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What to expect from the Final Four matchup, plus predictions for Kansas-Ohio State

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Jesse Newell: Welcome back to the GameDay Cram Session, as Kansas is taking on Ohio State on Saturday Night at the Final Four in New Orleans.

Matt, what impressed you most about Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger during your time interviewing him the last two days?

Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger turns to his teammates after missing a layup during a day of practices at the Superdome on Friday, March 30, 2012.

Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger turns to his teammates after missing a layup during a day of practices at the Superdome on Friday, March 30, 2012. by Nick Krug

Matt Tait: I'll say this, Sullinger seems like an easy guy to root for. He's humble, intelligent, unselfish and seems to be a genuinely good dude. It was fun listening to him talk about all he's gone through in his life to get to this point. He used to be a short chunky kid who got beat up on by his older brothers. Watching games with his dad, a coach, was more of an audio experience, as he said his dad used to "yap, yap, yap about every little thing during the games they watched."

This is a guy who has put in his time to become the player he is today. He has improved every year, he's a two-time All-American and I think he's one of the more underrated superstars we've seen in college basketball. Maybe that's because of his kind demeanor, but Sullinger is very deserving of every ounce of praise he gets. It should be a blast to watch him battle with Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson.

JN: Statistically, Sullinger gives Ohio State a huge boost from when it didn't have him in its first matchup against KU this year.

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta smiles as he watches over the Buckeye's during a day of practices at the Superdome on Friday, March 30, 2012.

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta smiles as he watches over the Buckeye's during a day of practices at the Superdome on Friday, March 30, 2012. by Nick Krug

Not only does he shoot it well from two, three and the the free-throw line, but he also frees up his teammates for open shots and draws more than six fouls per 40 minutes.

KU's interior defense will be challenged, and the Jayhawks will need center Jeff Withey to do everything he can to stay out of foul trouble. KU doesn't have a great defensive matchup for Sullinger if Withey goes to the bench, and if he checks out, the Jayhawks will almost certainly be forced to double-team the Ohio State big man. That would only make it harder for KU to try to limit the production of other dangerous shooters like the Buckeyes' Deshaun Thomas and William Buford.

Matt, fill in the blank: I am most interested to see how ____ plays in his first Final Four game.

MT: Tyshawn Taylor.

Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor scans around the Superdome as the Jayhawks take the court for practice on Friday, March 30, 2012.

Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor scans around the Superdome as the Jayhawks take the court for practice on Friday, March 30, 2012. by Nick Krug

A lot of people are going to be watching Thomas Robinson and Jared Sullinger throughout Saturday night's game. Understandably so. But it's Taylor who excites me in this one. The guy has been through so much in his career at Kansas and has joined the elite list of Jayhawks who got his team to a Final Four. I think you'll see a relaxed, confident and aggressive Taylor on Saturday night and I also think you'll see at least one of his three-pointers go down. When you get to this point, there's no time to stress and psych yourself out. Taylor understands that and I expect to see the point guard have a ball Saturday night.

JN: In the biggest game of his career, Taylor couldn't be going against a tougher college defender.

Aaron Craft might not take Taylor's soul, but he will play the best on-ball defense of any player that Taylor has seen over his four years.

Ohio State guard Aaron Craft goes up for a layup during a day of practices at the Superdome on Friday, March 30, 2012.

Ohio State guard Aaron Craft goes up for a layup during a day of practices at the Superdome on Friday, March 30, 2012. by Nick Krug

Craft forces turnovers in all sorts of different ways, as evidenced by a video by SI.com's Luke Winn that shows all 10 of the turnovers Craft forced in Ohio State's win over Cincinnati.

According to Winn, Craft is responsible for 40.2 percent of Ohio State’s total turnover production in the NCAA Tournament, which includes 13 credited steals, 5.5 uncredited turnovers, one charge taken and one moving-screen foul drawn.

Taylor's role in this one, obviously, is vital. Though Craft will swipe the ball away as a help defender, his main task will be to try to frustrate Taylor.

If Craft doesn't steal it from him, KU has a great chance at limiting its total number of giveaways, which could be crucial against an Ohio State team that gives up few second-chance points and also doesn't turn it over much itself.

OK, Matt, what's your prediction for this game?

The Kansas Jayhawks take the court for practice at the Superdome on Friday, March 30, 2012.

The Kansas Jayhawks take the court for practice at the Superdome on Friday, March 30, 2012. by Nick Krug

MT: This is an awesome matchup, one that I could see both teams believing they are going to win. And why not? If they played 10 times, they'd probably win five each. What more could you ask for in the Final Four.

