|Sullinger was in street clothes and on the bench when Ohio State and Kansas played on Dec. 10. (US Presswire)|
NEW ORLEANS -- We were supposed to get this matchup three months ago. We were supposed to see the battle between two All-Americans and future lottery picks back in December.
But the matchup never materialized. It was over before it even began.
Saturday, we will finally get it: Jared Sullinger vs. Thomas Robinson.
"It's always a great matchup to see [Sullinger] and Robinson go against each other," Ohio State sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas said.
Sullinger, the 6-foot-9 Ohio State sophomore, missed the Dec. 10 game in Lawrence with back spasms, one of two contests he missed due to the injury. Kansas took advantage of his absence, as Robinson and Kevin Young combined for 35 points and 11 rebounds in the 78-67 win.
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It is one of the most highly anticipated individual matchups of the season, and the fact that Sullinger missed the first meeting only heightens the excitement for the battle.
"I was disappointed," Robinson said. "I wanted to go against him. Anytime you get a challenge like that, you want to take it on. But I'll get my chance Saturday."
From the moment the Buckeyes arrived in Kansas back in December, Sullinger knew he wouldn't be able to play. He couldn't really move, couldn't bend, and certainly couldn't have been a factor against Robinson and Jeff Withey. Sullinger felt he would have been a detriment to Ohio State if he actually suited up and played, given the state of his back spasms.
Despite that, there is a faction of people who claim Sullinger went out of his way not to play against Robinson.
Sullinger finds it amusing.
"If people only understood what I was going through," he said. "I think that's just funny. Thomas Robinson is great; don't get me wrong. But I will never duck from anyone."
More than likely, Sullinger and Robinson will not be matched up for the entire game. Withey will probably start out on Sullinger, with Robinson guarding Thomas. At some point in the game, though, we will see the two All-Americans battling in the low post.
Even though they won't be on each other for 40 minutes, the game could come down to which interior player has the better game. No one on Ohio State could stop Robinson back in December; Sullinger's presence could even the playing field on Saturday.
"Anybody you play in November or early December is like two seasons ago," Kansas head coach Bill Self said. "They are definitely different in large part because Jared didn't play against us."
Louisville vs. Kentucky is clearly the headline game on Saturday. But there aren't too many eye-popping individual matchups; there's a talent differential in that game. In most Final Fours, the meeting of Robinson and Sullinger would be discussed and analyzed ad nauseam this entire week.
The last time the two players went against each other was on the summer recruiting circuit, when both players attended Adidas Nations, the LeBron James Skills Academy and the Amar'e Stoudemire Skills Academy.
There's mutual respect between the two players.
"He can go. He can play," Sullinger said of Robinson. "What's funny is everyone is shocked that he came out of nowhere. He played behind Marcus and Markieff. He will never give up on plays. That's why he's the Player of the Year, in my opinion."
Robinson agrees with Sullinger about the Player of the Year quip, but he also knows the Columbus native is a worthy adversary.
"He is a good player," Robinson said. "If you don't come prepared, he could cause a lot of problems for you. I just want to make sure that my mind is right and that I am prepared to face him."
While everyone knows most of the eyes will be focused on Sullinger and Robinson, the fact that they might not guard each other takes away some of the luster. Moreover, the two teams have plenty of other weapons.
It's the marquee individual matchup of the weekend, but it's merely the highlight of what should be a back-and-forth game.
"Everyone makes it a big deal," Sullinger said. "At the end of the day, it's The Ohio State University vs. Kansas University. May the best team win."