COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 28: William Buford #44 of the Ohio State Buckeyes attemps a shot over the defense of Northwestern in the second half on December 28, 2011 at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Buford led all scorers with 28 points in Ohio State's 87-54 win over Northwestern. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
On Saturday Kansas will meet Ohio State in their first final four game since winning the 2008 National Championship.
Key 1 - Pack it in on defense
Ohio State's two best scorers are no doubt Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas. Each has the ability to shoot the three (and deep twos) but both would prefer to make their living inside. Not to mention that as a team Ohio State is very reluctant to shoot threes: they were 311th nationally in taking threes this year, and they were 223rd in three point percentage. They can no doubt get hot from outside, but daring them to beat Kansas from outside would lessen the defensive pressure on Withey and Robinson, and would allow the Jayhawks to double team both Thomas and Sullinger.
Key 2 - Offensive Rebounding
Kansas isn't really a great shooting team, despite being 13th in two point percentage this year. But they do lead the NCAA tournament in second chance points. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, are the 2nd best defensive rebounding team in the country this season. They're second in AdjDef as well, but are just so so at forcing turnovers (22.4%), and allow opponents to shoot 45% from two. They really rely on rebounding to keep opponents off the scoreboard. I'm not saying Kansas should go all out on the offensive glass but a little extra attention to that area could garner them some free buckets and be the difference between a win or a loss.
Key 3 - Make Craft pass
Aaron Craft has had a really good shooting year: he's shooting 57% from two and is shooting 47% on two point jumpers. He's also getting to the basket a lot, taking 43% of his shots at the rim, a mark nearly equal to Jared Sullinger. The good news is that Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson are good on ball defenders and Kansas has the best shot blocker in the country protecting the rim. The other good news is that if Craft does give the ball up he basically ceases to be effective. His 24.8% assist rate is lowest of any point guard at the final four, and it is only a hair better than his 24% turnover rate.
Key 4 - Win the foul battle
As I said in the elite 8 matchup, I'm normally not terribly worried about fouls. But Sullinger draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes, and while he's really the only Buckeye who does draw a lot of fouls, this is another game where Withey and Robinson absolutely cannot afford to sit long stretches due to fouls. On the flipside, both Withey and Robinson have done a great job at both avoiding fouls as well as playing with foul trouble lately. Furthermore, this is a bit of a irresistible force/immovable object confrontation, as Ohio State is 28th in terms of fewest percentage of shots blocked, while Kansas is 9th nationally in blocking shots, led of course by Withey's nation leading 15.1% mark. Given how good he has gotten at staying vertical, and Sullinger's inability to get a ton of lift, perhaps the defense will be stout enough to stifle the Buckeyes.
Key 5 - Make William Buford beat you with 2 point jumpers
Buford is definitely a talented player. He also hasn't had a very good year. He's shooting 35% from three and 45% from three, but what is most troubling is the type of shots he's taking. Nearly half of his field goal attempts are two point jumpers, and he's shooting just 35% on this type of shot according to hoop-math.com. Buford definitely has a scorer's mentality, so he definitely will look for his shot, but if he's off he could shoot the Buckeyes out of the game.