Having said that, I think Saturday night will be one of the five nights that favors Kansas. A lot of people want to say that the revenge factor will be huge for Ohio State, but I see it as the opposite. At this time of year and on this type of stage, I think confidence is more critical than anything. When they look into the eyes of their opponents Saturday night, the Jayhawks — Sullinger or no Sullinger — will be looking into the eyes of guys they beat back in December. A lot has changed for both teams since then, but I'm expecting both teams to play well and KU's effort to be a little better. Kansas 71, Ohio State 65.

JN: I'll take Ohio State by five.

Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger talks about his regret for not playing the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse when the two teams met earlier this year, Thursday, March 29, 2012.

Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger talks about his regret for not playing the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse when the two teams met earlier this year, Thursday, March 29, 2012. by Nick Krug

While I expect a good game, Ohio State is the better team, and it's the first time this tournament I've been able to say that about KU's opponent.

Back in December against Ohio State, KU had its second-best shooting game of the entire season in its 78-67 victory. Obviously, the Jayhawks had a lot to do with that, getting lots of layups while taking very few mid-range jumpers.

If you take out the shooting numbers, though, you can see how Ohio State can be a dangerous team.

The Buckeyes had 14 more field-goal attempts than the Jayhawks in that game (62 to 48), as KU turned it over on 26 percent of its possessions while only grabbing six of 22 available offensive rebounds.

Ohio State is tough to beat because it will try to out-possession opponents, taking its chances that it won't lose often when it turns the ball over less and offensive rebounds more than its foe.

KU was able to overcome it all with hot shooting in December, but I'm not banking on that happening again Saturday night.

Kansas guard Travis Releford pumps his fist after forcing Ohio State guard William Buford to turn it over in the first half Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Travis Releford pumps his fist after forcing Ohio State guard William Buford to turn it over in the first half Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Though this one should be close throughout, I'll pick Ohio State to pull away late.

All right, Matt, who's your Hawk to Rock?

MT: Give me Jeff Withey.

Kansas center Jeff Withey celebrates with director of basketball operations Barry Hinson after the Jayhawks' 80-67 win over North Carolina to advance to the Final Four on Sunday,  March 25, 2012 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Kansas center Jeff Withey celebrates with director of basketball operations Barry Hinson after the Jayhawks' 80-67 win over North Carolina to advance to the Final Four on Sunday, March 25, 2012 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. by Nick Krug

I think Withey's length and shot-blocking ability will frustrate Sullinger throughout the night, giving KU an advantage on both ends. Tons of people within the Ohio State program talked this week about that type of player being the one guy that Sullinger has had trouble with and I think Withey will be up for this one. He might not block a ton of shots or score a ton of points, but his presence will be huge and will be the difference.

JN: I'll take Elijah Johnson.

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson comes away with a steal from North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes during the first half on Sunday,  March 25, 2012 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson comes away with a steal from North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes during the first half on Sunday, March 25, 2012 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. by Nick Krug

If Ohio State's defense does have a weakness, it's that the Buckeyes allow a high number of three-pointers to opponents.

Johnson took advantage of this in the teams' first matchup, going 5-for-7 from three to finish with 15 points.

The junior guard will need to be aggressive Saturday night, helping to create offense for KU with a much easier defensive player on him (Lenzelle Smith Jr.) than Taylor has.

I'll say that Johnson finishes with four threes and at least five assists against the Buckeyes' tough D.

Predictions tally (through 37 games)
Tom/Matt: 30-7 record, 329 points off (8.9 points off/game)
Jesse: 33-4 record, 283 points off (7.6 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock

Tom Keegan/Matt Tait
Towson: Tyshawn Taylor (4th in Keegan ratings)
Kentucky: Tyshawn Taylor (1st in Keegan ratings)
Georgetown: Elijah Johnson (4th in Keegan ratings)
UCLA: Tyshawn Taylor (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Duke: Elijah Johnson (4th in Keegan ratings)
FAU: Jeff Withey (4th in Keegan ratings)
South Florida: Tyshawn Taylor (1st in Keegan ratings)
Long Beach State: Elijah Johnson (7th in Keegan ratings)
Ohio State: Thomas Robinson (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Davidson: Thomas Robinson (1st in Keegan ratings)
USC: Jeff Withey (4th in Keegan ratings)
Howard: Kevin Young (4th in Keegan ratings)
North Dakota: Elijah Johnson (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Kansas State: Tyshawn Taylor (5th in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma: Tyshawn Taylor (4th in Keegan ratings)
Texas Tech: Thomas Robinson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Iowa State: Elijah Johnson (4th in Keegan ratings)
Baylor: Thomas Robinson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Texas: Thomas Robinson (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Texas A&M: Thomas Robinson (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Iowa State: Tyshawn Taylor (1st in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma: Thomas Robinson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Missouri: Thomas Robinson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Baylor: Thomas Robinson (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma State: Thomas Robinson (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Kansas State: Tyshawn Taylor (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Texas Tech: Thomas Robinson (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Texas A&M: Tyshawn Taylor (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Missouri: Thomas Robinson (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma State: Travis Releford (7th in Keegan ratings)
Texas: Tyshawn Taylor (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Texas A&M: Tyshawn Taylor (4th in Keegan ratings)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Detroit: Tyshawn Taylor (4th in Keegan ratings)
Purdue: Thomas Robinson (4th in Keegan ratings)
N.C. State: Tyshawn Taylor (7th in Keegan ratings)
North Carolina: Tyshawn Taylor (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Average: 3rd in Keegan ratings

