thomas is a bit quicker.
Kansas player who must be locked down: Kansas point guard Tyshawn Thomas was playing on a right knee that required surgery soon after the Jayhawks' win over Ohio State on Dec. 10, when he had nine points, 13 assists and seven turnovers. He's looking to be that much better today. "I think a lot of people forget that I was hurt when we played the first time," Taylor said. "I was playing with a big brace on my knee, which is really uncomfortable. I wasn't 100 percent. From Dec. 10 till now, I think I'm a completely different player."
Matta seventh-highest paid coach in tournament: Coach Thad Matta is the seventh-highest paid coach among the 68 who led teams to the NCAA tournament this season and the lowest of the four coaches in the Final Four, according to data compiled by USAToday.com. Matta’s total pay in 2011-12 was $2,854,000, making him the second-highest paid coach in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.
Source: CBSSports.com Latest Buckeyes Rapid Reports:
Video of OSU’s open practice this afternoon at the Mercedes Benz Superdome. March 30, 2012 Source: Bucknuts.com
Are Kentucky, Ohio St. destined to play Monday? After five days of hype, previews, features, opinion and everything else that goes with the Final Four, we’re finally just a few hours away from actual games. What a relief. That makes this one of the final preview items you’ll see related to the Final Four.
Trust us, we’re as ready for the games as you are. So who ya got? I’m taking Kentucky and Kansas, but Bobby Gonzalez and Vin Parise of SportsTalk both think Kentucky and Ohio State will be playing for the title on Monday.
Style of play: Primarily a half-court team, although athletic wings Deshaun Thomas and guard William Buford can score in transition.
The personnel: Most opponents are overwhelmed by the low-post play of wide-bodied All-American Jared Sullinger (above) and the relentless defense of point guard Aaron Craft. Coach Thad Matta keeps a short bench but has talent there.
How to beat them: Force the Buckeyes to shoot from the outside. And do anything and everything to frustrate Sullinger, who is prone to flopping, complaining and moping in search of favorable foul calls.
Why they could win it all: The Buckeyes are unsolvable if they hit threes. Too bad they're 223rd nationally at it...
Kansas-Ohio State: Who wins and why? Source: ESPN
Brennan: I'll take Ohio State. As I wrote above, there are some tricky matchups on both sides -- from Jeff Withey to Deshaun Thomas to William Buford to Elijah Johnson. But I think the most important matchup comes at the point guard spot, and that's where OSU has a decided advantage. Aaron Craft is just so good. He takes almost every guard he plays out of the game, flusters them beyond reclamation, uses lightning-quick hands to force turnovers, takes charges, creates offensive fouls on moving screens, all of it. And he just so happens to be matched up across from Tyshawn Taylor, KU's second-most important offensive player and also one of its most turnover-prone and mercurial. This is bad news for the Jayhawks. In what should be a defensive game, Kansas will need Taylor to not only manage the game, but to create points, too. Against Craft, he is unlikely to do either.
Katz: Ohio State. Kansas is going to try Jeff Withey (instead of T-Rob) against Jared Sullinger, but Sullinger should be able to get around Withey by using his size. I'm sure KU will try to move Sullinger around the post, but it may not work. OSU gets the nod in perimeter shooting, too. The options with Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith and William Buford outnumber Kansas.
King: Kansas. I learned my lesson last week when I picked North Carolina to beat KU. Talent means a lot, but it isn't everything. The Jayhawks are one of the toughest teams -- both mentally and physically -- in America and they're led by who I think is the game's top coach. And back to that talent aspect: Kansas has one of the leading candidates for the Wooden Award, a fourth-year starting point guard who averaged 18 points a game in Big 12 play and a 7-footer who blocks shots as well as any player in the country not named Anthony Davis. So don't feel too sorry for the "underdog" Jayhawks.
Medcalf: Ohio State will win with its physicality. The Buckeyes are a matchup nightmare for the Jayhawks. Jared Sullinger is back to bullying defenders on the low block, and whether Jeff Withey, Kevin Young or Thomas Robinson ends up guarding him, I think he'll have a big night. Deshaun Thomas can roam the floor on offense and guard multiple positions on defense. William Buford is a big guard who will get good looks, with his teammates occupying Bill Self's squad in the paint. He just has to hit the shots. And Aaron Craft will pressure Tyshawn Taylor. This will be a battle at every position. But Big Ten play has prepared the Buckeyes to play that kind of scrappy game this weekend.
O'Neil: Deshaun Thomas called Aaron Craft a "rat that just won't leave." More like a gnat. You swat, you turn, he's there. And that won't be good for Tyshawn Taylor, who will be frustrated by Craft's chronic defense. Sans Taylor as both a distributor and scoring threat, Kansas and Thomas Robinson alone won't be able to beat Ohio State. Thad Matta makes his second national championship game appearance on Monday night...
Sullinger ducked Kansas in December? That’s just ‘funny’ Back spasms prevented Ohio State center Jared Sullinger from playing in December’s loss to Kansas. It was one of two games the sophomore missed this season, leading to some (Read: Kansas fans) wonder if the All-American was just ducking Kansas. After all, the Jayhawks feature an All-American forward of their own in junior Thomas Robinson. He’s not as skilled as Sullinger, but he’s more athletic. Maybe Sullinger was worried how he’d fare? Hardly.
Sullinger, Ohio State’s leading scorer (17.6 ppg) and rebounder (9.1 rpg) laughs at that notion. “People think playing with back spasms is a walk in the park. You can’t bend. You can’t do lateral movements. I was just gonna hurt the basketball team if I tried to play,” Sullinger said. “I think it’s funny. Appreciate the comment.” March 30, 2012 Source: CollegeBasketBallTalk.com
We caught up with the Buckeyes after their practice session during some breakout interviews to get their early thoughts on getting to the final four and hit a little bit of this and that in this video notebook. March 29, 2012 Source: BuckeyeGrove.com
Game plan: Kansas vs. Ohio State March 29, 2012 Source: ESPN - Kansas Jayhawks Offense: By adjusted efficiency's lights, three of the four best defensive teams in the country are members of the Final Four. None of them, if you can believe it, is Kentucky.
They are, in order: No. 1 Louisville, No. 2 Ohio State, and No. 4 Kansas. (Kentucky is ranked No. 11; it's not like the Wildcats are slouches.) The cliche, as always: Defense wins championships.
Can the Jayhawks defend their way to a win? Would a game in which both teams hover around or below the 1.0 point-per-possession mark be in their favor? Maybe. But I tend to doubt it. Which means two things for Bill Self as he prepares his squad for Saturday's "Clash of the Titans"-esque contest. In no particular order:
1. Kansas has to win the interior scoring battle.
2. Tyshawn Taylor has to stay in control...
Quick: Name the nation's best shot-blocker. Anthony Davis, right? Davis's range and impact make it difficult to argue that point. OK then: Name me the nation's most frequent shot-blocker, the one that repels opponents on a higher percentage of possessions than any other in the country? Yep. That's Withey.
Withey and Robinson are the near-ideal defensive pair. When an opponent drives the line, Withey goes after the block; he succeeds 15.1 percent of the time, the nation's highest rate. When that opponent misses -- or when any opponent misses, frankly -- Robinson, the nation's leading defensive rebounder (who grabs 30.9 percent of opponents' available bricks) is there to clamp the board and find a guard for a quick outlet.
