The last time Kansas faced Ohio State, the situation was vastly different, even though it was just a few months ago. And unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the Buckeyes now have the one piece of the puzzle they were missing in December:
Kansas and Ohio State, both No. 2 seeds, will square off in the Final Four on Saturday, reprising a matchup on December 10 that the Jayhawks won 78-67 at home. The Buckeyes were ranked second in the nation while the Jayhawks were 13th, and Kansas badly needed a quality win after losing to Duke and Kentucky.
They got that win because they outmatched a Sullinger-less Buckeyes team.
Kansas star Tyshawn Taylor, playing with a torn meniscus and a sprained MCL in his right knee, turned in one of his best performances of the year, tallying a career-high 13 assists. If he hadn't played, the Jayhawks wouldn't have won—head coach Bill Self himself admitted it, telling the Associated Press, "We don't win the game tonight if he doesn't play."
Sullinger is Ohio State's version of that.
The sophomore forward was scratched just before the game with a tight back, missing his second straight (the first was a week earlier against Texas-Pan American, a game his teammates took care of, 64-35). Sullinger returned four days later against USC Upstate, then played just six minutes of the Buckeyes' next game against South Carolina. He has been fine ever since.
The All-American—who considered leaving Ohio State after his freshman year to enter the NBA draft—averaged 17.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and a block per game this year. In the Buckeyes' Sweet 16 win over Cincinnati, he tallied 23 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
He is the kind of player who can change the entire course of a game, a fact Self is well aware of. After Kansas' win in December, he told the AP:
I don't think you put an asterisk with the win. Ohio State can certainly say, and rightfully so, "Jared didn't play." And we know he didn't play, and they're a much better team without him. We wanted him to play. But just because he plays doesn't guarantee anything.
Except it does guarantee something—that this Ohio State team will be nothing like the one Kansas beat in December.
Sullinger will be sure to prove he could've been the game-changer back then.