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The Early Lead
Posted at 05:41 PM ET, 03/30/2012

Final Four: Ohio State vs. Kansas preview

Believe it or not, there is a second game on the docket at Saturday’s Final Four. It does not feature a pair of in-state rivals with coaches who dislike one another, and it did not spark a fight at a dialysis clinic earlier this week.

But there’s a very good chance Ohio State and Kansas will provide the better basketball game in the nightcap in New Orleans.

Both the Buckeyes and Jayhawks survived early-round scares before taking down short-handed No. 1 seeds in their respective regions. But these are two teams with a mix of veterans and young talent from schools with championship pedigrees.

Kansas is only four years removed from its dramatic national title run, and while all of those players are gone, the Jayhawks feature a talented lineup led by junior forward Thomas Robinson — the runner up for the AP’s player of the year award — and dynamic guard Tyshawn Taylor. Both stepped up to help Kansas pull away from North Carolina down the stretch in its Midwest Region final victory, and both will need to produce against a balanced Ohio State team.

Robinson and 7-foot center Jeff Withey will have their hands full with Ohio State’s big man duo of Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas. Sullinger’s strong second half performance powered the Buckeyes past top-seeded Syracuse in the East region final while Thomas has been the team’s most productive offensive player in the tournament with 21.8 points per game.


Tyshawn Taylor woke up from his tournament slumber against North Carolina, and Kansas needs a similar effort against the Buckeyes. (Charlie Riedel - AP)
But the matchup to watch may be in the backcourt where Tyshawn Taylor must protect the ball from scrappy defender Aaron Craft. Taylor, the lone senior in Kansas’s starting lineup struggled through the opening rounds but sprung to life with 22 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals against the Tar Heels. But Craft may be the best guard on-ball defender in the nation, and his six steals in a Sweet 16 win over Cincinnati showcased his ability to frustrate ballhandlers. If he can avoid foul trouble, he’ll be a big factor for the Buckeyes — of course the same can be said for Sullinger, who is prone to early fouls.

And if you want coaching stories, this game has them, too. Kansas’s Bill Self is trying to break into the elite fraternity of college coaches, and if he hasn’t achieved it with two Final Fours and a national title, a second championship would certainly do the trick. Meantime Thad Matta has the Buckeyes back in the Final four for the first time since 2007, when they lost to Florida in the title game. Ohio State is trying to win its first championship since 1960.

Tip-off is scheduled for 8:49 p.m. on CBS

The lineups

2 Ohio State (31-7)

G Aaron Craft - 8.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2.5 spg

G William Buford - 14.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.7 apg

G Lenzelle Smith, Jr. - 6.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2 apg

F Jared Sullinger - 17.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 1 bpg

F Deshaun Thomas - 16.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg

BN Jordan Sibert - 3 ppg, 1.4 rpg

BN Evan Ravenel - 3.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg

2 Kansas (31-6)

G Tyshawn Taylor - 16.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.4 spg

G Elijah Johnson - 10 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.5 spg

G Travis Releford - 8.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.2 spg

F Thomas Robinson - 17.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.1 spg

C Jeff Withey - 9.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.5 bpg

BN - Kevin Young - 3.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg

BN Conner Teahen - 5.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1 apg

More on the matchup

Jayhawks’ Robinson, Withey ready for challenge of Sullinger

Ohio State’s craft thinking about brother in Afghanistan

NBA age restriction is a hot topic as March Madness winds down

Interactive bracket | Schedule

By  |  05:41 PM ET, 03/30/2012

 
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