This is a massive advantage to hold over Ohio State. At 33.2 percent from long range in 2012, the Buckeyes are an even worse 3-point shooting team than Kansas. More often than not, they get their points from Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas. Which is why Withey changes the game. Robinson has the size and speed to move with Thomas out to 20 feet if needed; Withey has the height to make Sullinger -- who struggles scoring over just this kind of player -- totally ineffective near the rim...
But whatever defense the Jayhawks run, their unique combination of length and athleticism in the post may be their defense's Craftian trump card. It should be fascinating.
Ohio State Buckeyes Offense: Now that we know all about Kansas' interior defense -- and the relative impenetrability thereof -- what hope is there for Ohio State's offense?
Let's go with a two-point plan, similar to Kansas', in that it is one part prescriptive game plan and one part "hope for the best" wishcasting:
1. Use Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas to stretch the floor.
2. Hope William Buford makes some shots.
First up: Sullinger is generously listed at 6-foot-9. Thomas is listed at 6-7, which seems slightly closer to reality. But either way, the Buckeyes' starting forwards are at a major height disadvantage against the defense they'll face on Saturday...Sullinger, that might not be as much of a problem. But Sullinger doesn't explode off the ground. Rather, he roots defenders out with his considerable posterior, achieves optimal position, and finishes with brute force. This season -- especially in the Syracuse win, when he flashed a dazzling little mid-range touch -- Sullinger has considerably expanded his game. But he remains at his best when he can clear defenders out of his way and score with his right hand over his left shoulder. Against a 7-foot Withey -- the likely matchup in any man-to-man defense -- that is going to be very difficult...
That goes double for Thomas...the stretch forward has morphed from a impulse bench gunner into one of the nation's most potent scorers. Thomas is leading Ohio State in scoring through its four NCAA tournament games, the mark of his continued expansion into one of the nation's most versatile threats...
This kind of versatile inside-out scoring from a 6-7 forward presents a major matchup problem for the Jayhawks. In the man-to-man, it could force Robinson to move further away from the hoop than he'd like. Thomas can look to shoot, or he can make Robinson move to stop his penetration; either way, Thad Matta will like his chances. If Kansas goes to that famed triangle-and-two, Matta can use Thomas to stretch the corners all the way to the 3-point line, where the shot is (relatively) high-percentage and the defensive style is most vulnerable.
Whether the Jayhawks play man (likely) or triangle-and-two (less likely, but you never know when Self will bust it out), Thomas and Sullinger's ability to score away from the rim will be key.
Which brings us, of course, to Buford. When Ohio State has struggled this season -- and those times, though rare, were highly publicized -- it was primarily because Buford and Craft and Thomas and even Lenzelle Smith were failing to provide the outside shooting that made the 2011 Buckeyes' offense so lethal. Actually, forget 2011: Ohio State was never even mediocre from long range. A large portion of that responsibility falls on Buford.
In this game, Buford presents the clearest matchup advantage for the Buckeyes. Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson aren't big enough to match up with the Buckeyes' guard's size on the wing. But Buford is just 13-of-44 in the NCAA tournament, the kind of offensive struggles he's dealt with all season. Ohio State has managed to progress this far without efficient wing scoring, but that may not get it done against an rim-protecting defense like this.
Can Buford come alive at just the right time? Can the Buckeyes stretch Kansas enough to get a few easy looks at the rim? The questions are intertwined and difficult to divine. But in this game, they couldn't possibly be more important.
Defense: Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn does a better job than anyone in the country processing advanced statistics and scouting data and presenting it to your eyeballs in visually attractive form, and Luke's 2012 Aaron Craft Turnometer may be his Symphony No. 9. All season, Winn tracked the turnovers Craft forced -- some for which he was credited in the scoresheet, many not -- alongside charges taken and offensive fouls forced. The end result is the picture of the nation's most dominant defensive player, one who individually forces turnovers on 7.56 percent of opponents' possessions and one who just had his best game of the season in the Sweet 16:
How many players can say their best performance of the season was in the NCAA tournament? That’s the case for Buckeyes pest/point guard Aaron Craft, who had the Turnometer" needle buried by creating 10 turnovers against Cincinnati in the Sweet 16. According to SI’s charting, it was Craft’s top turnover-creation game of the season, beating his previous best of 9.5 against Jackson State on Nov. 18...
Craft is a nightmare matchup for the previously discussed, turnover-prone Taylor. Taylor is the second-most-important piece of Kansas' offense. Not only does he initiate that offense, but he is relied upon to penetrate the lane, finish with a floater or drive, or find an open player with a dish. Craft makes that possibility remote.
Another major part of Taylor's game is transition; he and Johnson can be fearsome on the break. (Their connection on the closing-moments half-court alley-oop against Purdue was one of the more simultaneously questionable and amazing plays of the season.) But Craft is good at this, too: He is uniquely able to pressure defenders in the open court -- to "turn them," in coach speak -- cutting off any ball advancement (at best) and creating enough havoc to win a turnover (at worst). The Jayhawks would sure like to see Taylor and Johnson get out on the break whenever possible; it's the best way to score against Ohio State. But is it even possible?
There are other defensive matchups to watch in this game -- how Ohio State handles T-Rob and Withey, whether the Buckeyes need to worry about Releford on the wing, whether reserve Conner Teahan can provide shooting off the bench -- but by far the most important is what Craft can and will do to Taylor...
Buford key to Ohio State’s Final Four fate Source: Big Ten Network
Scouting Ohio State: To start, confront Sullinger, confound Craft March 28, 2012 Source: CBSSports.com - CBSSports.com analyzes each team, talking with coaches who have faced the Final Four teams. Jeff Borzello writes a scouting report on Ohio State, quoting -- anonymously -- three coaches. What each of them has to say about the Buckeyes' style of play:
Offensive strength: "Tremendous passing team. Tremendous. And all their players make the right pass and the right play. They take good shots and execute their offense. It's Aaron Craft. He orchestrates the whole show, gets everyone involved."...
Key player: "Everybody has their different opinion. But if you don't have Sullinger in that lineup, it's a mediocre lineup. He does so much; he's such a load on the block. You have to make the decision to trap him or not, but he's such a good passer out of the trap. Sullinger is the most important key." "If Buford can play with confidence, they're tough to beat...
Primary weakness: "Offensively, their weakness is consistent outside shooting from 3..."Depth. If you can get out and run on them, they don't have the bench that these other teams have. If Craft ever gets in foul trouble, they're in trouble. When Sullinger comes out, they're in trouble with Ravenel and Amir Williams. They are better in the half-court, but they're opportunistic in transition." "It's outside shooting. That's why Buford is the key...
How to stop them: "A team that can switch everything would give them problems. They're a play-oriented team. If you go man-to-man, switch everything 1-4. Teams that can pressure and switch will give them problems..."You have to get Sullinger off the block...You have to be able to stop Craft from being in his comfort zone, with his little dribble pullups..."You need to limit Sullinger's touches. I don't think a lot of teams try to front Sullinger, but he seems to find a way to get a lot of post touches...
Best way to score on them: "You have to have a low-post presence. Establish low post and score. Kansas can hurt them. Sullinger's not a great defender in the low post. Kansas needs [Jeff] Withey and [Thomas] Robinson and those guys to score around the basket..."We did a pretty good job of scoring on them with our movement. Whoever Craft is guarding, go away from them. Sullinger has trouble with his perimeter defense, and he's skeptical of foul trouble. Whoever he's guarding can exploit him..."It's very interesting, because Craft is so good with ball pressure. I think it's very hard to ask your point guard to create as much as possible because Craft gives them problems. So you can put the ball in someone else's hands, or run him into a lot of ball screens. Plus, if you're having someone ball screen, you bring Sullinger and Thomas outside of the lane, you're making them slide their feet on the perimeter. I just don't like guys trying to handle the ball against Craft. He's an elite defender; he has a special skillset. He changes the tempo and flow of the game."
