|Thad Matt, up against Bill Self, is vying for his first ring behind Jared Sullinger. (Getty Images)|
NEW ORLEANS -- Kansas has Thomas Robinson, and Ohio State has Jared Sullinger. That's two of the best five players in college basketball. Kansas has Bill Self, and Ohio State has Thad Matta. Two of the best five coaches. Know what else Kansas basketball has? It has Kansas. One of the most recognizable brands in this sport. And of course Ohio State is a major brand unto itself.
So anyway, Kansas plays Ohio State in the Final Four on Saturday.
And nobody cares.
Most years, a Final Four meeting between Kansas and Ohio State would be everything a college basketball fan could hope for. Kansas, home of Wilt Chamberlain and Dean Smith and Danny Manning and, yes, Thomas Robinson and Bill Self. Ohio State, home of Jerry Lucas and Bobby Knight and John Havlicek and, yes, Jared Sullinger and Thad Matta.
Most years, Kansas-Ohio State would be the story. This year, it's the postscript. It's something to glance at after we've ripped through the bombshell:
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Not that anyone involved would agree with that. Players from Kentucky and Louisville told me I was nuts, that their game wasn't overshadowing the other semifinal.
"It's a Final Four game for [Kansas and Ohio State], too," said Kentucky guard Marquis Teague. "I don't think it's like that. I mean, it shouldn't be like that."
It is, it is. Just don't tell that to Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas.
"No way," he said. "Everyone's talking about us, too."
But what if, outside your cocoon in Columbus, Ohio, they're not?
"Well," said Buckeyes guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., "it doesn't matter what anyone's talking about. Whoever wins that game has to play one of us, anyway. And we're two good teams too, you know?"
Well, sure. But understand something: They're not talking about your game.
"That's fine," said Kansas guard Travis Releford. "A lot of people haven't talked about us all year, because we weren't supposed to do some of the things we've done. But here we are."
Yes indeed, and in prime time to boot. CBS is airing the Kentucky-Louisville game first, and while some would say that means Kansas-Ohio State has been given the more coveted prime-time slot, I say it's something more devious. I say CBS is airing Kentucky-Louisville first to ensure that butts are on couches by 6 p.m. Eastern on a Saturday night. Once there, those butts will stick around for Ohio State and Kansas.
Well, most of them.
People will watch Ohio State and Kansas because it's a huge game, but it's not the main course of the Final Four. It's the sorbet -- something to cleanse the palate after we devour the most intriguing college basketball game since Duke met UNLV in the 1990 title game billed as Good vs. Evil.
Big statement, that one. Care to tell me I'm wrong? Care to tell me what game in the last 22 years has offered more intrigue than Kentucky vs. Louisville, Calipari vs. Pitino, these fans vs. those fans? I've been to every Final Four since 1998, and I can assure you that nothing since then compares. George Mason vs. Florida in the 2006 Final Four was cool because it was George Mason. Kansas-North Carolina in the 2008 Final Four was intense because of Roy Williams. Butler-Duke in the 2010 title game was riveting because it was another version of Good and Evil, with Duke somehow morphing over to the dark side.
But Kentucky-Louisville is nuts. It's insane. It's scary, is what it is, and it's overshadowing what promises to be one hell of a game in the other semifinal.
Kansas and Ohio State? Are you kidding me? This is a great game with layers like an artichoke. On the surface, it's Kansas trying to get one step away from its second national title in five years, and its fourth overall ... and it's Ohio State in contention for a second title.
Peel back a layer, and you've got Bill Self bidding to become one of the most decorated coaches in college basketball history, two wins away from becoming one of just 14 men to win multiple national titles ... and you've got Thad Matta, every bit as good as Self but without the ring, going for his first national title.
Peel back another later, and its Robinson vs. Sullinger -- two future NBA lottery picks at power forward, absolutely playing for draft position.
Another layer? The most disruptive defensive point guard in college basketball, Ohio State sophomore Aaron Craft, against mistake-prone Kansas senior Tyshawn Taylor.
Another layer? Ohio State's William Buford, not even the No. 2 scoring option on his team -- that would be Deshaun Thomas -- needing 29 points on Saturday night to become just the third Buckeye with 2,000 career points.
And finally, for that sweet morsel inside all those layers, there's the rematch factor. Kansas defeated Ohio State 78-67 on Dec. 10, but there are two mitigating factors. One, the game was at Kansas. Two, the Buckeyes were without Sullinger because of back spasms. Then again, there's a third factor: Kansas' Taylor was playing with a torn meniscus and sprained MCL in his right knee, which would require surgery one day later. Even so, Taylor had nine points and a career-high 13 assists (but seven turnovers against the relentless Craft) in 35 minutes.
This game between Kansas and Ohio State is a beauty. It's a masterpiece. Fail to embrace it at your own peril. But if you don't get excited about it, listen, I'd understand.
Kentucky-Louisville? It's gonna be freaking awesome.