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Wednesday, March 28, 2012
At the Watercooler: Ohio State vs. Kansas

By Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf

Editor's note: Ohio State and Kansas are readying for just the second meeting of 2-seeds since seeding began in 1979. Before they get started, Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf discuss the matchup between the Buckeyes and Jayhawks.

Eamonn Brennan: All right, Myron, it's Final Four Watercooler time, part the deuce. We chatted up Louisville and Kentucky yesterday, and we're back, back again, to discuss the other game in the bracket. This return is second only to The Rock's return to Raw Monday night. (Note to readers: The two of us are VERY interested in watching the Rock-Cena Wrestlemania match Sunday.)

I don't know about you, but for my money, despite all the overheated expectations and rivalry-oriented craziness surrounding Louisville-Kentucky ... I think Ohio State-Kansas has a better than 50-50 shot at being the best game of the weekend. What say you?

Myron Medcalf: I agree. I think Kansas-Ohio State is the game of the weekend. I love the buildup to Louisville-Kentucky. I'd actually like to spend a day in Kentucky before I leave for New Orleans to get a feel for the vibe in that state. But if you look at the matchups, Kansas-Ohio State wins. I can give you five reasons that the Jayhawks will win and five reasons that the Buckeyes will win. Thomas Robinson vs. Jared Sullinger. The emergence of Jeff Withey and Deshaun Thomas. Aaron Craft's hands against Tyshawn Taylor's explosiveness. This should be a great game. Sullinger missed the first game, but he'll be available Saturday.

Jared Sullinger
Who's the best big man in college basketball? Jared Sullinger will make his case Saturday.
EB: How many NBA scouts will be watching that T-Rob/Sully matchup? Answer: all of them, or at least all of those who have a top-10 pick to spare in this summer's draft. That actually seems to be one of the biggest debates about the upcoming draft, a sort of barometer for the kind of player you prefer -- explosive and slightly raw? Or polished but less athletic? I'd take either one of them. And seeing them tee up on each other could be a one-on-one matchup for the ages.

MM: I agree. And I'm even more excited for Robinson-Sullinger because of their personalities. Some guys would look at this as "just another game." I guarantee both Robinson and Sullinger are telling friends and loved ones that they're going to win that battle. I don't care what they say publicly. This is personal. Who's the best big man in college basketball? With Sullinger, Robinson and Davis in the field, we'll know by Monday. Sullinger didn't get the national player of the year love that Robinson enjoyed because of a bad back and a rough stretch in February. But who can doubt his premier status after watching him tear up Syracuse? Robinson takes a Kansas team that's not supposed to win its eighth Big 12 title in a row to the Final Four? Get your popcorn ready.

EB: Agreed, agreed. But as you said, there are other huge areas of intrigue here. In fact, if I had to guess, I'd say the Robinson-Sullinger matchup will essentially be a wash. The swing-vote matchup (as Marquette coach Buzz Williams might say) might then be Aaron Craft and Tyshawn Taylor. Craft is a defensive genius. What he does to opposing guards is just ruthless sometimes. If Taylor gets eaten up by those slap-happy hands -- or even if Craft just cuts Taylor off and keeps him confined to the perimeter, where he has missed just about every shot he's taken in the past two weeks -- Kansas will be at a severe disadvantage.

Tyshawn Taylor
Tyshawn Taylor scored 22 against the Tar Heels, but he'll face a steeper challenge against Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes.
MM: True. Has a lot of Dark Knight-Joker elements to it. Craft just creates chaos. It'd be one thing if he was just dangerous on the perimeter. But he'll help in the paint. He's a great defender in transition. He takes so many risks and it usually works out for him. But Taylor had 22 against North Carolina (sans Marshall). He could be great in New Orleans. Or he could succumb to Craft's defense. But this matchup is even bigger than Robinson-Sullinger and Taylor-Craft. And this is what I love about March Madness. You can't really have this conversation without talking about Dikembe Mutombo playing as Jeff Withey throughout the NCAA tournament. Or Deshaun Thomas trying to score every time he touches the ball. Those two players will be crucial in the Big Easy too, right?

EB: Right, and this is really fascinating. Deshaun Thomas gives the Buckeyes plenty of rebounding and interior scoring, but he's barely a 4, let alone a 5. Withey is, of course, as much a center as college centers get. Perhaps some zone will be involved? Because it's not like you want Sullinger matching up with Withey, either -- he doesn't have the lift to counteract the height. And on the other side, Withey isn't going to guard Thomas out to the 3-point line, right? I have no idea how this works out.

MM: I had the same thought. Two critical players, but what do you do with them? To me, Ohio State has to be more comfortable than Kansas. Thomas could help in a zone, but if you were forced to go man, Thomas on T-Rob and Sully on Withey wouldn't be disastrous necessarily. Withey scored two points in the first matchup. He is a great interior defender, but sometimes he gets lost against more versatile opponents (see Missouri). At the same time, limiting Sullinger's shot selection and success inside is a great starting point for Kansas. Withey definitely helps there.

EB: Definitely. Withey remains one of the more underrated shot-blockers in the country. Anthony Davis's 2012 block rate is 13.95 percent. Jeff Withey's is 15.14 percent. That's the best in the country. And that is a huge advantage against an interior player like Sullinger, who can create space with his body but really doesn't lift over players to get his points. And it doesn't hurt against the likes of Thomas either, of course.

And then there's the X factor: William Buford. He's been solid in the tournament, Myron, but he has struggled at times this season, particularly with his shot, and when he does, Ohio State's attack struggles.

MM: Yep. Here's the conversation that happening at sports bars throughout Columbus right now. "We have every tool to beat Kansas Saturday and advance to the title game. Sullinger and Thomas are ready. Craft's defense is special. Even Lenzelle Smith Jr. has stepped up. But, what about Buford? Well ... I'm not sure." Buford is like a separate 30-minute conversation. He's 4-for-20 from the field in the last two games. He's a senior so he won't be intimidated. But he hasn't played great. And the Buckeyes might need "great" from Buford, depending on what happens Saturday.

EB: And let's not forget about Elijah Johnson, arguably Kansas' best perimeter player. And Travis Releford. This is a unique game, because neither team is really going to bring big-time players off the bench. Both squads essentially are what they are from 1 to 5, and the starters have to do almost all of the heavy lifting.

UL-UK is pretty easy to pick, but I don't have a good feel for this one. I think it could go either way. Sort of like The Rock versus Cena.

MM: I think that's a good way to end it.