Three Key Takeaways.
- Ohio State Found Fool’s Gold With First Half Threes. In the first half it looked like Ohio State might run away with the game, hitting five threes in the first 13 minutes of action but only hitting one more for the entire rest of the game. Like many teams, but especially one that shoots only 33% from deep, if a few long-range bombs drop early it can throw a team off its game plan by losing sight of its greater strength in attacking the basket. The Buckeyes attempted 12 more threes in the second half (making three) but way too many possessions ended with wayward jumpers, giving KU just enough space to make and complete the comeback.
- Kansas Gutted This Out Playing Kansas Basketball. If you’ve watched Kansas at all this year, you know that Bill Self’s team thrives through grinding it out and making plays down the stretch to win games. They’ll drive you crazy with some of the things they do — such as Tyshawn Taylor’s steal leading to a horrid pass behind the cutter that gave OSU new life in the final minute — but if they can get any team into a close game they have a really good chance to win. You can’t help but think about the last time Calipari and Self’s teams met in the national championship game — unlike Louisville, Kansas has enough offensive weapons to compete with Kentucky in that kind of a game. It’ll make for a very interesting Monday night.
- Jared Sullinger Needs to Reinvent His Game. His game was picked apart by the Twitterati and will no doubt provide many ledes around the country’s newspapers tomorrow, but the reason Ohio State is no longer playing largely falls on Jared Sullinger’s poor offensive game. The two-time All-American shot 5-19 from the field, ending up with a very tough 13 points but wasting numerous other Buckeye possessions by choosing to shoot jumpers or taking the ball up against Jeff Withey when he clearly did not have the hops to get the ball up over him. For Sullinger to maximize his abilities, he needs to realize that he’s not a dominant big man — he’d do well to watch how former Arkansas star Corliss Williamson reinvented his game so as to become a serviceable NBA player.
Star of the Game. Jeff Withey, Kansas. Withey’s defense on Jared Sullinger in the second half of this game set the tone that Kansas was going to fight and claw its way all the way back. There was one sequence in particular where Sullinger could not get the ball up and over Withey, and although, he only ended up with seven blocks, it certainly seemed as if he had more. He only had four points (on four shots), but he also grabbed eight rebounds and provided the defensive spark in holding OSU to a 5-of-21 shooting in the second half from two-point range. There were no good looks.
Quotable. “My teammates see me… as a rim protector. When I blocked Jared, I was just staying straight up.” — Kansas center Jeff Withey, describing his seven blocks and in particular, his interior dominance over Jared Sullinger.
Sights & Sounds. The NCAA Tournament can be brutal in its finality, and this is especially true when a team loses on the biggest stage in a heartbreaker of a game. Our seat was in front of the Ohio State fan section, and there was a group of girls, aged between 8 and 12 perhaps, who screamed their heads off the entire game. They were chanting, yelling, buzzing, chirping. We love to see the spirit in young folks supporting the game, but when Ohio State let things slip away at the end, their tears and sobs told the entire story of how only one team can advance.
What’s Next? A national title game, that’s what. Kansas may have been the absolute best team in 2010, and could have been the best again last year, but both of those Jayhawk teams were unceremoniously dumped by mid-majors prior to the Final Four. Not this year. Bill Self’s plucky group will return to the SuperDome on Monday to face off with the team that everyone thinks is destined to cut the nets down this year, Kentucky. It’s Calipari vs. Self, redux, and we can’t wait.