Ultimate concern: "I think it's trying to figure out a way to guard them..."You don't want to let them get into a rhythm. When they get the inside-outside game, the transition game -- you can't let it all click at the same time. If you double-team Sullinger, and you make a mistake on the rotation, they hit a shot..."It's probably Sullinger. I go back to personnel. Sullinger is a fantastic college basketball player. He's got to be your key. He's capable of scoring 25 on any given night...
Something extra: "Take away Buford's catch and shoot..."Pressure Craft as much as you can full court. Get the ball out of his hands, make the other guys run offense..."I think you can bother Craft..."Thomas is hard to take away. We tell our players he has to shoot over his right shoulder, but that doesn't seem to stop him..."You have to go strong inside. Sullinger doesn't want to get in foul trouble..."Kansas can guard one-on-one against Sullinger with their size..."Maybe give a junk defense, throw them off. See how you can do without doubling Sullinger to start..."Thomas is the best slashing four man I've seen. He gets behind the defense. He's going to get what he needs to get to... "You have to get back on defense. No transition lobs." ...
Sin City casinos are sticking with Kentucky and Ohio State as Final Four favorites and still think the Wildcats have by far the best shot of winning the NCAA title. Odds put out by Nevada casinos after the matchups were set show they think Kentucky — the No. 1 seed overall in the tournament — has a 52 percent shot at the title. Ohio State has a 25 percent chance, Kansas 15 and Louisville eight. Kentucky is a 8.5-point favorite over Louisville and OSU a 2.5-point favorite over Kansas for Saturday’s semifinals.
Final Four Game Notes:
Ohio State Source: OSU Official Site
Kansas Source: Kansas Official Site
Without a hint of exaggeration, this may be the most intriguing individual matchup of the entire Final Four. Ohio State's Aaron Craft is arguably the best on-ball defender in the country. He doesn't give ball-handlers an inch of space and forces enough turnovers that SI.com's Luke Winn created a stat just to track them. Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor, on the other hand, has become notorious for the turnovers he commits and the bad shots that he takes. And while Bill Self would surely have less gray hair if Taylor had managed to eliminate that aspect of his game, there is no denying just how much the senior point guard means to the Jayhawks. He had 22 points, six boards, five assists and five steals against North Carolina. I've maintained all season long that Taylor is the most important player for Kansas, and if Craft can limit his production, that becomes a difference maker for the Buckeyes. Edge: Even
Shooting Guard This may as well be called the battle of the X-factors. Elijah Johnson has been terrific for Kansas down the stretch of the season. He's averaged 15.8 points in his last six games, providing an important third-scoring option alongside Taylor and Thomas Robinson. Johnson is, more or less, the reason that the Jayhawks advanced past Purdue in the Round of 32, as he finished with 18 points on a night that Robinson and Taylor combined to shoot 6-of-23. Lenzelle Smith Jr. plays a similarly vital role in the Ohio State offense. Smith had 33 points as Ohio State won two games in Boston last weekend, making arguably the two biggest shots of the game as the Buckeyes held off Syracuse in the Elite Eight. Smith also has a tendency to play his best when the lights are the brightest; he had 28 points in a win over Indiana this season and scored 17 in a win over Michigan. Edge: Even
Small Forward I should preface this by saying that the Buckeyes should have the advantage at the small forward spot because William Buford has become as inconsistent as he is talented. Buford is an important piece for Ohio State because of his ability to score the ball from the perimeter. When he is shooting well, it makes it that much more difficult for opponents to collapse on Jared Sullinger in the post. The problem is that those good shooting performances have become fewer and farther between late in the season. Buford was just 4-of-20 in the Boston regional, is shooting just 13-of-44 in the NCAA tournament and hasn't shot over .500 in a game since March 4, when he hit the game-winning jumper to beat Michigan State in the final game of the regular season. Travis Releford has developed a bit of a reputation as a defender, and while he's not necessarily a go-to scorer, he can chip in with 15 points on a good night. Edge: Ohio State
Power Forward Deshaun Thomas may end up being the key to this game for the Buckeyes. He's developed into one of the more explosive front court scorers in the country as his sophomore season has gone on, culminating in the 22.3 points that he is averaging in the four games in the tournament. The question for the Jayhawks is going to be how they matchup with him. Do you risk putting Thomas Robinson on him, or will Robinson's inability to be effective against Robbie Hummel be enough to scare Bill Self off of that idea? And if Robinson doesn't guard him, do you dare to put Jeff Withey on Thomas? Based on the way Kansas matches up with Ohio State, we may end up seeing quite a bit of Kevin Young in this game. Edge: Ohio State
Center The matchup that we are all hoping to see is Jared Sullinger and Thomas Robinson, two All-Americas and arguably the two best low-post scorers in the country. The interesting part here is that Jeff Withey may actually be a better matchup on Sullinger defensively for the Jayhawks. Sullinger struggles when he is guarded by players with more length and athleticism than him; Withey is 7-feet and one of the most dangerous shot-blockers in the country. The problem with that is Robinson would be forced to guard Deshaun Thomas. If Sullinger and Robinson do get matched up with each other, it will be a treat for every fan to enjoy; both players thrive on their strength and ability to establish position in the post. But where Robinson thrives on his natural athleticism to score over players he overpowers, Sullinger -- while heftier and more of a land-warrior -- is much more skilled and technical on the block. Edge: Even
Bench Neither team has much of a bench. Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams have both provided quality minutes when Sullinger gets in foul trouble, while Jordan Sibert and Sam Thompson have both seen minutes off the bench during the tournament. The reason that Kansas gets the advantage, however, is because of Kevin Young and Conner Teahan. Teahan has been an important piece for the Jayhawks all year with an ability to shoot the ball, but the more valuable piece will be Young. Early in the season, it was difficult to imagine Young earning playing time. But as the season went on, he's developed into a valuable piece off the bench. He brings energy and athleticism, and, more importantly, he allows the Jayhawks to go small when Withey is faced with a mismatch. Edge: Kansas
Coach With all due respect to Thad Matta, who is a sensational coach, I'm not sure that there is anyone in the country who has done a better job this season than Self. He led Kansas to a Big 12 title and has now taken the Jayhawks to the Final Four despite a roster that doesn't have a typical amount of Kansas talent. They also lost their depth when three freshmen were ruled ineligible. More importantly, Self has gotten his team this far with the mid-game adjustments he has made. The switch to a triangle-and-two defense was a major part of the reason that Kansas beat Purdue, N.C. State and North Carolina. Edge: Kansas
Former President Clinton makes his Final Four picks; kind words for Jared Sullinger & the Buckeyes
KU-OSU is the game to watch March 28, 2012 Source: ESPN - Ohio State versus Kansas is in prime time for a reason. It's simply the better matchup. It's the game that's been dissected, analyzed and evaluated by experts since Sunday. And still, no consensus on the outcome...
Buckeyes look like they're 5 points better than Kansas Jayhawks, says Doug Lesmerises (SBTV) March 28, 2012 Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer
Breaking down the Buckeyes lineup March 28, 2012 Source: ESPN - The Ohio State Buckeyes are back in the Final Four for the first time since losing to the Florida Gators in the 2007 championship game. ESPN Stats & Information takes a look at the keys to success for the Buckeyes in New Orleans...
