NEW ORLEANS — Welcome to “The Other Game” at the Final Four.
OK, so, the Ohio State-Kansas matchup might not have the fantastic freshmen, the outspoken coaches or blood-feud storyline of the opening semifinal between Kentucky and Louisville. But this one still should be worth a two-hour investment in front of the TV set tonight.
Besides the chance to watch two top-line teams play for a spot in the national title game, the Buckeyes-Jayhawks game offers a rare opportunity to see two All-Americans going at it with everything on the line.
Ohio State is led by Jared Sullinger, the sophomore forward who missed the first matchup between these teams with a bad back. Kansas’ best player is Thomas Robinson, who had 21 points and seven rebounds in the Jayhawks’ 78-67 win on Dec. 10.
“In my eyes, he’s the college player of the year,” Sullinger said of Robinson. “I know some think different. But with his season, the way he took his team to the top, you’ve just got to give it to him.”
In fact, it’s Kentucky’s Anthony Davis who took player of the year awards on Friday. But while Davis is a story of an ultra-talented freshman trying to lead his team to a championship in what likely will be his only year with the Wildcats, Sullinger and Robinson approach college in a different way.
At one point last season, Sullinger was viewed as a surefire lottery pick, a one-and-done prospect with nothing much left to prove in college. He never saw it that way, however, and when Ohio State was eliminated from last year’s tournament as a No. 1 seed, the 6-foot-9 forward committed to staying in college.
“I wanted to make a statement, that not everybody is using college basketball as a pit stop to go the next level,” he said. “That there’s more than money and endorsements. There’s championships that you’ve got to win at every level. … That’s why I came back.”
“Pride,” was also one of the first words Robinson used when asked about his decision to return for his junior year.
He spent most of his first two seasons playing limited minutes behind the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus. NBA scouts were telling Robinson he could be a first-round draft pick if he left.
“It was a pride issue,” Robinson said. “I didn’t want people to guess and be like, ‘I think he can play. We’ve seen glimpses.’ I wanted to come back and prove to everybody that I’m a good player.”