LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—Bill Self rattles off the matchups that everyone wants to see: Jared Sullinger against Thomas Robinson, Aaron Craft toe-to-toe with Tyshawn Taylor, Travis Releford versus William Buford.
The second-ranked Buckeyes visit Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to face the No. 13 Jayhawks in a tasty non-conference treat. Two of the nation’s top programs, a handful of the best players and one of the premier venues in college basketball form the backdrop of a March-like matchup in mid-December.
“There are a lot of things about it,” Self said. “But when I look at matchups, I say, `How do you guard the post? How do you guard ball screens, more so than individuals going after each other?’ But of course with Jared and Thomas, you have two of the premier players in America that will be guarding each other at least part of the time.”
That’s assuming Sullinger is healthy enough to play.
The preseason All-American has been hobbled by a bad back, and Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said he won’t know until Saturday whether the big guy will be available. Sullinger missed their 64-35 victory over Texas Pan-American last Saturday, but he’s practiced a bit this week.
“It’s amazing how much better he’s moving and all those things,” Matta said Wednesday. “We’ve got two more days to look at it but don’t know for sure what he’s going to do.”
Sullinger is averaging better than 19 points and 10 rebounds per game, and his shooting rate is about 62 percent. If he’s unable to go, the onus of slowing down Robinson will fall to junior Evan Ravenel, who is averaging just over 5 points per game.
“Thomas Robinson is one of the better rebounders I’ve seen, next to Jared,” said Ravenel, a transfer from Boston College. “Jared’s a great rebounder, probably the best I’ve ever played with or against. Thomas Robinson is in the same (class).”
Robinson is the only player in the Big 12 averaging a double-double, with 17.4 points and 12 rebounds per game. He’s coming off a career-high 26 points and 11 rebounds against Long Beach State, showing an ability to score from the perimeter along with working hard in the post.
“We’re a different basketball team (without Jared),” Matta said, “but guys have to play their role. They have to do the job that they need to do every possession.”
Self said he expects Sullinger to play, along with Taylor, his starting point guard who has a right knee injury. Taylor came off the bench in Tuesday’s victory over the 49ers, but he wound up playing 34 minutes and participated fully in practice this week.
“I hope everybody’s healthy and everybody plays and it’s an unbelievable game where you have two terrific teams and sets of players going after each other,” Self said.
The Jayhawks have played perhaps the toughest schedule in the country, losing to top-ranked Kentucky at Madison Square Garden and No. 7 Duke in the Maui Invitational championship, along with victories over bluebloods UCLA and Georgetown and Big West favorite Long Beach State.
The Buckeyes beat No. 12 Florida earlier this year, and a couple weeks ago rolled to an 85-63 win over the Blue Devils, the kind of comprehensive performance that gave Self shudders.
“They dominated the game,” Self said. “I thought they were so impressive on both ends, and so if we struggled with Duke and they handled Duke that night in a pretty good fashion, I know we’re going to have to play very, very well to put ourselves in position to have a chance to win late.”
Ohio State leads the nation in scoring margin at nearly 30 points per game, is first in turnover margin at plus-8.8, and is tied for the lead with Northwestern in assist-to-turnover ratio. As if that wasn’t enough, the Buckeyes are also third nationally in assists per game, fifth in rebounding margin at better than 10 per game, eighth in field goal percentage and ninth in scoring defense.
For someone who is as well-versed in statistical analysis as Self, those numbers are enough to cause a double-take. Or maybe even a triple-take.
Of course, the Jayhawks will have an advantage of playing at Allen Fieldhouse.
The concourse in the venerable gym was filling with students on Wednesday morning, camping out so that they would have prime spots for Saturday’s game. The atmosphere is expected to approach that of an NCAA tournament game, and Matta said it’s exactly what he hoped for when the game was scheduled.
“In terms of that type of atmosphere affecting you,” Matta said, “you’ll find out a lot about your team. I’ve always said this, you learn a lot about your players when a team hits you on a 6-0 run and you look in their eyes and is there fire in their eyes or is there tears in their eyes. That tells you a lot about who they are. This will be a great opportunity.”
AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.