Will it be the one who lit up Purdue for 29, Northwestern for 28, Kansas for 21 in the first meeting and Duke for 20? The cool team leader who hit a nerveless shot at the buzzer with a hand in his face to earn the Buckeyes a share of the Big Ten title at Michigan State?
Or the one who is shooting 34.7 percent from the field over the last seven games — arguably the Buckeyes’ seven biggest games to date — while averaging 11.3 points, 3 under his average?
No one doubts that Buford can decide the outcome of a game.
The problem is that works both ways...
Matta Press Conference at OSU March 27, 2012 Source: Bucknuts.com
Sullinger Press Conference at OSU March 27, 2012 Source: Bucknuts.com
Craft Buford Press Conference at OSU March 27, 2012 Source: Bucknuts.com
Road to the Superdome: Ohio State March 27, 2012 Source: CBSsports.com - ...Why they'll win it: The Buckeyes have one of the best big men in the country in Jared Sullinger, an elite point guard in Aaron Craft who defends and possesses all the intangibles -- and a couple of wing scorers in William Buford and Deshaun Thomas. They do a nice job as a team moving the ball, Sullinger passes well out of double-teams and these guys defend well as a group. They play unselfish and their top four guys can matchup with just about anyone.
Why they won't: Every team they'll go up against has an answer for Sullinger. Sure, he's big, strong and skilled. But Kansas' Thomas Robinson is strong and ultra-athletic. If they get past Kansas, it'll be either Anthony Davis (Kentucky) or Gorgui Dieng (Louisville). Ohio State also can't afford to have senior guard William Buford continue to slump offensively. He needs to get going and make shots.
Player to watch: Aaron Craft - There's no one in the country who plays perimeter defense in the same manner. He's relentless guarding on the ball -- and also so smart off-the-ball. He gets his hands on seemingly everything -- and also sets up his teammates and is the team leader. However, what Craft will need to do it be more assertive and look for his own shot -- especially if one of Sullinger, Buford or Thomas aren't making shots. If those three guys are on their game on the offensive end of the floor, Craft can get away with deferring. However, he'll need to make a couple shots, at least, to keep the defense honest.
Best off the bench: This is an issue. There's really no one that coach Thad Matta counts on off the bench. Evan Ravenel is a Boston College transfer who spells Sullinger and could be key if the big man gets into foul trouble again -- as he did against Syracuse. Athletic freshman Sam Thompson averaged a dozen minutes in league play. We'll go with freshman point guard Shannon Scott, who often comes into the game and allows Craft to play off the ball for a spell. However, there are no standouts coming off the bench for the Buckeyes.
One guy soaring: Deshaun Thomas -- The 6-foot-7 sophomore has been sensational on the offensive end and can ill-afford to have an off-night for the Buckeyes. Thomas, who dropped about 20 pounds this past offseason, is averaging 16.1 points this season and can score from just about anywhere. He has 87 points in the four tournament games -- and erupted for 20 in the first half against Cincinnati.
One guy slumping: William Buford -- The smooth veteran has made just 4 of his last 20 shots from the field over the past two games and has not made more than 50 percent of his shots in a game since the regular-season finale on March 4 against Michigan State. Matta needs Buford, one of the top scorers in school history, to get going against Kansas -- in a big way.
Notable stat: William Buford has 1,971 career points in his career, just 20 shy of passing Jerry Lucas for third in Ohio State history. Dennis Hopson ranks first on the Buckeyes all-time list with 2,096.
Last time in Final Four: 2007 -- Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook led the Buckeyes to the national title game, where they lost to the defending national champion Florida Gators.
Last time won a national championship: 1960 -- It's the lone national title in men's hoops that the Buckeyes have won. Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek crushed California, 75-55, in the championship game. Four members of this team are in the Hall of Fame: Lucas and Havlicek as players and Fred Taylor and Bob Knight as coaches. Taylor, the coach of that 1960 squad, died in 2002.
All-time starting five: G: Jim Jackson; G: Evan Turner; F: John Havlicek; F: Clark Kellogg; C: Jerry Lucas
Final thought: When Sullinger decided to return to Ohio State, this is one of the primary reasons: To get to a Final Four and have a chance to win a national title. The Buckeyes team, the one that lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 a year ago, was more talented. They lost David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale. However, this one has a chance because it has an elite low-post player, a terrific point guard and a couple of guys that can put the ball in the basket. If these guys are clicking, they can beat anyone. However, they need to avoid foul trouble and make sure Buford and Thomas are making shots.
ESPN's Andy Katz and Gene Wojciechowski preview the Final Four.
What's the buzz for the Final Four? March 26, 2012 Source: ESPN - ...(2) Ohio State vs. (2) Kansas: When these two teams met Dec. 10, Kansas earned a 78-67 victory. But Sullinger was unavailable that afternoon due to a back injury. Evan Ravenel, Sullinger's replacement, recorded nine points and five rebounds.
This is a completely different matchup, however, with Sullinger in the mix. Robinson versus Sullinger might be the best individual battle in the Final Four. Craft and Smith against Johnson and Taylor is a great backcourt pairing.
The Jayhawks and Buckeyes are both in the top 10 in Pomeroy's defensive efficiency ratings. And they're both versatile offensively. This should be a great game.
Plus, this is a rare matchup. This is just the second Final Four meeting between two No. 2 seeds since the seeding process commenced in 1979. North Carolina and Arkansas met in the Final Four in 1995...
Why They'll Win The National Title:(analysis of each team)
Ohio State: Few doubted OSU's national title potential when Jared Sullinger announced his decision to return for a second season. That collection of talent -- anchored by Sullinger, Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas and William Buford -- ranked among the nation's best.
But throughout the regular season, the Buckeyes battled through bouts of immaturity. Thad Matta openly questioned their practice habits during a rough stretch (they went 2-3 over five games) in February. They had the makings of a national champion but seemed to lack the leadership and mental toughness to achieve that dream.
The loss of veteran David Lighty left a leadership void in the program that the Buckeyes couldn't fill. And then, this young group began to mature and realize its full potential. The Buckeyes have rallied from their challenges in February and reeled off eight victories in their past nine games.
The Bucks knocked off 1-seed Syracuse on Saturday as Sullinger took advantage of Fab Melo's absence to finish with 19 points and seven rebounds. Thomas has blossomed in the postseason, too. His 14-point, nine-rebound effort (6-for-14) against the Orange was his worst game in the NCAA tournament. Craft has harassed some of the top guards in America all year. He's also showcased that defensive success in the Big Dance.
A few lesser-known names have made an impact, too. Lenzelle Smith Jr. (18 points) was a star against Syracuse.
The Buckeyes are strong inside. They have one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. And they have a veteran (Buford) who's capable of a big night every time he steps onto the floor. They have all of the tools for a title.
But it starts with Sullinger. The immovable forward came back to win a national title. And if he continues to produce at this level, he might accomplish that feat in New Orleans...
Five Storylines For Ohio State Versus Kansas
1. Vengeance? The Jayhawks beat the Buckeyes in Round 1 in December. But Sullinger wasn't available due to a back injury. His presence changes everything.
2. Thad Matta is searching for his first national championship. He reached the title game with Greg Oden's team in 2007. Will he win No. 1 in the Big Easy?
3. Robinson versus Sullinger is an explosive matchup between two of the top frontcourt players in the country.
4. Self doesn't need another ring to make Kansas fans forget about Roy Williams. But a second national championship would solidify his status as a legend. We're talking statues, people.
