2012 Final Four: Ohio State Buckeyes vs Kansas Jayhawks Preview

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2012 Final Four: Ohio State Buckeyes vs Kansas Jayhawks Preview
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

While the Kentucky vs. Louisville is getting more attention from the media, the Ohio State and Kansas game will probably be a closer matchup.  After last year's Final Four, and ugly National Championship game, this Final Four pairing is making us drool. Let's take a closer look at which of these storied programs will make yet another trip to the National Championship game.

Bill Self, much like Rick Pitino, is displaying some of the best coaching of his career.  His Jayhawks bested the shorthanded Tar Heels in the Elite Eight behind Tyshawn Taylor's 22 points. 

Taylor had fallen apart before the Elite Eight, scoring less than 10 points in each of his first three tournament games.  He is also 0-17 from behind the arc during the tourney.  For the Jayhawks to advance, Taylor will have to be much more efficient and play like he did against UNC.

Guarding Taylor will likely be Aaron Craft, who was named the Big Ten defensive player of the year by the coaches.  Craft is averaging 3.3 steals in the tournament, so far, including a whopping six steals against Cincinnati in the Sweet Sixteen.  All eyes will be on Jared Sullinger and Thomas Robinson, but this is the matchup that will determine the outcome of the game.

While Taylor has struggled through the early stages of the tournament, Elijah Johnson has picked up the slack.  He will surely be getting his touches tonight with Craft bothering Taylor.  Relieving some of the scoring pressure off of Taylor will be an important part of the Jayhawks' half-court offense.

Across from Johnson is a very similar player for Ohio State. 

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Similar in stature, Lenzelle Smith Jr. is a better outside shooter but hasn't fared as well from the free throw line.  Smith has a couple pounds on Johnson so look for him to grab a few more rebounds for the Buckeyes.  This guard matchup will be the most balanced of any matchup during the game, so it will be interesting to see which player can give their team the edge.

While the guard positions provide several storylines, the story in post-game is the most interesting. 

Jeff Withey is a force to be reckoned with.  The Jayhawks' center stands seven feet tall and falls just below the 240-lb line.  He is a shot blocking machine and will provide some matchup issues for the shorter Buckeye forwards.

Then there is the headline matchup—Robinson against Sullinger.

Neither team has come out and said that they will be matched up against each other, but all signs point to this being the likely lineup. Both players score at will and will be the center of the offensive attention for both teams when they meet again the weekend. 

We missed the matchup back in December when Sullinger sat out with a back problem.  This time, we won't be disappointed.  Sullinger's 17 points and 10 rebound average is almost a mirror image of Robinson's 17 and 12.  The key will be if either player gets into foul trouble, which could easily be a game-changer.  The physical style of play will surely lead to fouls, but Robinson and Sullinger must avoid the ticky-tack fouls, so they can remain on the floor.

This Final Four game looks to be much closer than the Louisville and Kentucky game.  In the end, I think Craft will play tough defense on Taylor forcing some ill-advised shots and a tough shooting game.  The lack of offensive production from Taylor will be too much for Smith Jr. and Releford to overcome on the offensive side of the ball, forcing Thomas Robinson to do too much. 

This will be a one or two possession game until the very end.  Whichever team can hit a big shot or a make a big play near the end of the game will be the one standing after the smoke clears.  It appears it will be decided by the flip of a coin.

Verdict: Ohio State 75 Kansas 73

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