Final Four: Elijah Johnson Is Key to a Kansas Jayhawk's Win over Ohio State

Mick AkersAnalyst IMarch 31, 2012

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 18: Elijah Johnson #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks brings the ball up court against the Purdue Boilermakers during the second round of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament at CenturyLink Center March 18, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

The Kansas Jayhawks will need a big effort out of junior guard Elijah Johnson in order to take down the Ohio State Buckeyes and make the title game of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since their 2008 win over the Memphis Tigers.

Johnson having a big game against Ohio State will make it that much easier for Kansas to beat the slightly favored Buckeyes on Saturday.

If I had told you this just last year, I might sound like a crazy person as Johnson averaged 3.4 points, 1.8 assist and 1.3 rebounds in 13.7 minutes per game and was thought to be on the verge of transferring out of the Jayhawks program.

What a difference a year makes. Johnson has averaged 9.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and three assists a game this season and has averaged 13.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

Johnson's three-point game will be key to Kansas keeping up with Ohio State, as he was the third-best shooter beyond the arch for Kansas in the regular season behind Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson.

Johnson has stepped up his three-point assault in the NCAA Tournament hitting 9-of-20 threes for an average of about 45 percent, compared to that of Taylor and Robinson combining for a total of 1-of-18 from three-point land for a whopping 5.5 percent.

If Johnson can continue to knock down his outside shots, and keep up his solid defensive performance, then the below-average play of Taylor and Robinson will not matter as much to the Jayhawks as long as Taylor can dish out at least six assists and keep his turnovers at a minimum.

So Johnson, once a player who was thought to be ready to move on from a Jayhawks team that gave him little action last season, could be the ultimate reason that Kansas gets back to the title game.

Johnson could prove that transferring out of a program is not always the best answer—tell that to the 173 players transferring this offseason—and show that waiting it out could lead him to becoming the deciding factor whether the Jayhawks are a Final Four casualty or a legitimate championship contender.