Final Four Notes: Sullinger Ready For Kansas

Ohio State is in its second Final Four in five years, but the Buckeyes hope this is the year it will capture the program's first national title since 1960. Get updates on Jared Sullinger's mind-set, Deshaun Thomas' NBA thoughts, and Thad Matta's appreciation for the Final Four inside.

When Ohio State faced Kansas the first time on Dec. 10, Thad Matta didn't struggle for a moment when opting not to play his star player. Sophomore All-American Jared Sullinger, who missed the game because of a lower back injury, couldn't help but second-guess the head coach.

As Sullinger watched from the bench, feeling helpless because of his inability to help his team in any other form than cheering, the big man took the entire burden of the Buckeyes' eventual loss.

"I feel like I let the team down," Sullinger said Tuesday before Ohio State traveled to New Orleans for Saturday's rematch with the Jayhawks in the Final Four. "When that final buzzer went off and we got done shaking hands I walked off the court and I felt like all the weight was on my shoulders."

The first time these two teams played, many envisioned it could be a preview for an eventual Final Four matchup. Now that those predictions have come to fruition, Sullinger feels energized to help his Buckeyes get the job done in the second game.

"I felt like I could have helped them overcome the times we had it down to four points and had a turnover or something or we didn't score a basket," Sullinger said, referring to the Buckeyes' 78-67 loss in Lawrence, Kan. "I just felt like everything was my fault. So I take that as a little bit of motivation going to New Orleans and being ready to play Kansas."

Matta looks at it differently. While the matchup was a national game that had early-season NCAA Tournament implications on the line, the head coach didn't find it was worth leveraging the health of his star player.

Looking back at it now, Matta feels it helped the Buckeyes grow up quicker.

"I think playing in that environment was something that probable helped us throughout the course of the season," Matta said. "You didn't have 18 points and 10 rebounds you could count on.

"Fortunately we were able to throw Jared back into the fold. Took us a little while, I think we got back to playing the way we wanted to in the end."

  • Deshaun Thomas to the NBA? After Sullinger turned his back on the NBA Draft after a freshman season that probably warranted consideration for leaving early, it has become a forgone conclusion that the sophomore now has only two games remaining in his college career.

    Given the way Thomas has performed in Ohio State's run to the Final Four, talks have surfaced that the Buckeyes could be sending two sophomores into this year's NBA Draft. Thomas, however, said he hasn't given it much thought.

    "I have just been out here trying to play and get my teammates involved," said Thomas, who has scored 87 points in four tournaments games – the most of by any player still remaining in the NCAA Tournament.

    "I'm only trying to worry about getting a national championship. I'm trying to be successful out there on the court for my team and also for myself. I never really thought about the NBA. If a chance like that comes, then it will probably be something I will have to look at, but right now, I'm just focused on trying to get to the national championship."

  • Matta Hopes To Enjoy The Final Four. Matta has been successful enough to advance two Ohio State teams to the Final Four in five years. This time around the head coach said he hopes to take a step back and appreciate the moment.

    Matta didn't do that last time.

    "When we were there in '07, I'll be honest, when the final horn sounded, I walked off the court, I stopped and asked myself, 'What just happened?' It didn't even register that we had played in the Final Four for the national championship," he said.

    Matta hadn't even gotten to New Orleans before he took a moment to realize what he has accomplished this year. Though he didn't have a drawn out conversation with someone about the satisfaction of advancing to college basketball's biggest stage, Matta thought he took a big step when he was in his backyard Monday morning and saw deer running around.

    "I said, 'Hey fellas, the Buckeyes are going to the Final Four,' and they took off running," Matta said. "At that point I said, 'OK, that's a step in the right direction to enjoy this, I told the deer we were going to the Final Four.'"

    Matta isn't sure if he'll have a similar moment before Ohio State tips off on Saturday. "I say I will," he said. "But I won't."

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