Ohio State plays its toughest game on the schedule to date, and maybe toughest of all the regular season, on Saturday when it plays host to the Kansas Jaybirds. The game will be televised on CBS with a tip-off at 4pm ET. Be there, or be square.
It will be the third time the Buckeyes have played Kansas in the last year, dating back to the first leg of the home-and-home in Lawrence, Kansas. The Buckeyes were without Jared Sullinger in that game, ultimately dropping a 78-67 decision. As fate would have it, the Buckeyes and Jaybirds met again in New Orleans in the Final Four that same season. The Buckeyes dominated the proceedings in the first half, before wilting in the final twenty minutes and conceding the path for Kansas to the national championship game. Pending another post-season meeting in the near future, this will be the last time the Buckeyes play this particular brand of college basketball royalty for some time.
We have seen the Buckeyes play enough games to know where our problems are. Though we have, ostensibly, three options for the pivot, we don’t have a lot of confidence in Evan Ravenel, Amir Williams, or Trey McDonald at the moment. Enter Kansas center Jeff Withey (#5). Withey is averaging 14.1ppg and 8.1rpg this season, and could single-handedly win the game for Kansas if Ravenel is only average this game and Amir Williams continues to look lost. He was the biggest problem for Ohio State in the Final Four, finishing with eight rebounds and seven (!!) blocks. He will be the gate-keeper for an Ohio State victory. We need to solve him while we have the ball, and I doubt that just shooting away and over him will be sufficient.
The Jaybirds are led in scoring by Ben McLemore (#23), a 6’5 redshirt freshman guard. He averages 15.9ppg and 5.7rpg from his (mostly) two guard position. In the highest profile (and really, only important) game Kansas has played to date, McLemore 14 points on 5/7 shooting in the last second loss to Michigan State. Point guard duties will be managed by 6’4 Elijah Johnson (#15), who averages 5.3apg to complement 9.6ppg. The gray area between third guard/small forward, ubiquitous in college basketball, will be done by Travis Releford (#24), who leads the team in minutes played and averages 13/3/3. In that loss to Sparty, Johnson and Releford didn’t really have quality games to complement McLemore. Perry Ellis (#34) will probably start at the four position. He averages 6ppg and 3rpg and will be kind of a bit player for the team this game. Naadir Tharpe (#1), Jamari Traylor (#31), Justin Wesley (#4), and Kevin Young (#40) will all get minutes in various rotations and looks for Bill Self’s Jaybirds.
Kansas wins if… Jeff Withey scores his season average in points, which, rounded down, is 14 points per game. Withey’s biggest impact is on defense, where he will likely bother Ohio State’s efforts to attack the paint, get easy baskets, and get Kansas in foul trouble. He really isn’t that much of a deal on offense. That’s not to say he’s limited or terrible, just that Kansas’ athletic guards do most of the scoring in lieu of the front court players. If Withey is scoring, it’s because, he like that Plumlee character for Duke, is making Ravenel look pedestrian or making Amir Williams look lost. If Withey is getting easy layups or dunks for Kansas, it’ll compensate another deficiency in Kansas’ team: it’s not much of a shooting team. Kansas gets most of its points attacking the rim with its athletic guards. An imperfect proxy for jump shooting, the Jaybirds are shooting only 33% from the perimeter. McLemore is the “best” three point shooter, hitting 39.5% of this three point opportunities.
Ohio State wins if… Aaron Craft is in double figures in points and shooting at (preferably above) 50%. Remember what Duke did to us last month in the B1G TEN/ACC Challenge? Duke blew up our screen and roll game with Craft and Deshaun Thomas by doubling and not coming off Deshaun Thomas on the screen he set. In short, Duke accomplished two things against Ohio State. It used its size inside to scare Craft away from the rim. Like Duke, Kansas has size inside that can scare Craft away from attempting a layup. Thereafter, Duke forced Craft to settle for 15ft pull-up jumpers, daring him to make them. He did not. Thus, Duke used the second half to essentially silence the heart of our offense by taking Deshaun Thomas out of the game. Craft has to make these shots, or enough of them, to keep Kansas’ defense honest and allow Deshaun Thomas an easier path to all the festivities.
The other option here is really the wildcard in all this: Shannon Scott. Scott has become Craft’s brother from a different mother while on the court, bringing the effort and intensity on defense and distributing the ball to the scoring options like Lenzelle Smith and Sam Thompson’s dunkslaughters. However, that is lesser competition. If he can do the same thing against Kansas, we have a real talking point from this game for the water coolers. Therein, Ohio State can demonstrate that it’s potentially a viable contender for a second consecutive Final Four (looking way down the road).
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