The Final Four matchup between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Kansas Jayhawks has plenty of star power, but could ultimately be decided by the supporting casts.
Ohio State is a 2½-point favorite with a total of 136½-137. The spread is exactly where it opened for these No. 2 seeds. The Saturday coverage on CBS should start around 8:49 p.m. (ET) after the in-state, mega-clash between Kentucky and Louisville.
The Buckeyes (31-7 straight up, 20-13 against the spread) won the East Region in Boston thanks to a 77-70 decision over top-seed Syracuse. They were 2½-point favorites despite being the lower seed as the Orange were missing center Fab Melo, suspended the whole tourney due to academics. Ohio State is 3-1 ATS during March Madness and 6-2 ATS in its last eight.
The 147 combined points scored last game went well ‘over’ the 135½-point total. The ‘over’ is 4-0 for the Buckeyes this tourney (scoring 77.3 PPG and allowing 65.3 PPG) and 10-1 in their last 11 overall. The ‘over’ is also 13-4-1 in their road plus neutral site games this season.
Big man Jared Sullinger took advantage of Melo’s absence, scoring 19 points, including 9-of-12 from the line. He’s listed as third in the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player odds, with three of the top-5 in this game (see table).
Sullinger (17.6 PPG) is one of the nation’s best low-post scorers and a legitimate wide-body. However, he’s generously listed at 6-foot-9 and could struggle while being defended by seven-foot Kansas center Jeff Withey.
Forward Deshaun Thomas (16.1 PPG) has led Ohio State in scoring the last four games at 21.8 PPG, and will have to step up big if Sullinger is neutralized. Shooting guard William Buford (14.4 PPG) is the third big scorer numbers-wise, but he’s shot just 38.6 percent from the field since January 7, including 29.5 percent (13-of-44) during this tournament.
Point guard Aaron Craft is a gritty player on both ends of the court, but not a huge scorer (8.8 PPG). Sophomore Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6.7 PPG), has exploded for 35 combined points the last two games, but can’t be counted on that again. There is almost no bench production, although Kansas isn’t much better.
|Anthony Davis (Kentucky)
|Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky)
|Jared Sullinger (Ohio State)
|Thomas Robinson (Kansas)
|Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State)
The Jayhawks (31-6 SU, 18-17-1 ATS) won the Midwest Region in St. Louis with an 80-67 decision over top-seed North Carolina. They were two-point closing favorites, buoyed by the Tar Heels being without injured point guard Kendall Marshall. Kansas is 2-2 ATS during March Madness, failing to cover the prior two in close wins over NC State (60-57) and Purdue (63-60).
The 147 combined points scored last game went ‘over’ the 141½-point total. The ‘under’ was 3-0 in Kansas’ first three tourney games, scoring 62.7 PPG and allowing 55.7.
The Jayhawks have the height advantage down low in this contest with Withey and Thomas Robinson who is listed at 6-foot-10. Robinson (17.7 PPG) is the leading scorer for the year, but his points (15.8 PPG) and shooting percentage (37.9) are down this tourney. He’ll be able to take OSU’s Thomas down low, although there will be a mismatch on the other end when Robinson guards him on the perimeter.
Guard Tyshawn Taylor (16.7 PPG) is the other big scorer and had a great game against North Carolina with 22 points. He was really helped by Marshall being out and replaced by the defensively-challenged Stilman White. Taylor will have a much tougher time against Craft and Kansas can’t afford another 2-of-14 effort (six points) like against NC State.
Look for the Jayhawks to get the ball into Withey (9.2 PPG) early, as he’s a better scorer than given credit for (15 points vs. North Carolina) and they would love to get Sullinger into foul trouble. The rest of the starting lineup is guards Elijah Johnson (10.0 PPG) and Travis Relford (8.5 PPG). Both are juniors, but it’s Johnson who has been more aggressive lately (15.8 PPG last six).
Kansas beat Ohio State back on December 10 in Lawrence, 78-67 as 1½-point home favorites. Ohio State was undefeated and ranked second in the country heading in, but Sullinger was a late scratch with a back issue, shifting the spread. Robinson had 21 points, while Taylor had nine points and 13 assists despite playing with a knee injury. Buford and Thomas scored 21 and 19 respectively for OSU.
Kansas coach Bill Self is under less pressure than Ohio’s State’s Thad Matta. After all, Self and the Jayhawks won the 2008 national title over a Memphis Tigers team coached by John Calipari. There’s a good chance Calipari and Kentucky will win the Final Four opener on Saturday and be awaiting its opponent for Monday night’s final.
Matta made the national title game in 2007 with Greg Oden and company, but lost (84-75) to a juggernaut Florida squad that won its second championship in as many years. The Buckeyes still haven’t won the whole thing since 1960 when Jerry Lucas starred.