The Kansas Jayhawks are underdogs in their rematch with Ohio State on Saturday night in New Orleans. KU beat the Buckeyes by double-digits in Lawrence in early December, but that game was glaringly missing one key player -- All-American Jared Sullinger. The Buckeyes rely heavily on their frontcourt duo of Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, and crashing the boards and controlling the paint is the clearest path forward for Thad Matta's club. But the Jayhawks, coming off a stifling defensive performance against one of the best frontcourts in the country at North Carolina, will be ready to slow down the Buckeyes' interior attack.
As Luke Winn writes, the key to their success is the frontcourt duo of Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey and their significant impact on the defensive end. In a game that will likely be decided by one or two possessions, Winn analyzed the lineup combinations that give Kansas the best shot at clinching the 2012 title:
On the other 35 possessions, UNC averaged 1.17 PPP. To put this in context: Had Carolina's offense played the entire game at its Withey-Robinson rate, it would have scored just 52 points. Had Carolina's offense played the entire game at its other rate, it would have scored 82 points.
While it may not be surprising that having Withey and Robinson on the floor at the same time gives Kansas the best chance, the dramatic difference with any other lineup combo is certainly eye-opening. And as Winn notes, those few extra possessions could be all the difference:
The point is that if the Jayhawks can find a way to milk a few more possessions than average - even just 5-10 - out of the Robinson-Withey lineup, it would significantly increase their odds of knocking off Ohio State. And if they were to similarly lean on that lineup against (most likely) Kentucky in the title game, they might have a chance of pulling off that upset, too.
Bill Self, who many consider to have done the best coaching job in the tournament this March, is well-aware of the difference this duo makes on the defensive end. Winn already highlighted the advantage the Buckeyes have on the defensive end in the backcourt, so winning the paint is that much more important. Stopping Sullinger and Thomas will not be easy, but if Kansas can upset the favored Buckeyes, it will start on the inside.
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