Ohio State Basketball

NCAA Bracket 2012: Jared Sullinger and Buckeyes Who Must Come Up Big on Saturday

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 24:  Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates after defeating the Syracuse Orange during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional Final at TD Garden on March 24, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Jeff ChaseSenior Analyst IIMarch 31, 2012

The Ohio State Buckeyes have a tough matchup in store with the Kansas Jayhawks in this year's Final Four in New Orleans, but huge performances from players like Jared Sullinger will be sure to help elevate their game and reach the title game of this year's NCAA tournament.

The Buckeyes have been rather convincing thus far in the tournament, but at this juncture, you can't just rely on what has happened in the past, as the Jayhawks have pretty much faced the exact same obstacles to get here as well.

The two played each other back on December 12, as the Jayhawks beat the Buckeyes 78-67 in Allen Field House. Most notably, Sullinger wasn't active for this game due to back pain.

This tournament has been exciting to watch thus far, as have the Buckeyes. If they plan to keep it going into the title game, the following guys must come up big against the Jayhawks.


Deshaun ThomasF

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 24:  Deshaun Thomas #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates towards the end of the game against the Syracuse Orange during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional Final at TD Garden on March 24, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Ph
Michael Heiman/Getty Images

Thomas has been a force all season long for the Buckeyes and has been coming up huge for the team in this year's tournament.

After opening up the first round with 31 points and 12 rebounds against Loyola Maryland, Thomas has put up 18 against Gonzaga, 24 against Cincinnati and most recently 14 points and nine rebounds against the No. 1-seeded Syracuse Orange.

While those numbers have been strong, Thomas can't fall off the map.

In the team's loss to Michigan State in this year's Big Ten tournament final, Thomas scored just 11 points while grabbing six boards in 40 minutes. That included going just 4-of-12 from the field.

He can only do so much, though, as even in the team's loss against KU earlier this year, Thomas scored 19 points as they still fell by nine.


Lenzelle Smith, Jr.G

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 17:  Lenzelle Smith, Jr. #32 of the Ohio State Buckeyes defends against Sam Dower #35 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Consol Energy Center on March 17, 2012 in Pittsburg
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Despite averaging just 6.1 points per game this season, Sophomore guard Smith has come up huge for the Buckeyes in their last few games.

In the Sweet 16 against the Cincinnati Bearcats, Smith went 7-of-8 from the field while scoring 17 points and bringing in six boards. Three of those field goals came from beyond the arc, which can be huge in this game against the Jayhawks.

He also had a strong showing against the Orange in the Elite Eight, as he scored 18 points in 35 minutes. The key difference here was his shot selection, as he dropped from the 87.5 percent in the previous round to just 40 percent. 

As long as he can keep up the scoring, most notably from beyond the arc, Smith will be that key difference in the Buckeyes winning or losing this game.


Jared Sullinger F

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 24:  Deshaun Thomas #1 and Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrate towards the end of the game against the Syracuse Orange during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional Final at TD Garden on March 24, 2012 in Bosto
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Sullinger passed on the NBA draft last year for this exact reason, so don't expect to see him drop off in his performance any time soon.

After the Buckeyes came so close to reaching the Final Four last season, Sullinger made it clear that he had a goal on his mind. While he has reached the Final Four, you can bet that he isn't done just yet.

The Buckeyes' star forward has been a beast to be reckoned with this tournament. He is averaging 18 points a game as well as being a force on both ends of the court.

Sullinger started out the tournament playing quite poorly, scoring just 12 points on 4-of-12 from the floor against Loyola Maryland. He has bounced back since then, as he has averaged 54.8 percent shooting from the field in the last three rounds.

As noted earlier, Sullinger did not play in the previous game between these two. If the Buckeyes lost by just nine in Allen Field House, well, imagine just what they could possibly do with their star back in the lineup at this point in the season.


Jeff Chase is a Featured Columnist for the Chicago Cubs and Arizona State football.

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