Jesse Newell
Towson: Conner Teahan (6th in Keegan ratings)
Kentucky: Elijah Johnson (4th in Keegan ratings)
Georgetown: Kevin Young (9th in Keegan ratings)
UCLA: Elijah Johnson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Duke: Thomas Robinson (1st in Keegan ratings)
FAU: Tyshawn Taylor (7th in Keegan ratings)
South Florida: Elijah Johnson (6th in Keegan ratings)
Long Beach State: Thomas Robinson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Ohio State: Travis Releford (5th in Keegan ratings)
Davidson: Jeff Withey (5th in Keegan ratings)
USC: Elijah Johnson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Howard: Tyshawn Taylor (1st in Keegan ratings)
North Dakota: Conner Teahan (5th in Keegan ratings)
Kansas State: Travis Releford (1st in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma: Elijah Johnson (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Texas Tech: Travis Releford (2nd in Keegan ratings
Iowa State: Thomas Robinson (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Baylor: Kevin Young (9th in Keegan ratings)
Texas: Travis Releford (5th in Keegan ratings)
Texas A&M: Tyshawn Taylor (1st in Keegan ratings)
Iowa State: Jeff Withey (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma: Conner Teahan (6th in Keegan ratings)
Missouri: Kevin Young (8th in Keegan ratings)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (1st in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma State: Tyshawn Taylor (4th in Keegan ratings)
Kansas State: Travis Releford (4th in Keegan ratings)
Texas Tech: Kevin Young (4th in Keegan ratings)
Texas A&M: Jeff Withey (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Missouri: Travis Releford (6th in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma State: Jeff Withey (6th in Keegan ratings)
Texas: Thomas Robinson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Texas A&M: Jeff Withey (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Baylor: Kevin Young (5th in Keegan ratings)
Detroit: Jeff Withey (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Purdue: Tyshawn Taylor (3rd in Keegan ratings)
N.C. State: Jeff Withey (1st in Keegan ratings)
North Carolina: Thomas Robinson (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Average: 3.8th in Keegan ratings

Comments

VaJay 5 years, 6 months ago

Hawk to Rock: TT - he's 100% healthy & will outduel Kraft.

Kevin Crook 5 years, 6 months ago

If either team shoots it poorly, they lose. If either team shoots it really well, they win. Foul trouble could play a role, though the games have not been called too closely in the paint in the tourney. Plenty of head scratching touch fouls called on the perimeter though. I think Ohio St is the better team, but the best team does not always win. If TT comes up really big, we get timely threes from a number of guys, and TRob has his usual game, I really like our chances.

Matt Bowers 5 years, 6 months ago

We made it this far, why stop believing? When no one expects KU to win, KU gets aggressive and produces. I'm hoping to see that look in TRob's eye that I saw against UNC, I knew as soon as I saw that look that it was game on. They are a better team, but this is why we play the game. Win or lose, I love this team and how far it has come.

Rock Chalk

97jhawk 5 years, 6 months ago

Jesse, you so disappoint me. You've jinxed us now.

You have to remember that when KU played OSU in the regular season that it was the 9th game of the season and the Jayhawks aren't the same team now as they were then. Also, Sullinger isn't as good as he was last yr for OSU. Not sure why none of that factors in for your decision. I think you're blinded by your own stats....haha.

Thanks Matt for staying loyal to KU on your picks.

Regardless, you guys do a good job with KU sports and we all appreciative it.

gchawk 5 years, 6 months ago

Actually we seem to perform better when one of the reporters bets against us. I definitely agree with you concerning Jesse being disappointing in his analyses, so I choose to side with Matt because he's simply saying what I want to hear and believe! Rock Chalk.