5. Defensive stoppers could turn this game. Withey can dominate the paint with his shot-blocking ability. Craft (2.5 steals per game) is the best on-the-ball defender in America...
Kansas: Taylor could score 20 or he could commit a half-dozen turnovers. Or both.
Ohio State: Paging Buford. The senior has had moments of greatness and other times he's appeared on the side of a milk carton in key games...
Jared Sullinger recovered from first-half foul trouble to score 19 points and grab seven rebounds, helping Ohio State beat top-seeded Syracuse 77-70 on Saturday to advance to the Final Four in New Orleans. The second-seeded Buckeyes will play the winner of Sunday's Midwest Regional final between North Carolina and Kansas.
"We're not going down to New Orleans for a vacation. It's a business trip," said Sullinger, who picked up his second foul 6 minutes into the game and did not return the rest of the half. "These guys have played without me before, so they know what they have to do."
Deshaun Thomas scored 14 points with nine rebounds for Ohio State (31-7), which led by eight points with 59 seconds to play and held on after the Orange cut it to three. The Buckeyes made 13 of 14 free throws in the final 68 seconds and finished 31 of 42 from the line.
Ohio State is making its first trip to the Final Four since 2007, when it lost in the national championship game to Florida. They had lost in the regional semifinals in each of the past two seasons, and Matta wasn't even sure they would make it that far after a series of unimpressive practices.
When the Buckeyes, who spent five weeks as the No. 2 team in the nation, closed out February with three defeats in five games -- including a home loss to Wisconsin on Feb. 26 -- Matta had more reason to worry.
But he got the response he was hoping for.
"That loss opened their eyes and said, 'Hey, maybe we're not as good as we think we are,' " Matta said. "Maybe it got us pointed in the right direction."
In a tightly officiated game that left Sullinger on the bench in foul trouble for most of the first half and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim not-quite muzzled after picking up a technical foul, it came down to free throws. Syracuse was called for 29 fouls -- its most in more than three years -- despite playing its usual 2-3 zone...
Four thoughts from Ohio State-Syracuse March 25, 2012 Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer -1. The refs got it wrong most of the first half, but the egregious charging call on which Jim Boeheim drew a technical was not as bad as the "air" foul on Jared Sullinger. That forced Thad Matta to bench Sully with two personals the last 13 1/2 minutes.
2. Amir Williams was almost unbelievably good after Sullinger and Evan Ravenel got into foul trouble. The 6-11 freshman had four points, three rebounds and two blocks in nine minutes. He allowed OSU to fight another half. If Will Buford keeps slumping, would Matta possibly consider the freshman, who averaged only 10 minutes per game, in the Final Four in a pairing at times with Sullinger?
3. So maybe MSU's Tom Izzo was right? After the Spartans shut down OSU in Columbus, his team looked like it had an answer for everything the Buckeyes tried.
"I still think they're the best team in the Big Ten," said Izzo. At the time, it seemed to be sweet-talking a rival and deflecting attention from Izzo's own team. But the Buckeyes are the only ones still playing from the league now.
4. Lenzelle Smith Jr. wears the name "Smith Jr." on the back of his jersey, which seems odd because his father, after all, is not in the Buckeyes' lineup. Smith Jr. said it is to make sure he doesn't get his mail mixed up with letters to the elder Smith. It seems a prudent step, given the fan mail that is sure to come now.
Watch post game reaction from Ohio State University after their win over Syracuse.
OSU Syracuse Postgame: Lenzelle Smith Jr. Source: Bucknuts.com
Smith delivers a blood-and-guts effort March 25, 2012 Source: Columbus Dispatch - A mere two minutes into the game and it already was evident that there would be no place for the meek in the NCAA Tournament East Regional final between Ohio State and Syracuse.
Bodies were flying, referee whistles were chirping and the sellout crowd inside tinderbox TD Garden made the arena sound like a home game for Syracuse.
And Ohio State sophomore forward Lenzelle Smith Jr. was bleeding.
A collision at the end of a drive by Syracuse guard Brandon Triche left Smith bleeding above his right eye and sent him to the locker room just 2:24 into the game.
“I tried to stay in front of my man, slid my feet, and when he spun, his head scraped my eye,” Smith said.
Team doctor Grant Jones put four stitches in Smith’s eyelid, and Smith returned to score 18 points to lead the second-seeded Buckeyes to the Final Four with a 77-70 victory over the top-seeded Orange.
Smith’s gutty return and clutch production personified coach Thad Matta’s pregame message.
“Coach told us this game was going to be about toughness,” Smith said. “He said either we were going to break or they were going to break. We didn’t break.”
Not with Smith firing away above the legendary 2-3 zone defense played by the Orange.
He made 3 of 5 three-point attempts while scoring 16 points in the second half as his vision began to clear.
“When I first came back into the game in the first half, I couldn’t even really see out of my eye,” Smith said. “We switched our offense around. I’m normally on the right side, but I had to stand on the left side because the right side was all blurry. The court lights were flickering with my contacts.” ...
The unheralded 6-4 sophomore guard from Zion came up with a big-time second half, scoring 16 of his 18 points after needing four stitches to repair a cut over his right eye in the first half to key Ohio State’s 77-70 Elite Eight upset of Syracuse on Saturday...
"Everybody kind of pulled together," coach Thad Matta said.
"It was something we’ve been preaching. We told them, to win this game, somebody was going to have to step up and make plays."
The key somebody was Smith, who joined Sullinger on the All-East Regional team. He’d had a big game before, going off for 28 against Indiana on Jan. 15. Other than that, though, he had not scored more than 12 in a game this season.
Smith didn’t make it to the interview room because the cut required attention. But the Buckeyes knew what he had done.
"He did a lot for us, offensively and defensively," guard Aaron Craft said. "He made a couple of big shots for us. And on the other end, he did a good job of keeping their great guards in front of him." ...
OSU Syracuse Postgame: Aaron Craft Source: Bucknuts.com
Crafty is amazing!
Brotherly love March 25, 2012 Source: Columbus Dispatch - It was an emotional day for OSU point guard Aaron Craft, who had five points, four assists and four rebounds on the same day his older brother headed to Afghanistan on military duty.
Craft got to speak to his brother, Brandon, yesterday before he fulfilled an Army assignment by deploying from Fort Lewis in Washington.
“We had the going-away talk,” Aaron said. “He just told me to enjoy it. He wishes he could watch and be here, but he’s doing something more important, and it just keeps everything in perspective.”
> OSU Syracuse Postgame: Jared Sullinger Source: Bucknuts.com
Sullinger’s reward: Final Four trip March 25, 2012 Source: Columbus Dispatch - Jared Sullinger spurned the big money of the NBA one year ago for a moment that finally arrived last night.
The Ohio State sophomore forward, considered a lottery draft pick after his first year, led Ohio State to the Final Four with a 77-70 win over Syracuse in the East Regional final.
“I made the right decision when I said I was coming back, no doubt about it,” Sullinger said.
Sullinger was named the region’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring 19 points — 15 in the second half — and grabbing seven rebounds against the Orange. The personal honor, however, didn’t feel as special to the Columbus native as getting the Buckeyes to their first Final Four in five years.
“It means a lot,” Sullinger said. “Ohio State is known as a football school, and it’s been forever known as a football school. Getting to the Final Four, we should get the stamp now that it’s not only a football school, it’s a football and basketball school.”
Sullinger played only six minutes — totaling four points and three rebounds — in the first half because of two fouls. He went to the bench for the rest of the half when his second foul was called with 13:42 left.
