Sullinger, Craft key to Ohio's success
Jared Sullinger gets the accolades and he deserves them, but if Ohio State is to get by Kansas, Aaron Craft is likely going to have to come up big as well.
The sophomore guard has taken huge strides this season and his dogged defence has been a major reason why the Buckeyes have advanced to this point.
Craft had three steals against Loyola in the opener and held Robert Olson to 1-for-11 shooting, then helped hold Canadian star Kevin Pangos of Gonzaga to 3-for-13 shooting, collecting three more steals. Kraft then had six more swipes against Cincinnati and caused Syracuse's guards some discomfort in an Elite Eight win.
"Aaron is a great example for our team. Every time he takes the floor, it starts with him," said Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta on Thursday.
"His leadership on the defensive end is something we can't ever take for granted. The other guys out there have started to take great pride."
Three of the Final Four teams ranked in the top six in field goal percentage defence and OSU, in particular, does a great job at that end.
"We put a huge emphasis on our defence, especially early in the season," continued Matta.
"We probably worked 75% defence throughout the first month of the season. Having players that understand and want to defend is more of a challenge than people think. You have guys in the locker room that all averaged 20-plus point games in high school and had coaches who said to play hard, but don't foul anybody."
Craft and fellow guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said good defence is all about making opponents uneasy
"I just try to make anyone I'm guarding a little bit uncomfortable. Just to not let them get to what they wanted to do the first time they go down the floor," Craft said.
"It's tough once you get this deep into the tournament. You start playing against great guards day in and day out. So understanding that they are going to make a shot and they are going to go by me, and just come back possession after possession, let them know that I'm going to be there the entire game."
It will be up to Craft to slow down Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor, who has rounded back into elite form after a rough stretch.
Smith will face both player-of-the-year candidate Thomas Robinson and big man Jeff Withey.
He helped give Robinson problems in a matchup earlier this season and will also try to make Robinson work hard defensively so that he will be less effective on defence.
"It's going to be a great matchup. I'm trying to make (Robinson) uncomfortable," Smith said.
"I'm just trying to play my best at defence and also at offence."
Kansas knows how well it plays defensively will be paramount as well against a Buckeyes team that will have its star, Sullinger in the lineup, unlike their previous meeting.
"They are a challenge because they score from all five spots. You are going to have to defend all five spots and that's one of the biggest challenges," said Jayhawks coach Bill Self.
Self and his players maintained on Thursday that the news that assistant coaches Danny Manning (Tulsa) and Barry Hinson (Southern Illinois) would be leaving to take head coaching jobs after the season would not have any impact.
"This isn't a distraction for us at all," Self said.