The following is submitted by @HailToOldKU, a KU graduate and contributor to Jayhawk-Talk. He presents a different viewpoint on how Kansas will handle Ohio State’s front court than I did in my game preview here. Enjoy the read and debate on twitter which point is more accurate. Rock Chalk!
Almost two weeks ago, Robbie Hummel lit up Thomas Robinson. Hummel buried seven of his first eight shots en route to a 22-point first half that had Purdue up on the Jayhawks for all but 45 seconds of their second round game. Robinson, who was pulled off Hummel in the first half because he was getting so thoroughly thrashed, even admitted his weakness in guarding the perimeter, saying that Hummel could have gone for 40 on him, no sweat.
Obviously, Hummel didn’t, Kansas came back, and the Jayhawks are now in the Final Four. But there’s still plenty of reason for concern. Ohio State’s DeShaun Thomas plays a more inside-out game than Hummel – who essentially lives on the perimeter unless he’s got a favorable size matchup inside – but Thomas is still versatile enough to provide a serious matchup problem for Robinson.
This means a couple things. First, Jeff Withey, just like in the first game against Ohio State (which was, of course, sans Sullinger that day) will play only 20-25 minutes. Because of Robinson’s perimeter struggles, he’ll be forced to take Sullinger on the inside. Obviously Withey isn’t a perimeter defender either, which leaves him as the odd man out. Kevin Young played 24 minutes to Withey’s 21 in December. Expect them to play similar minutes again if Robinson doesn’t show early on that he can hold Thomas defensively.
Of course, if that’s the case, then we get to watch Robinson and Sullinger go head-to-head. I had been thinking for a few days that this wouldn’t happen because of Withey’s recent presence defensively. He’s pretty clearly going to be the guy on Sullinger every possession he’s on the floor, barring Self rolling out that triangle-and-two that was so effective in the second half against both Purdue and North Carolina.*
*This might be a great idea. It lets Withey and Robinson stay on the floor and, if it’s effectiveness against Hummel and Purdue is any indicator, it could nullify to some extent the inside-out dynamic that Thomas lends to the Buckeyes offense. One issue though: All five of Ohio State’s starters hit better than a third of their threes. If that’s not an effective zone breaker than I don’t know what is.
But for the sake of this argument, let’s assume the Jayhawks play man-to-man defense, like they have for 90 percent of the season. And let’s assume that Robinson struggles again to defend the perimeter, forcing him inside to guard Sullinger.
This could actually be a good thing for the Jayhawks.
For one, Kevin Young has developed from an occasionally solid spark off the bench to consistently the Jayhawks’ best bench option (arguably). His best performance of the year came against these same Buckeyes in the first mmeting, when he notched 14 points on eight shots, grabbed four boards and played serviceable defense in 24 minutes. It also gives Kansas a cushion should Sullinger bait Robinson into foul trouble. If Withey’s relegated to the bench, it would mean 40 minutes against either Robinson, whose ferocity on the offensive end negates any deficiencies defensively, or Withey, whose defense keeps opponents up at night. With Ohio State facing the same lack of depth as Kansas – they only go eight deep at most – Sullinger won’t be offered much rest on the floor.
The Jayhawks have already shown they can beat Ohio State without Sullinger on the floor. If they can effectively nullify him, it’s the best chance they have to earn a trip to the national title game.