“I took off my jersey and put on some pom-poms,” Sullinger joked.
OSU Syracuse Postgame: William Buford Source: Bucknuts.com
OSU Syracuse Postgame: Deshaun Thomas Source: Bucknuts.com
"It was one of the biggest moments for me ever," Williams said, "going in and having a chance to factor in to going to the Final Four. That was one of the greatest things ever and I was just excited to be a part of it."
Williams seldom looks excited, and at moments he can actually look overwhelmed by the moment and uncertain of how to handle himself on the court. He looked that way for a few minutes Saturday night. Then he started rebounding. And blocking shots. And getting to the foul line, even though he missed three of four free throws. And making a quick, sharp pass to Deshaun Thomas inside.
Overall, he had three points, four rebounds and two blocks in nine first-half minutes before not playing in the second half.
"I think he gave us energy, he gave us blocks and rebounds and he played really well," Thomas said. "That's what we needed off the bench."
Two-Minute Drill: Inside Ohio State’s Postgame Locker Room March 25, 2012 Source: The Ozone - Here’s a look at what the players and coaches had to say after the game. Matta’s Best Coaching Job at OSU?...Sullinger Tipping His Hand?...Turning Things Around...Off to the Final Four...Player Notes...
Analysis: Scarlet & Gray Matta March 25, 2012 Source: Columbus Dispatch - Facts of the matter
In the end, all those preseason expectations were met by an inspired team that played through trying circumstances -- in-fighting, injury and the strange disappearing act of its lone senior -- to scrap it up against the No. 1 seed in Syracuse. Just call it the Finally Four.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. stood at the foul line with the Buckeyes holding a 71-67 lead and 19.6 seconds to play. A miss and Syracuse would still be in it. But like the cool customer he has increasingly become during the tournament, Smith made both throws, and that was that.
What went right
Bench play and clutch free throws. Ohio State played eight players the first half and came away not much worse for wear as the score was tied at at 29 entering intermission. As for those “free” throws? There were misses early -- and some late -- but all was solid down the stretch.
Interior defense looked a bit ragged at times -- maybe some zone was in order? -- but overall not a lot to work on. When you reach the Final Four, the nitpicking takes a night off.
Controlled desperation separates those who can raise their games under pressure and those who can’t. Two Buckeyes showed that they could hold up with everything on the line. Jared Sullinger went old-school by kissing two big shots off the glass, plus making free throws when it mattered most. The big man had 19 points and went 9 of 12 from the line. Then there was Smith, who took three stitches above his eye just 2:24 into the game and returned to finish with 18 points, including huge three-pointers that kept the Orange off the Buckeyes’ backs.
When a game becomes a 60-meter dash, as this one did, usually it is best to go with a sprint relay team to spread the huffing and puffing. So where was Shannon Scott to help spell Aaron Craft? On the other hand, credit Matta for putting some faith in Amir Williams, who played the last 8:45 of the first half while Sullinger sat on the bench with two fouls. Williams rewarded his coach’s trust by, well, not screwing things up.
The only explanation for some of the rattle-and-roll shaky calls, besides melting under big-game pressure, was that the officials watched the game from the same distorted perspective as viewers at home. It was impossible to see straight because of the way CBS shot the game from weird angles and distances. Minus that excuse, the refs had no leg to stand on, especially on Sullinger’s second phantom foul. Terrible. These zebras were overmatched. ...
Ohio State vs. Syracuse preview No. 2 Ohio State heads to the elite 8 to face off against No.1 Syracuse. The Bracket Breakdown panel discusses the keys to the game for this upcoming match-up. Source: CBSSports.com
East preview: Ohio State vs. Syracuse March 23, 2012 Source: ESPN - ...Whom to watch: William Buford, Ohio State: Matta went out of his way to commend his senior for his defensive effort against Cincinnati. And it was deserved. It also was welcome deflection for Buford’s offensive woes.
The Sweet 16 has not been kind to Buford. He's played in that round three consecutive seasons and is 8 of 37, including an absentee 1-of-8 against the Bearcats on Thursday...
Scoop Jardine, Syracuse:
One of Syracuse’s hidden strengths this season is its ability to take care of the basketball. The Orange are eighth in the country, committing just 10.5 turnovers per game. That number will meet its match in the form of Aaron Craft. Arguably the best on-the-ball defender in the country, Ohio State's sophomore guard is a relentless gnat who not only swats at the ball but also frustrates his opponent into mistakes.
What to watch
This could be the first time that Syracuse feels sorely the absence of Fab Melo. Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita have done a more than admirable job for the Orange through this NCAA tournament run, but in their first three games, the duo has not faced anything quite like Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas.
The two are big, strong and armed with an arsenal of scoring touches. Most crucially for Christmas and Keita, Sullinger and Thomas help Ohio State rack up a plus-7.6 rebounding edge, good for sixth in the country — and good for lots of extended possessions. Christmas and Keita will have their work cut out for them in this game... Aaron Craft's defense sparks Ohio State March 24, 2012 Source: Associated Press - Aaron Craft doesn't get as much publicity as some of his Ohio State teammates...But Craft is the stopper, the pesky defender who irritates dribblers and takes the ball away.
"He takes great pride in what he's doing every single possession," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said Friday. "That's why I've said it all year. He's the best defender in college basketball."
On Saturday night, Craft will be pestering Syracuse guards Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters in the East regional final as the second-seeded Buckeyes try to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2007...
"He's just one of those guys who's always up on you," Triche said. "He's good with his hands. He gets into the passing lane. He pretty much just makes it tough, sliding left and right. He's one of those guys who never gives up."
Craft tied his season high of six steals in Thursday night's 81-66 win over sixth-seeded Cincinnati. And three came after the Bearcats overcame a 37-25 halftime deficit to take a 52-48 lead...
Craft traces his defensive focus to being the son of a high school coach and playing against older brothers.
"We would play one-on-one," he said. "I couldn't score too much because I was a lot smaller, but I could frustrate him if I was playing defense. That kind of is what I hung my hat on, and it carried over, and it's something I enjoy doing. I take great pride in it."...
So how do Syracuse's athletic guards match up with Craft?
"We'll find out," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "I don't give scouting reports."...
1. Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas is a zone killer. He's a great fit at floating in the soft middle of a zone and hitting from anywhere within 15 feet. His quick-turnaround, one- handed half-hook is the kind of shot most zones aren't prepared to defend. And the ability Thomas has to catch and shoot without a second thought, which has driven people crazy at times during his career, is an asset against a zone because he gets the shot off before the defense swarms to him. March 23, 2012 Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer
No free scoops: No statistic at the NCAA Tournament may be more difficult to understand than the foul shooting of Syracuse senior guard Scoop Jardine.
Starting with his freshman season, here is his free-throw shooting percentage during the course of his career: 83 percent, 75 percent, 66 percent, 55 percent. That means that, late in games, such as on Thursday against Wisconsin, the Orange can't put the ball in the hands of their ballhandler.
Remarkably, though, Jardine has found his touch so far in the NCAA Tournament. He was a 49 percent shooter coming into the tournament but has made 9-of-10 free throws in his first three games. Expect Syracuse to need Jardine to make a couple of big free throws if it's going to win the whole thing. March 23, 2012 Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer
Win prepares OSU to face Syracuse zone March 23, 2012 Source: Columbus Dispatch - If Ohio State is going to make its first Final Four appearance in five years, the Buckeyes will have to dissect the legendary 2-3 zone defense played by the Syracuse Orangemen. “It’s going to be tough,” said OSU point guard Aaron Craft. “It’s going to be big to understand what they like to do. That’s what Syracuse is known for.”...