Mandie Eutsler 5 years, 6 months ago

I think underestimating Releford on the defensive end is a mistake. Can't believe you guys left him out of the discussion! Personally I like the matchups and I think we can handle Craft. TT will have a slow start, but he'll get going and drive to the hole. One of OSU's big guys will get into foul trouble. Should be a good one, can't wait. Rock Chalk!!!

Jeff Kilgore 5 years, 6 months ago

YES! Ask Harrison Barnes how his game went last week. The other thing missing here is Tyshawn's 13 assists against Craft with a bum knee. He is much faster than Craft. That matters at crunch time.

FoCoCoHawk 5 years, 6 months ago

Racehorse pace in the 1st half...coaching chess match in the 2nd. Self will prevail in a battle of attrition. Could come down to the last few possession but I predict Hawks have it in hand by making clutch stops and the occasional three point play, of each variety. Too much talk about Kentucky is inevitable and the timeouts will take forever.

Overtime pay for cops on Mass St.

justinryman 5 years, 6 months ago

My Hawk to Rock--The whole team!!!!!

That's what has gotten them to the Final 4 and it will continue to carry them further!

litlmikeyb 5 years, 6 months ago

I think quite a bit depends on how this game will be called. If they call this game similar to the NC State game, I favor us quite a bit. We need some freedom to bang inside. However, if they start calling the ticky tack fouls they called in the UNC game, we may be in trouble. Let's go boys!

P.S. Must say being at the Final Four - AMAZING experience and the game hasn't even started yet. As evidenced by my avatar picture that was taken at 11:30PM last night!

gchawk 5 years, 6 months ago

Great picture. Yell extra loud for those of us who are relegated to watching on TV!

texashawk10 5 years, 6 months ago

If they call it close, Sullinger has had major issues with foul problems himself this year so even if they call it tight it doesn't necessarily favor the Buckeyes either.

Eric Baker 5 years, 6 months ago

I posted this on Keegan's Craft/Taylor article, but it fits here, too.

Aaron Craft fouled out of the Syracuse game. He finished 1-3 from the field and 3-3 from the line (5 points). He only had one steal, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, and played all but one minute.

Tyshawn Taylor only had two fouls in the North Carolina game. He finished 10-19 (10-14 for 2 pointers), and 2-4 from the line (22 points). He had 5 steals, 5 assists, 3 turnovers, and and played all but 4 minutes.

If we get Tyshawn like that game, and they get Craft like their last game, we have a huge advantage. Especially if the Syracuse game is an indication of how the refs will call Craft's steals, ie correctly calling them fouls when they're fouls. In addition, we have our starting point guard for next year already starting at the off guard, giving us two primary ball handlers that dished out 5 assists apiece last game. Who else does Ohio State have if Craft gets in foul trouble or just doesn't play well?.

Tyshawn played a healthy, intense Craft in the 9th game of our season. Craft played an unfocused, turnover prone Tyshawn who was powering through a torn meniscus. Craft has gotten better, but Tyshawn's practically a different player now. Advantage Tyshawn.

I'm also surprised the hero of the last Ohio State game, Kevin Young, isn't mentioned at all. He's remarkably improved even over that game, especially in terms of rebounding, which will be a major key in this game.

Jesse's all doom and gloom, but I like our chances. Especially if Elijah stays hot from behind the arc and either Connor or Tyshawn can find their shot, too.

FLJHK 5 years, 6 months ago

Going against the tides, my predictions are as follows:

  1. Tonight's game will be relatively low-scoring, bang-'em-up, Big 10 style. It will be extremely close and will come down to a couple of key possessions. The winner will be the team that wants it most. That team is Kansas.

  2. Monday night's game against (I predict Kentucky) will be up-tempo. Kentucky will lead most of the first half and through early parts of the second half. But when crunch time comes, Kansas will not only win, but will do so going away. This game will be less difficult than tonight's.

The University of Kansas Jayhawks, 2012 National Champions.

Rock Chalk!

Ron Franklin 5 years, 6 months ago

psssssst....hey WIthey, I heard Sullinger called you a big pussy cat.

REHawk 5 years, 6 months ago

If Withey plays 27+ minutes, Jayhawks win. 21 minutes, Buckeyes win. Fouls and freethrow numbers huge factors in deciding a very close game tonight.

Jean Robart 5 years, 6 months ago

Is that egg on your faces tonight guys? I can't believe OSU was your pick. Have a little faith.

Thomas Michaud 5 years, 6 months ago

Good call by Tait! Both the win an player to rock!

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