Kansas Basketball: 5 Keys to Beating Ohio State
Kansas and Ohio State have only played 10 times in their history on the hardwood, had not met in over 10 years before last year's December matchup and Columbus remains nearly 700 miles from Lawrence. Yet, the Jayhawks and Buckeyes have developed a mini rivalry following part one of this two-year home-and-home series and March's Final Four victory for KU.
The non-Jared Sullinger game played on December 10 of 2011 was widely overlooked for just that reason: Sullinger's absence. It put a marquee matchup of All-American candidates on hold as Thomas Robinson led Kansas to a 78-67 victory in Allen Fieldhouse.
Despite losing two key pieces to their respective tourney runs, both teams welcome back a trio of seasoned veterans that played a combined 210 minutes in that Final Four game.
Looking for redemption following a horrific shooting and foul-plagued night, junior forward Deshaun Thomas welcomes Jeff Withey and the Kansas Jayhawks into Value City Arena for a mega nonconference matchup of Top 10 teams.
Limit Easy Transition Buckets
Inconsistent shooting has hindered Ohio State this season, especially from junior guard Aaron Craft as he enters Saturday's tilt shooting only 37.7 percent from the floor.
Pitiful shooting against Duke, their only challenge thus far, proved to be the difference as the Buckeys failed to shoot 35 percent from the field, including a sub-30 percent clip from the three-point line.
The Kansas guards must limit easy transition buckets from the advantageous Craft by avoiding foolish perimeter turnovers and fast outlet passes. They must force those transition opportunities to turn into long jump shots.
Aside from Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and Deshaun Thomas, the three other key scorers for Ohio State (LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and Craft) have combined to shoot 22-of-95 (23.2 percent) from long range.
Jeff Withey: Exploit Size Offensively
Jeff Withey will not be forced to score on a fellow seven-footer often in college basketball, and depending upon Thad Matta's matchup decision, he will hold at least a three-inch size advantage on the Ohio State big men.
In Tuesday's victory over Richmond, Withey faced Spiders 'big man' Derrick Williams, holding a massive size advantage over the 6'6" Williams. Withey forced the Richmond forward into 4-of-12 shooting while also stuffing the stat sheet with 17 points, 13 boards and four blocks as he continued to close in on Greg Ostertag's all time KU record of 258 blocked shots.
When facing Michigan State's frontcourt of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix in November, Withey struggled to gain rhythm against the undersized Spartan duo, but he must improve against another Big Ten contending opponent.
The Kansas senior is currently averaging 4.8 free-throw attempts per game, while hitting only 69 percent of those, a far cry from his 79.5 percent clip from 2011-12. He must convert on more of those attempts against Evan Ravenel, Deshaun Thomas and Amir Williams, a raw 6'11" 250-pound center.
Create Open Space for Ben McLemore
Ben McLemore's athleticism is unquestioned as he continues to prove why he is an elite talent with a unique all-around game, breaking down any defender at will.
He has hit 11-of-18 three-point attempts in their last four games, shooting 54.3 percent in that stretch. Opposing defenses have been unable to contain the redshirt freshman but have occasionally limited his space, thus forcing poor shots.
Bill Self has pleaded for his guards to penetrate the lane more often in the last two games and they have started to comply, using slick dump-offs and baseline feeds.
While McLemore can create his own space, improved ball movement from the Kansas guards and the continued double-team draws by Jeff Withey will only further allow the soon-to-be NBA lottery selection to exploit loose defenses.
Do Not Throw Away Possessions on the Perimeter
Forwards Kevin Young and Jamari Traylor provide much-needed energy, but their foolish offensive fouls have greatly impacted offensive flow for the Kansas guards along the perimeter.
On the other hand, point guard Elijah Johnson must not only continue to cut back on turnovers (2.6 per game) but also avoid trying to do too much with that first pass against a quick and feisty Ohio State team.
The overall team turnover numbers are not horrifying, but with 12 against Richmond, 11 versus Belmont and 13 more in a 36-point blowout of previously-ranked Colorado, Kansas will have to do better against the defensive-minded Aaron Craft, who will have no problem exploiting lazy passes and ball screens along the perimeter.
Team free-throw shooting of 75.3 percent is not poor, but the clip from the Kansas big men must be improved against a Top 10 opponent in a hostile environment.
As was mentioned before, Jeff Withey enters this weekend shooting 68.8 percent from the charity stripe and is joined at sub-70 percent by Perry Ellis (69.6), Kevin Young (63.6) and Jamari Traylor (45.5).
The Buckeyes committed 23 fouls in their loss to Duke, indicating the Jayhawks' size could be a great asset in drawing fouls in the paint.
Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams have occasionally been foul-plaqued this season, as they combine to average 4.7 fouls per game in only 34 combined minutes. The Kansas frontcourt must take advantage of these OSU big men by earning free-throw attempts and subsequently converting them, something their backcourt has successfully done thus far in 2012.