Besides advancing the Buckeyes, the victory gave them a primer on facing a 2-3, which Cincinnati played the entire first half.
“We went into this game thinking Cincinnati was probably going to play zone,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “We spent a majority of our time this week going against zone. And I told our guys, trying to motivate them, when we play Syracuse on Saturday, this will pay off for us.”
The Buckeyes showed great patience and ball movement against Cincinnati’s zone, building a 37-25 halftime advance behind the 20 points of sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas.
“Patience was important,” said OSU guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. “You play into their hands if you play fast without thinking. They made a lot of teams not think and play fast and turn the ball over. They tried to make us take quick shots, but guys passed up some of those shots, and we took the shots we wanted. That’s our motto: Pass up a good shot for a great shot.”
Ohio State shot 45 percent in the first half, and improved that to 52 percent in the second half when Cincinnati switched to a man-to-man defense.
“We just read their defense really well,” said OSU forward Jared Sullinger. “You’ve got to give that to the coaches. They put us in situations where we could succeed.”
Now the Buckeyes have no doubt what they’ll face against Syracuse.
“I know we’re going to face a 2-3 zone, there’s no hiding that,” Sullinger said. “They’re very long. They’re very athletic. They can get up and down with the best of them. So it’s going to be a game that we’re going to have to try to control the tempo.
“We’re going to have to score and execute our offense even though they’re playing a 2-3 zone. We can’t just sit back and let them punch us. We’ve got to throw the first punches.”...
Jared Sullinger and teammate Deshaun Thomas celebrate during the second half of their men's NCAA East Regional basketball game against the Cincinnati Bearcats in Boston Thursday March 22, 2012 (Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
Buckeyes Turn Back Cincinnati 81-66 March 22, 2012 Source: Bucknuts.com - Ohio State cleared a major hurdle late Thursday night with a resounding NCAA Sweet 16 win. The second-seeded Buckeyes got 26 points from Deshaun Thomas and 23 points and 11 rebounds from Jared Sullinger in taking an 81-66 win over No. 6 seed (and bitter instate rival) Cincinnati in an NCAA East Region semifinal Thursday night before a crowd of 18,896 at Boston’s TD Garden.
The Buckeyes (30-7) advance to Saturday’s East Region final to face No. 1 seed Syracuse (34-2) here in Boston (7:05 p.m., CBS). The Orange took a dramatic 64-63 win over No. 4 seed Wisconsin earlier Thursday. The winner on Saturday will move on to the Final Four next weekend in New Orleans.
OSU led by as many as 13 late in the first half before allowing UC to surge into a four-point lead early in the second half. But the Buckeyes went on a 17-1 run to regain control and win going away.
“Obviously, that was a great college basketball game,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “We were able to put together a run there in the first half. Give Cincinnati credit, they came out and stung us to start the second half, and we had to take some timeouts there to kind of refocus what we were doing on the defensive end.
“Once we got that going, I thought it generated some offense for us. We were able to make the plays we had to make down the stretch.”
The Sweet 16 had been Ohio State’s Waterloo the last two years in the NCAA Tournament with losses to lower seeds Tennessee in 2010 and Kentucky last year...
Key player: Deshaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 26 points and had seven boards, but Jared Sullinger was the man. He tallied 23 points and harnessed 11 rebounds with three blocks. The sophomore hit 7-of-13 shots and was 9-of-10 from the free-throw line for an Ohio State squad that played just six eight players, but six ate up most of the minutes.
Key number: 27, free throws shot by Ohio State. The Buckeyes hit 19 (70.4 percent). Conversely, Cincinnati was just 5-of-8 from the charity stripe. The Buckeyes also had a decided edge from the 3-point line, hitting 8-of-17 (47.1 percent) compared to the Bearcats’ 9-of-23 (39.1 percent). Ohio State—which forced 18 turnovers–actually blew a 12-point halftime lead and saw Cincinnati take a four-point lead before taking over down the stretch.
What’s next for Ohio State? The win over Cincinnati advances the Buckeyes to the Elite Eight for the first time since Ohio State and Greg Oden marched to the national championship game in 2007, where the Buckeyes lost to Florida. The last two years ended in Sweet 16 losses to Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively. In 2009, the Buckeyes lost in the first round to Siena. Now comes a date with No. 1 Syracuse in the East Regional Final for the Big Ten’s tri-champs who are playing as well as anyone in the tourney. How will the Orange handle Jared Sullinger without Fab Melo?
FAST RECAP: Jared Sullinger scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and handed out three assists as No. 7 Ohio State defeated Cincinnati 81-66 on Thursday at TD Garden in Boston in the Sweet Sixteen. Both Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas played well for Ohio State (30-7). Sullinger went 7-of-13 from the field. Thomas had 26 points, hauled in six rebounds, knocked down 10-of-16 shot attempts, and shot 3-of-5 from long range. The Buckeyes shot 50 percent from the field (27-of-54). Ohio State was on fire from beyond the arc during the game, shooting 47 percent (8-of-17).
The Buckeyes shot 19-of-27 from the free throw line. Lenzelle Smith Jr. shot 6-of-7 from the field and scored 15 points for Ohio State. The Buckeyes also got a solid contribution from Aaron Craft, who scored 11. Cashmere Wright contributed 18 points, pulled down four rebounds, contributed three assists, and drilled 4-of-6 three-pointers for Cincinnati (26-11) in the loss. Justin Jackson was 4-of-5 from the floor and chipped in eight points for the Bearcats. Cincinnati was hot from long range, hitting 9-of-23 threes for a 39 percent night from beyond the arc. The Bearcats also got double-digit games from Jaquon Parker, who scored 10 and Sean Kilpatrick, who scored 15. Ohio State won the rebounding battle en route to victory, pulling down 33 boards to 25 for Cincinnati. The Buckeyes led 27-22 with 3:00 left in the first half before they widened the margin to 13 points with an 8-0 run that ended late in the first. Shannon Scott finished the run off with a field goal, which helped Ohio State lead 37-25 at halftime.
The Buckeyes will face a different look than most of the Big Ten employs later today when they face Cincinnati and its four guard lineup. Ohio State's conference is known more for big men and banging in the paint and while Yancy Gates can deliver that bruising experience the rest of the team is much smaller and quicker.
But what do the Buckeyes think about the look that the Bearcats will give them and could DeShaun Thomas be the X-Factor for the team in posing match-up issues for Cincinnati when it comes to size and shooting ability?
We caught up with several Buckeyes as well as Thomas himself to ask that question and more about what they think about the problems that UC will present. March 22, 2012 Source: BuckeyeGrove.com
Sweet Sixteen: OSU vs. Cincy Positional Matchups March 21, 2012 Source: Eleven Warriors - As nice as it has been to brag about Ohio putting 4 teams into the Sweet Sixteen, it’s now time to focus on a matchup that will end the season and send home one of those teams. The Bearcats of Cincinnati are an interesting team to meet in the tournament, because they play a 4 guard rotation, and also dominate many games in the paint. The numerous guards help to provide them with tremendous speed and athleticism on the court, and their big man, Yancy Gates, is a beast underneath and can hold his own with most players in the country. This is certainly going to be a tough game, and one that will likely resemble an OSU versus Michigan State game with a high level of physicality anytime a player gets near the paint. Compound that with the fact that Cincinnati fans/students seem to think that Ohio State is the devil and will no doubt be pulling out all the stops to send their in-state enemies home to Columbus.
