Saturday's 2012 NCAA tournament semifinal between Kansas and Ohio State will come down to one thing: How many minutes will Jared Sullinger be on the court for the Buckeyes? If he logs significant minutes, Ohio State will win. If he finds foul trouble and is on the bench, Kansas will advance to Monday's final.
With Sullinger on the court, Kansas doesn't have the guns to match the Buckeyes, and the Jayhawks will be forced to do one of two things.
One is to double-team Sullinger. The problem there is that Deshaun Thomas and William Buford are both strong enough scorers to completely torch the Jayhawks. If they are doubling Sullinger, it means those players are in favorable matchups, or completely open.
The other option is to play man up, or in some zone. The problem there is that Kansas doesn't have a player to put on Sullinger. Either they will crowd him in a zone (which creates the same problem as double-teaming him), or they will have to rely on a one-on-one game in the paint. That is not going to work well for the Jayhawks. If anything, it will get their big men in foul trouble, and will do so early.
So, reading that, it looks like Kansas has no hope at all. That isn't true—there is one thing they can do to completely turn the tide in this one.
Who will win Saturday's second game?
On the offensive side of the ball, get into the paint and try to draw contact with Sullinger. Yes, it might result in some blocked shots or turnovers, but it's also the best way to get the Buckeye star in foul trouble. If Sullinger is relegated to the bench for significant stretches of the game, this semifinal is a much different story.
On the offensive end, it basically becomes a two-on-two game, at least when we're talking about primary scoring. That game would be Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor vs. Thomas and Buford. In that case, the Jayhawks have a huge edge.
It goes without saying Ohio State is a much different team with Sullinger on the court. The best proof of that is the game earlier in the season where Kansas won 78-67 with Sullinger out with an injury.
He is hands down the most important player in this game on either team. With him on the floor, Ohio State will have too much firepower. Without him, Kansas has a clear edge.
The Buckeyes need to find a way to assure he avoids foul trouble, while the Jayhawks need to be sure that he doesn't.