Jared Sullinger came back to Ohio State for his sophomore season to win a national championship.
For a guy projected to be a potential top five pick, he still faces incessant questioning about whether he's a legitimate NBA starting power forward. Scouts wonder if he's a true six-foot-nine, as he's listed, and if he has a strong enough skill set to succeed on more than just brute strength and physicality.
Against a highly talented and long Kansas front line featuring AP Player of the Year runner-up Thomas Robinson and a block artist in Jeff Withey (who had already recorded 20 blocks in the NCAA Tournament entering Saturday's game), Sullinger failed to quell those notions. Unable to create any space in the interior, the Ohio State All-American looked out of place for much of the 40 minutes, out of shape and completely outclassed.
From the beginning of the game, Jayhawks head coach Bill Self's game plan was to put the seven-foot Withey on Sullinger in order to save Robinson from getting into foul trouble, but also to make the much-shorter Sullinger shoot over the top. Lacking a true go-to move -- such as Robinson's right shoulder baby hook -- Sullinger finished the game at a putrid 5 of 19 shooting. Withey, with his lean frame and uber-long arms, forced him not only to work for points, but to work for position on the low block as well. Unlike the Kansas bigs, who ran the floor with dexterity and ease, Sullinger labored his way down the court like a used-up dump truck on old diesel fuel.
To be fair, the 64-62 Ohio State loss doesn't fall completely on Sullinger. Deshaun Thomas -- who had been terrific in the tournament, averaging 22 points per game -- couldn't escape foul trouble or come up with his normal clutch scoring. The Buckeyes' second-leading scorer ended up with nine points, connecting on 1-7 triples and was 3-14 from the floor.
Credit has to go to the Kansas defense, which overcame a disastrous first half in which it had let Thad Matta's Buckeyes completely dictate tempo. After intermission, the Jayhawks never let Ohio State get into an offensive flow. Aside from Robinson's and Withey's play, Tyshawn Taylor bothered Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft, who had just three assists. Moreover, the help-side rotations were lightning fast, something that Self's club has been superb with throughout this tournament.
Against Kentucky on Monday night, those rotations need to be even faster and more efficient, because the Wildcats score close to 1.3 points per possession, good enough for second in the country per KenPom. No roster in college basketball has more talent, more size or more speed.
But I'm not sure there is another roster with more heart, grit and will than Kansas.
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