Regardless, these teams once battled for National Championships, so it’s nice to see them facing each other again in a very meaningful game.
Below are my positional breakdowns for this Sweet Sixteen matchup
#1 Guard (Cashmere Wright vs. Aaron Craft)
Cashmere Wright (#1, 6', 170 lbs), Cincinnati’s point guard, has struggled shooting the ball in the tournament, so far. It’s hard to imagine those struggles improving when going up against the best on-ball defender in the country in Aaron Craft, but that’s what Wright will need to have happen in order to keep Cincy in this game. In his first two March Madness games in 2012, Wright is 6-18 from the field and just 1-8 from behind the arc. Craft, on the other hand, is 8-11 from the field in games against Loyola (MD) and Gonzaga.
Wright, like the other Cincinnati players, plays aggressively on both sides of the ball, so Craft will likely appreciate the 5 days of rest that he got after the Gonzaga game, because Cashmere and Co. will likely use a lot of motion to keep OSU running and switching. I don’t think that Aaron Craft will have the offensive output that he had against the Bulldogs, but should be close to 8-10 points. Similarly, I think that Wright will have a handful of assists in Thursday’s game, but will be held to under 10 points against the Buckeyes. Overall, I think this matchup is a push, since both players will produce close to their normal numbers.
#2 Guard (Dion Dixon vs. Lenzelle Smith, Jr.)
Dion Dixon (#3, 6’3", 195 lbs) will be a good matchup for Lenzelle Smith, Jr. because of his size and skill set. Dixon is quick and has the ability to drive the lane and score in the blink of an eye, averaging 13.1 points per game. However, he’s just an average shooter from the field (37%) and is allergic to the arc (26%). Smith Jr. will need to be alert and active defensively, as Dixon and his teammates are quick off the dribble and able to drive and score against less athletic teams. OSU will need to prove that they are able to defend this and force the outside shot whenever possible.
LSJ will need to make a shot here and there for the Bucks, move his feet and get into position on defense, and most importantly, grab rebounds! Having such a good rebounder at our #2 spot could go a long way in keeping offensive possessions going and ending the Bearcats looks at the other end. Once again, I think that both guards will be close to their averages, so I’ll push this matchup as well.
#3 Guard (Jaquon Parker vs. William Buford)
Ok, Buckeye fans, it’s the game that we’ve been waiting for… you know, the one where Buford scores 20 points and plays to his potential. I think that Thursday will be that game for William Buford, and hopefully the first of 4 to come in this tournament run. Jaquon Parker (#44, 6’3", 210 lbs) gives 3 inches to Buford, although Parker can certainly play bigger than his size. Parker is a very versatile player that can bang underneath and grab boards or hang back and hit from outside (38%). Buford will need to be on the top of his game, defensively, to prepare for Parker’s diverse attack.
However, I think that it is on the offensive end of the court that Buford will make his stand. Parker may be called upon to help in doubling-down on Sullinger and/or Thomas in the paint, and this should leave Buford with some open looks. If Buford can hit a couple of early shots, I think that his confidence will sky-rocket and he will nail 3-4 deep balls and a handful of mid-range jumpers. Naturally, he’s going to keep his streak of charging fouls going for this game, but I am giving the edge to Willy B in this one.
#4 Guard/Forward (Sean Kilpatrick vs. Deshaun Thomas)
It’s only fitting that the hot hand for the Bearcats should be lined up against OSU’s X Factor in this in-state battle. Sean Kilpatrick (#23, 6’4", 215 lbs) led Cincy with 18 points in their win over Florida State, matching Thomas’ total against Gonzaga. Kilpatrick, like many of Cincy’s players, is not necessarily the fastest or quickest person on the court, but simply has the entire package and natural ability to get to the lane, protect the ball, and get a good look at the basket. This helps them all, including Kilpatrick, to be solid players in all aspects of the game, whether it be scoring, grabbing rebounds, or playing lockdown defense. This guard is no exception, but he happens to be the Bearcat that I least want to see with the hot hand. He is most consistent scorer on the team, leading the way with 14.3 points per outing, is the most likely candidate to put the ball up from deep, and also happens to be second on the squad in rebounds and assists.
(Spoiler) So why do I like Deshaun Thomas in this matchup? Because Thomas can also hit from behind the arc, is an offensive rebounding freak of nature, in the kindest sense of the word, and has 3 inches on Kilpatrick. For some of the other matchups, that height factor might not play a big part, but because Cincinnati hates giving up space in the paint, I think that’s exactly what Matta will try to do. And what better player to throw into the mix down low than a guy that has a remarkable knack for finding the ball and getting it up quickly, like Thomas? Kilpatrick may still get his 12-14 points in this game, but Thomas’ presence inside will force Cincinnati to bring extra help and fold down onto he and Sullinger, thus allowing Buford a look from outside. Advantage = Thomas.
#5 Forward (Yancy Gates vs. Jared Sullinger)
Yancy Gates (#34, 6’9", 260 lbs), as I mentioned above, is a monster in the paint. When not suspended for 6 games for voilently suckerpunching people in the face during basketball games, Gates uses his giant frame to get and maintain good position under the basket. Like many people, after I watched that clip of Gates knocking a player out cold in a bench-clearing brawl, I never wanted to hear his name, read about him playing ball, or see him on TV again, and yet here we are. It’s nice to know that a player can be suspended for almost half of a football season for receiving free tattoos in exchange for his hard-earned trophies, and yet a thug that punches someone on the court and send them to the hospital will be allowed to play in 85% of his games in that season…but I digress.
Gates averages very close to a double-double per game, with 12.4 points and 9.1 rebounds. He will have a weight advantage on Jared Sullinger of about 20-25 pounds, but both use their physiques very well to get themselves under the rim for boards and points. Sullinger definitely holds the edge over Gates in shooting ability, as he can back out for mid-range shots and deep balls, where as Gates’ output comes largely from the paint and the free throw line. The Bearcats will likely throw Justin Jackson (#5, 6’8?, 210 lbs) into the game to battle with Sully as well, but the real competition will certainly be between Gates and Sullinger. Even more so than Sullinger versus Sacre (Gonzaga), I think that this matchup between the big men will be an epic battle that ends with Ohio State’s star on the winning end.
I expect both players to be at or above their averages in points and rebounds, but for Sullinger to outscore and outrebound Gates on Thursday night in Boston.
Overall Prediction: This game has all the makings of a down-to-the-wire thriller. Both teams can play solid, fundamental defense and have a number of players to account for offensively. Ultimately, I think that this game is decided in the paint. If Yancy Gates is able to own the box and force OSU outside for its looks, then the Buckeyes could be in trouble. Likewise, if Ohio State is able to play through Sullinger and Thomas down low and kick the ball out for open shots by Buford, Smith and Craft, then the Bearcats will be headed home. My edge goes to OSU in a tight one.
OSU 70 – Cincinnati 65 (a touch of irony for the 1961 NCAA Championship game)
Buckeyes Keys vs Bearcats
William Buford Game Winning Shot Against Michigan State Gives Ohio State 3rd straight Big Ten Championship
OSU Looking For Win In Newest Rivalry February 4, 2012 Source: BuckeyeSports.com - Ohio State's two meetings with Wisconsin last season were nothing if not spirited. If the events of those games weren't enough to spark a new rivalry, what's a stake in Saturday's meeting in Madison should be more than enough to remind both sides why this game has become so big...