Free Final Four Picks: Ohio State vs. Kansas Odds and Betting Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 3/27/2012
Saturday’s Final Four opener in New Orleans between Louisville and Kentucky will probably get the majority of the hype as those two intrastate rivals face off on college basketball’s biggest stage for the first time in their storied rivalry. It definitely makes for good press. But the late game between No. 2 seeds Ohio State and Kansas isn’t exactly chopped liver. And just like UK-U of L, it’s a rematch of a December showdown.
The four teams heading for the Big Easy combine for 49 Final Four appearances and 13 National Championships. It’s a far cry from last year’s Final Four that had a No. 3, No. 4, No. 8 and No. 11 seed.
It’s the 10th Final Four for OSU and first since the Greg Oden-led team (whatever happened to him!?) lost to Florida in the 2007 national title game. The Buckeyes still haven’t won a title since 1960. In many ways, OSU’s Final Four ticket was punched after last season’s Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky when star Jared Sullinger announced he was coming back to school.
It’s the 13th Final Four appearance for the Jayhawks and first since Bill Self’s club memorably rallied past Memphis for the 2008 national title, the third in school history. KU, which was bounced in the regional final a season ago by Cinderella VCU, was supposed to be rebuilding a bit this year after losing several top players off last year’s club and seeing a few top recruits be ruled ineligible. But Thomas Robinson was arguably the best player in the country this year (he’ll finish right behind UK’s Anthony Davis for all the major awards), and guard Tyshawn Taylor provided senior leadership and poise at the point.
Ohio State vs. Kansas Betting Story Lines
The Buckeyes looked like the best team in the Big Ten, the nation’s top conference, for much of the year – OSU was No. 2 in the polls for weeks -- before a late-season hiccup saw them lose three of five. But since a Feb. 26 home defeat to Wisconsin, OSU (31-7) has lost only once and that was in a very close Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State. OSU really hasn’t been in danger of losing any of its four NCAA Tournament games late. Loyola (Md.) and Cincinnati were pretty easy wins and Gonzaga hung in for a while in the Round of 32.
The Buckeyes punched their ticket here with a 77-70 win over top-seeded Syracuse in the East Regional final. Sullinger fought off first-half foul trouble and finished with 19 points and seven boards against the shorthanded Orange frontline (no Fab Melo). OSU led by eight points with 59 seconds to play and held on after the Orange cut it to three. The Buckeyes made 13-of-14 free throws in the final 68 seconds and finished 31-of-42 from the line.
Kansas (31-6) won an eighth straight regular-season Big 12 title but lost in the Big 12 Tournament to Baylor – that’s KU’s only loss since Feb. 4 at Missouri. The Jayhawks have played two close games in the Big Dance, beating Purdue, 63-60, thanks to an Elijah Johnson layup with 23.3 seconds left when KU was down 60-59. (OSU beat those same Boilers by 16 in the Big Ten Tournament). Kansas also had to fight for dear life in the Sweet 16, beating NC State, 60-57, in an ugly game.
In the Midwest Regional final against top-seeded North Carolina, Kansas caught a break in that Heels floor general Kendall Marshall, the nation’s leader in assists, couldn’t play. It showed as the UNC offense couldn’t do anything down the stretch, with Kansas closing on a 12-0 to win, 80-67. KU outscored North Carolina 18-8 in transition during the game. The Jayhawks were the first team to outscore the Tar Heels in transition over the last three NCAA Tournaments (that’s where Marshall’s absence was really felt). Robinson led the Jayhawks with 18 points and nine boards, just missing his 27th double-double of the season (he already holds school record with 26).
Back on Dec. 10 in Lawrence, then-No. 13 Kansas beat No. 2 Ohio State, 78-67. But realize that Sullinger missed that game with a back injury. Robinson took advantage inside with 21 points and seven boards. Taylor had a career-high 13 assists despite a torn meniscus and sprained MCL in his right knee that would eventually force him to sit for a few weeks. KU has won four straight in this series, but the two hadn’t played since the 2000-01 season before December.
It should be fascinating to see Sullinger and Robinson go at it – the next time we see that will be in the NBA (both are goners after this season). It’s possible that KU seven-footer Jeff Mathey also gets time on Sullinger to free up Robinson. But perhaps the key is OSU point guard Aaron Craft. He’s arguably the best guard defender in the country and will be charged with shutting down Taylor, who had 22 points, six boards, five assists and five steals against North Carolina. Taylor isn’t KU’s best player – obviously Robinson is – but is the team’s most important.
Ohio State vs. Kansas Betting Odds and Key Trends
OSU opened as a 2.5-point favorite with the total at 137 on college basketball odds. The Buckeyes are 20-13 ATS overall this season and 5-2 ATS on neutral courts (6-1 SU). The Jayhawks are 18-17-1 ATS and 4-6 ATS on neutral courts (7-3 SU). ‘Over/under’ records: OSU 20-11-2, KU 13-21-2.
Ohio State is 5-2 ATS in its past seven as a favorite. The Buckeyes haven’t covered in their past four games vs. Big 12 teams. Kansas is just 2-5 ATS in its past seven games against teams with a winning record. KU really doesn’t like facing the Big Ten, going 2-11 ATS in its past 13 vs. that conference. The over is 10-1 in OSU’s past 11 games. The under is 4-0-1 in KU’s past five games as an underdog.
Free Final Four Picks: Ohio State vs. Kansas Betting Predictions
This is an incredibly even matchup, and just the second Final Four meeting between two No. 2 seeds since the seeding process commenced in 1979. Let’s just say Craft/Sullinger and Taylor/Robinson cancel each other out. OSU forward Deshaun Thomas is playing as well as he has all season, averaging 22.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. But small forward William Buford is shooting just 13-of-44 in the NCAA Tournament and hasn't shot better than .500 in a game since March 4.
Meanwhile, KU guard Johnson has really stepped up. He's scored in double-figures in his last six games, averaging 15.8 points during the span. His three-pointer late against North Carolina jump-started a late run to pull away and get the win. And Withey had his best game of the Big Dance with 15 points and eight rebounds vs. the Heels (after 10 blocks vs. NC State). However, Taylor is 0-for-17 from long range in this tournament.
The Kentucky-Louisville game has the chance to be a blowout (although I doubt it). I can’t possibly see how OSU-KU doesn’t go down to the wire. But I think the Buckeyes simply have more depth and will win barring obviously foul trouble or an injury to Sullinger. So take OSU and give the points (barely) as well as the under.
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