2012 Final Four Picks: Kansas vs Ohio State National Semifinal Odds and Predictions – Free Final Four Picks 3/31/2012: When Ohio State visited Phog Allen Fieldhouse in December, they suffered a 78-67 loss at the hands of the Jayhawks. However, there are more than a few reasons that second-seeded Kansas (31-6) isn’t a lock to cruise past the second-seeded Buckeyes (31-7) when the two teams meet again in Saturday’s Final Four matchup. The Superdome should have a much friendlier environment than the crowd Ohio State faced in Lawrence. More importantly, the Buckeyes will have Jared Sullinger in the lineup. The star forward missed the December meeting because of back spasms, but he and Ohio State will be at full strength for Saturday’s national semifinal matchup. As a result, the Buckeyes are 2 ½-point favorites.
Without Sullinger in the lineup, Kansas forward Thomas Robinson dominated in the paint in the first matchup. He scored 21 points on 7-for-9 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. Kansas as a team outrebounded the Buckeyes in the game, as well. Sullinger is Ohio State’s leading scorer and rebounder, and he is also a big body to go toe to toe with Robinson in the post. The battle between first-team All-Americans should be a classic, and whichever player wins the head-to-head fight should give their team a big edge.
The other crucial matchup to watch will be between the opposing point guards. Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor are both key components to their teams, although both contribute in different areas. Taylor is one of the premier scorers are the position in the country, while Craft may be the best perimeter defender. In the first meeting between the Buckeyes and Jayhawks, Taylor dished out 13 assists, but he also committed seven turnovers and scored just nine points. Taylor will likely find points tough to come by once again, but if he can dish out 10-plus assists once again, he will neutralize Craft’s impact to a degree.
While Kansas has relied mainly on Robinson and Taylor for offense most of the year, the Buckeyes bring a more balanced attack to the table. Sullinger, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas are all averaging more than 14 points per game, and Ohio State ranks 12th in the country in field goal percentage. Thomas in particular has been a monster throughout the NCAA tournament. He is averaging 21.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and his ability to score from every area of the court makes him a matchup nightmare. Thomas scored 19 points in the first meeting with Kansas, and with as well as he is playing right now, he could have an even bigger impact Saturday.
Perimeter shooting could be the X-factor in the game. Neither is a particularly strong 3-point shooting team, but if one side can hit a couple of outside shots early on, it could dramatically change the game. Kansas wants to play through Robinson in the post, and Ohio State wants to do the same with Sullinger. Hitting 3-point shots is really icing on the cake for either side, but in a game that is likely to be controlled by two physical defenses, an unexpected hot shooting night could be a game changer.
There will be plenty of NBA-caliber talent on the court Saturday when these two teams meet. That being said, Kansas appears to have an edge in the battle of stars. Robinson is more athletic than Sullinger, and the Jayhawks in general have been the more physical team throughout the year. Ohio State’s biggest weakness this year has been scoring consistently against defenses that like to get rough (Michigan State, Wisconsin, etc.). Kansas isn’t afraid to grind things out on the defensive end, and even with Sullinger in the lineup, the Buckeyes won’t find it easy to put points on the board. The Jayhawks know how to win ugly, and they should be able to outmuscle Ohio State in a close one.
Prediction: Kansas Jayhawks (+2 ½) Cover the Spread
NCAA TOURNAMENT VEGAS ODDS: Favorite: Ohio St -2.5 Total: Over/Under 136.5
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