The Ohio State men’s basketball team finally hits the road after winning eight straight home games to open the season. The No. 2 Buckeyes head to one of the nation’s toughest places for a visiting team—Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence Kansas, where they will take on the No. 13 Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas (6-2) represents the third and final major non-conference test for the Buckeyes, who will close the pre-B1G slate with home games against South Carolina-Upstate, Lamar and Miami of Ohio, sandwiched around a trip to South Carolina to play the Gamecocks. Ohio State passed its first two big tests with flying colors, beating Florida and Duke at home.
The Jayhawks hold a 4-3 edge in the all-time series and have won the last two meetings, most recently by an 80-67 margin in Lawrence in 1999. Michael Redd (20) and Scoonie Penn (19) combined to score 39 of the Buckeyes’ 67 points on a night that saw the OSU bench outscored 22-2. Those two points off the bench came from the late Brent Darby. Ohio State is 1-2 at Kansas, 1-1 at home against the Jayhawks and 1-1 at neutral sites. The last time the Buckeyes won in this series was back in December of 1986, in a 79-78 overtime thriller at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu. This game will be a very difficult challenge if Jared Sullinger can’t return from the back spasms caused by an aggravated disk that forced him to miss last Saturday’s game against Texas-Pan American. Thad Matta told Bob Baptist he didn’t expect Sullinger’s health to be a long-term concern, but we’ll see. Even with a healthy Sullinger, it is not an easy task to win at Kansas. The Jayhawks have dropped only two home games since the start of the 2007-08 season.
Kansas, one of college basketball’s blue blood programs, has opened the season with a very competitive slate of games and boasts the nation’s seventh toughest schedule. Both losses came on neutral floors to Top 5 opponents. The Jayhawks fell 75-65 to No. 1 Kentucky in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15, then beat Georgetown and UCLA, before losing 68-61 to Duke in the Maui Classic final. Since losing to Duke, the Jayhawks have won three straight, including Tuesday night’s 88-80 home win over Long Beach State. Kansas Head Coach Bill Self had some less-than-flattering things to say about his team after the game.
“Our offense sucks,” Self said. “We are the worst passing team I’ve ever seen. It’s ridiculous to watch.”
Ouch. I’m not sure it was all that bad for Kansas, despite 22 turnovers. The Jayhawks blocked 12 shots, including an amazing nine by redshirt junior center Jeff Withey (#5), a 7-foot, 235-pound behemoth from San Diego. Withey scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, falling just one block shy of a triple-double. Junior forward Thomas Robinson (#0), a pre-season All-American, scored 26 points and snatched 11 boards, giving Kansas two double-doubles on the night. At 6-10, Robinson provides considerable backup for the 7-foot Withey in the Kansas front court, and he is the team’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game. Robinson also averages a double-double (12 RPG).
Joining Robinson and Withey in the Jayhawks’ starting lineup are a trio of guards, senior Tyshawn Taylor (#10), and juniors Elijah Johnson (#15) and Travis Releford (#24), although redshirt senior guard Connor Teahan (#2) has one start this season. Taylor averages 16.8 points per game. Johnson, Withey, Releford and Teahan are all around eight points per contest, with Taylor and Johnson adding almost four assists per game each. Taylor is hitting an amazing 57% of his three-point shots (12-21) and Teahan is hitting 45% (14-31). Johnson has attempted the most (44) but is hitting less than 30% beyond the arc. Despite his height, Withey is only grabbing six rebounds per game, but he does have 23 blocks on the season. Off the bench, 6-9 redshirt sophomore forward Justin Wesley (#4) generally sees some meaningful minutes, as does 6-8 junior forward Kevin Young (#40). Self has run his rotation much like Thad Matta this season, with his starters getting the bulk of the action in close games and just a few reserves playing key roles.
Self favors the 3-out/2-in motion offense reputed to be created by Henry Iba, and developed and enhanced by Bob Knight at Indiana. The offense focuses on correct floor spacing, with an emphasis on passing, cutting and screening to find good shots. Players are given the freedom to find the best option rather than running a set play. This kind of offense can be run out of any set, but Self’s personnel this season are perfect for a 3-out/2-in set (three perimeter players and two post players). To get a quick glimpse of how it looks in action, check the video below or learn more about it here. The danger for Ohio State is that Kansas has two good post players. If the ball enters the post on the ball side, the weak-side post should drive to the basket for a pass or a rebound. The Buckeyes have to be wary of that, particularly if they double team. Expect Kansas to get a few easy baskets due to Ohio State’s youth, especially since this will be the team’s first foray into hostile territory.
Notes: The game can be seen on ESPN at 3:15 p.m. EST…If Sullinger is able to play, the battle between he and Robinson should be fun to watch. The two have met before at both the Lebron James Skills Academy and the Amar’e Stoudemire Skills Academy last offseason…William Buford is 14 points shy of catching Terrance Dials for 12th place on the all-time OSU scoring list and is coming off his worst game of the season, a two-point effort against UTPA.