In every college basketball season, there are a handful of November and December games that capture the attention of the football-loving sports public, even if just for two hours.
Saturday’s clash in Columbus between No. 7 Ohio State and No. 9 Kansas has the potential to be one of those games.
The Buckeyes and Jayhawks last played in the Final Four in March, which was a classic game in its own right. The Scarlet and Gray held a double-digit lead for the majority of the first half, but Bill Self’s team gradually chipped away before ultimately earning a two-point victory.
Click ahead for a complete preview and prediction of the 2012-13 season's edition of Ohio State versus Kansas.
Who: No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes versus No. 9 Kansas Jayhawks
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, December 22
Where: Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio
Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Suffice to say, it wasn’t pretty.
Ohio State fell behind early to Winthrop and had to scrap for the entire 40 minutes to come away with a 65-55 victory. Deshaun Thomas scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but he did so while shooting 7-of-21 from the field during a streaky performance.
It was the Buckeyes defense that was the key, though. Aaron Craft (surprise, surprise) and Shannon Scott spearheaded an effort that forced 14 Winthrop turnovers and resulted in easy second-half transition baskets for Thad Matta’s bunch.
Call it a classic case of looking ahead if you want, but if Ohio State plays Saturday like it did on Tuesday night, it could be in trouble.
If Ohio State was looking ahead to the showdown on Saturday, Kansas certainly was not. The Jayhawks pounded a Richmond team that is frankly much better than the Winthrop one that gave the Buckeyes trouble.
Kansas came away with an 87-59 victory thanks largely to a dominating performance by Jeff Withey. The big man ended up with 17 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks and even two steals.
Bill Self also got double-digit scoring from Travis Releford, Ben McLemore and Naadir Tharpe. A balanced scoring attack in a tough environment Saturday will serve Kansas well.
The Jayhawks, in typical Kansas fashion, also dominated Richmond on the glass, out-rebounding the Spiders 43-24.
You can make the case for Aaron Craft as the key player for Ohio State heading into this game because of his defensive prowess, but I am going to give the nod to Deshaun Thomas.
Thomas not only leads the Buckeyes in scoring by a wide margin, but he also leads the team in rebounds. That is the key in this one.
Jeff Withey, Kevin Young and the rest of the Jayhawks have the potential to dominate the glass against a team that is weaker in the middle than anywhere else. Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams have each shown flashes of potential, but neither has consistently stepped up and established himself as a dominant force in the paint.
That is why Thomas is so critical. Not only does he have to bear the brunt of the scoring responsibility on his shoulders, he needs to contribute in the rebounding department and on defense in the paint.
For the same reason Deshaun Thomas is the key player for Ohio State, Jeff Withey is the key player for Kansas.
Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams are not exactly superstars in the paint, and Withey has the chance to dominate down low Saturday. Look for Withey to rack up double-digit rebounds and swat a few shots just for good measure.
He should also be able to provide the Jayhawks with some help in the scoring department.
However, if Withey doesn’t dominate his matchups, Kansas could be in trouble. Bill Self definitely has talent on the perimeter, but Ohio State matches up much more evenly (if not favorably) on the outside with the Jayhawks.
If it turns into a guard-oriented game, the Buckeyes could certainly come away with a victory.
It plays an entire 40 minutes.
In the last two big games the Buckeyes played, they jumped out to commanding leads in the early going (at Duke and versus Kansas in the Final Four). However, lapses at the end of the first half in each contest gave Duke and Kansas momentum, respectively—momentum that ultimately cost Ohio State dearly.
But it wasn’t just the losses that the Buckeyes failed to put together a complete effort. In NCAA tournament wins against Cincinnati and Gonzaga and in early-season games this year (Rhode Island, UNC-Asheville and Winthrop), they seemed almost disengaged for long stretches.
Ultimately, Ohio State has enough talent on both sides of the ball (think Deshaun Thomas on offense and Aaron Craft/Shannon Scott/Lenzelle Smith Jr. on defense) to defeat Kansas, especially at home.
It will have to play for an entire 40 minutes if it hopes to do so.
It doesn’t let a Big Ten-caliber defense bog down its offensive attack for the second time this season.
The Jayhawks already played Michigan State from the Buckeyes’ conference this year, and the second-half offense Bill Self’s group put forth was not pretty. Kansas only scored 29 points after intermission and really struggled to get any clean looks at the basket.
What’s more, the Jayhawks turned the ball over 16 times against the Spartans, including four each from Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson. In what was ultimately a three-point victory for Michigan State, those turnovers were rather costly.
With Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. prowling around the perimeter and utilizing a full-court press, Kansas can’t afford to give the Buckeyes too many easy baskets off those turnovers.
From the Ohio State perspective, I look at this game as an almost exact parallel of the Buckeyes’ 2007 regular season home game against Billy Donovan and Florida.
The season before, the Gators had beaten the Buckeyes in Gainesville and did so again in the national championship game. Ohio State eventually got some small solace in the regular season rematch in Columbus when it beat Florida the next year.
Kansas knocked off the Buckeyes during the regular season in Lawrence last year and at the Final Four in nail-biting fashion in March. It is basically the exact same situation as 2007 for the Scarlet and Gray, even down to the critical departures of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.
Ohio State will get off to a quick start and get what should be a rowdy crowd into it early. Kansas will run into the same turnover problems it did against Michigan State thanks to Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
The Buckeyes will use a couple of 7-0 and 9-2 runs over the course of the game to pull out a narrow victory.
Ohio State 77 Kansas 71