Kansas University’s basketball players and 16,300 crazed fans hope the Jayhawks’ third appearance against a Top-10 team will be the charm Saturday.
The No. 13-ranked Jayhawks (6-2), who have lost to No. 1 Kentucky and No. 7 Duke, take on No. 2 Ohio State (8-0) in a 2:15 p.m. nonconference showdown in Allen Fieldhouse.
“Playing Kentucky was an eye-opening experience in our second game of the season. Even though we tried real hard, they were too much for us in the second half,” KU coach Bill Self said, referring to a 75-65 loss to the Wildcats on Nov. 15 in New York. “We learned from it. We got better.
“Playing Duke ... we definitely knocked on the door but couldn’t close,” he added of a 68-61 loss to the Blue Devils in the Nov. 23 Maui Invitational finals. “They made plays late. It was a great basketball game. We got a little confidence from that.
“We need to be a very confident team Saturday because we are playing a team that is very capable of winning a national championship. We know we need to be very, very good. Allen Fieldhouse should be rocking. It should be a great college atmosphere.”
The Jayhawks enter as three-point underdogs against an OSU team that leads the country in scoring margin at 29.3 points a game.
The Buckeyes, who also are first in assist-to-turnover ratio (154 assists, 87 turnovers), clobbered Duke, 85-63, on Nov. 29, in Columbus, Ohio, where the Buckeyes have played all eight games.
“We struggled with Duke. They handled Duke in pretty good fashion,” Self said of a game in which sophomore power forward Jared Sullinger had 21 points and eight rebounds; senior guard William Buford 20 points, five boards and four assists; sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas 18 points and five boards; and sophomore guard Aaron Craft 17 points and eight assists.
“I know we’re going to have to play very well to put ourselves in a good position to have a good shot to win late,” Self said.
KU senior Conner Teahan tuned into the Buckeyes’ dismantling of Duke.
“I always watch to say, ‘Let’s see how they do against Duke,’” Teahan said, “at the same time, that’s why you play the game. It doesn’t have anything to do with who beats this person or who won or whatnot. I’m sure there’s a lot of people VCU lost to that we would have beaten last year; Northern Iowa the same the year before that,” he added, referring to foes that beat KU in the NCAAs. “Each game is different. You have to have that mindset going into each one.”
OSU is the highest-ranked team to come to Allen since No. 1 Arizona defeated No. 6 KU, 91-74, on Jan. 25, 2003.
In other words, the building will be rocking.
“I’ve always said you learn a lot about your guys when you are on the road, and the other team makes a 6-0 run. Do they have fire in their eyes or tears in their eyes?” said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. “I think going into the environment we’re going to go into at Kansas will be a great challenge for us. Our guys know college basketball. That’s the beauty of today’s modern technology. I think from a standpoint of our guys, we’ve been in some great environments. Obviously Kansas may be the best there is. As a player, that’s kind of what you live for. We know it’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us. The unfortunate thing is we have a lot of guys who haven’t been in it yet. It will be good for them as well.”
A key match-up figures to be KU junior forward Thomas Robinson (6-10, 237) vs. sophomore standout Sullinger (6-9, 265).
“To be honest, I don’t think we’re going to check (guard) each other,” Robinson said. “If we do, it’ll be what everybody expects, but unless one of the other bigs gets in foul trouble ... then we’ll check each other. Where it gets mixed up is Jeff (Withey, 7-footer) is way taller than Sullinger ... I’m not the coach. That’s not my job. I just go check who I’ve got to check. I want to check him, but it’s up to coach.”
Self pinpointed several intriguing match-ups.
“On paper you’d say it could be a great individual match-up with Sullinger and Robinson, and on paper you could say (Tyshawn) Taylor’s going to have an unbelievable challenge with Craft,” Self said. “You can say (Travis) Releford guards Buford. One guy who can mess you up is (Deshaun) Thomas because he’s a stretch 4-man. Now how do you guard the post with a stretch 4-man? I look forward to Kansas playing Ohio State more so than individual match-ups.”
Ohio State went with a 7-man rotation against Duke; KU also has been going just seven or eight deep.
“I don’t think it will be too much of a factor. Long Beach was the same way,” Teahan said of KU using six players the bulk of the game. Justin Wesley played nine minutes and Kevin Young six in KU’s 88-80 win over the 49ers on Tuesday.
Asked specifically about frosh point guard Naadir Tharpe’s minutes, Self said: “It’s important for us to get to the point guys can play minutes and add something. That would be important.”
KU’s Robinson believes it’ll take a top performance to defeat the Big Ten’s best team.
“They have a great scorer, they have a point guard that plays defense and shuts down the opposing team’s best guard, they have good shooters and they have great role players. They’re a great team all around; at the same time, I feel comfortable with my team, and we will come out and do what we have to do,” Robinson said.
Player of the Year candidate Sullinger (back spasms) has been limited at practice this week. Matta has said his status won’t be known until Saturday. Sullinger’s dad, Satch, told the Columbus Dispatch the spasms were caused by plantar fasciitis in his son’s right foot. The condition “kind of messed up his gait a little bit,” Satch Sullinger told the paper. Team doctors do not think fasciitis caused the spasms, the team’s athletic trainer, Vince O’Brien, told the paper. On Tuesday, Sullinger wrote on his Twitter account that he was “taking a final with back spasms.”
Highmajorscoop.com reports that Geron Johnson, a 6-3 sophomore guard from Garden City CC, may visit KU this weekend. Johnson averaged 16.8 points a game his senior year at Dunbar High in Dayton, Ohio.
KU leads the all-time series, 5-3. The Jayhawks have won three straight, including the last meeting — a 69-68 victory on Dec. 23, 2000, in Columbus. ... Since the 2003-04 season, KU is 35-20 against teams ranked at tipoff. Since KU’s 2007-08 NCAA title campaign, KU is 21-8 against ranked foes, including a 3-1 record against teams either No. 1 or No. 2. KU defeated No. 1 Florida, 82-80, in OT, on Nov. 25, 2006, in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational. The following season, KU beat No. 1 North Carolina, 84-66, and No. 2 Memphis, 75-68 in OT, at the Final Four.