*This will be the first in a four-part series this week where we will have four writers arguing the national championship credentials for the only NCAA teams left in March Madness: Ohio State, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisville.*
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All season the hype has been on Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina – rightfully so to an extent, but there is a little problem with that: the Ohio State Buckeyes are not being mentioned. Well that dominant Big East regular season champ Syracuse was eliminated by Ohio State in the Elite 8, and North Carolina was ousted by the team they face next in the Final Four – Kansas.
This is the same Kansas team that beat Ohio State back on December 10th. A game where Jared Sullinger sat out due to injury watching his team take their first loss of the season. With the way the Buckeyes have been playing in the tournament so far they are poised to avenge that early season loss and win it all.
No question the team is clicking on all cylinders on offense and the best part about them is there is no “head of the snake” to cut off to stop them. Sure, everything starts with the dominant big man in the post Jared Sullinger, but he is far from a solo act. All season he has fought through foul trouble, conditioning and injuries with his team still winning leading up to the tournament.
Sullinger is arguably the best pure “big man” left in the tournament. He gets his points with his back to the basket and with power moves. His style allows himself to get the other team in foul trouble and control the pace, setting up their half-court defense.
Again, this is a snake without a head. When Sullinger is not on his “A Game,” a new star has emerged for Ohio State in Deshaun Thomas. Leading into the NCAA Tournament, Thomas was catching steam and he has full-on blown up in his last four games. The smooth, versatile, big wing will be a match-up nightmare. He can stroke if from three all night with unlimited range and a quick release. Then, when he needs to, Thomas crashes in the paint to score there as well.
This duo is – bold statement here – the best left in the tournament. The inside-outside game allows William Buford and Lenzelle Smith Jr. to move around off the ball looking for their spots.
Those four make up a solid offensive quartette.
Once the tournament began, this team has been playing some great basketball; The Buckeyes are averaging 77.3 points per game while giving up only 65.3 to their opponents. They have the second-highest scoring margin (Kentucky is first), score the second most points (Kentucky is first again), and are the third-best defensive team (not by much) left in the dance. Their first obstacle is Kansas, who has been beating teams ugly primarily because they cannot get their offense off the ground in the first half.
The spearhead of that Buckeye defense is point guard Aaron Craft. He is just a one man tornado that can disrupt any ballhandler on the court. Some questioned the media’s obsession with the rosy-cheeked defender, but he has proven himself, most noticeably against Syracuse in the Elite 8. With both of Kansas’ primary ballhandlers being explosive but turnover prone, Craft may be the difference in this game.
Sullinger and Thomas will effectively cancel each other out in terms of points, rebounds and overall statistics. Craft will eliminate one of the guards, either Tyshawn Taylor or Elijah Johnson. Then it comes down to a cast of role players.
Deshaun Thomas is the difference. If you remember back to the round of 32 where Kansas almost lost to Purdue, it was because Jeff Withey was not needed based on personnel. That very well could be the case against Ohio State. They don’t play a true center.
This Final Four is all about redemption. This season Kentucky has beaten Louisville and Kansas, while Kansas has beaten Ohio State.
Advantage Buckeyes. After getting redemption on Friday night against the Jayhawks, it’ll be on to cement themselves in history against either Kentucky or Louisville in the National Championship Game.
Do you think Ohio State will win it all?
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