The No. 7 Buckeyes' first chance to prove it was worthy was at Duke on Nov. 28, but the team allowed the Blue Devils – now No. 1 in the country – to score 50 points in the second half before escaping with the narrow 73-68 win.
In the time since losing to Duke, OSU has had five games – all of which were won by 10 points or more. The Jayhawks (9-1), however, will be the first team since to really test how much the Buckeyes improved in the month since traveling to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Following are five keys to the game for Ohio State, that if followed, will give the Buckeyes a chance to come out victorious in their second clash with another top-10 team:
1. Deshaun Thomas must get his – As we've seen every game, opposing defenses put all their efforts in stopping the junior forward in order to make Ohio State's other options beat them. That's most likely going to be the case with Kansas, but that doesn't discount the fact that Ohio State must get 17 points – or probably more – from Thomas in order to knock off the Jayhawks. There's been improvement in Thomas' game with handling the pressures of being the opposition's focus, but he's still working on being the focal point now that OSU no longer has Jared Sullinger in the paint.
Thomas did only fair job getting his against Duke, who refused to leave him open for even a moment in the second half. Having scored only 16 points against the Blue Devils, Thomas simply didn't have it in him to overcome Duke's focus and will OSU to victory. It's no wonder the Buckeyes couldn't hold on in Cameron Indoor, but only that is partially Thomas' fault – which brings me to my next point:
2. Who else is going to step up? – Even if Thomas gets 22 points, which I think you'd have to take if offered to you before the game, Ohio State isn't going to win if no reliable secondary scoring options emerge. OSU got looks against Duke as the Devils keyed on Thomas in the second half, but the shots didn't fall (which was most notable with Aaron Craft's 3-for-15 performance). Those looks at the basketball are going to be available again against the Jayhawks – whether it is Craft or options such as Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson or LaQuinton Ross – and OSU simply has to hit them.
In four of Ohio State's last five wins, four players reached double figures in scoring, which is the ideal scenario for Matta. However, getting those numbers is a lot easier when facing inferior opponents, which was the case in each of those wins. Can someone do it against the Jayhawks? We'll find out. For right now, I'm thinking it can be Ross, who showed he was capable offensively in his first real action against the Blue Devils (I actually thing OSU would have won had he played more in the second half of that game).
3. Getting production from the post players – While the absence of Sullinger is clear in just about every aspect of the game, it obviously is most clear in the post. Ohio State has three players who are manning the paint now in senior Evan Ravenel and sophomores Amir Williams and Trey McDonald. The Buckeyes' performance in the post through 10 games, however, has left something to be desired. That isn't good news since the strength of Kansas' team is 7-foot big Jeff Withey.
It's probably going to take two – or all three – big men to step up and play a great game collectively to slow Withey, who has averaged 14.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.4 blocks per game through Kansas' first 10 contests. On the flip side, Williams and Ravenel combine for 11 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, far less than Withey and, of course, the averages Sullinger boasted alone. Statistics aside, the Buckeye big men have to play with energy, which Ravenel admitted he needs to work on and certainly applies to Williams. The Buckeyes don't need a 20-point, 20-rebound collective performance out of the two, but they do need them to make things uncomfortable for Withey.
4. Get points in transition – The reason why OSU has been able to get a wide range of scoring in their last five games is because it has been able to push the tempo and create easy open looks. The thing that you must be cognizant of is that those opportunities in transition came against teams that don't have the athletes/players that can maintain a high level of play for 40 minutes without turning the ball over. Can Ohio State force Kansas to take bad shots and turn it over to create those opportunities? It won't be as easy, but the Buckeyes know getting as many easy buckets as possible will be a key in whether they beat Kansas.
5. Be patient – Even if Ohio State plays a great game, the Buckeyes aren't going to completely control the tempo and run all over the floor on the Jayhawks for 40 minutes. Kansas is a good team that will make their runs and force OSU to respond. The game against Duke got away from the Buckeyes when the Blue Devils made their run in the second half – OSU went from the confident team that was in control to the panicked squad that forced drives and took bad shots as a way to compensate, all while missing the looks that did present themselves. And it didn't help the Duke's run was magnified by an incredibly intense crowd.
Ohio State isn't going to get an easy bucket every time down the floor, and it certainly isn't going to stop Kansas from making its runs. The crucial thing is that OSU keeps its head in bad situations and is able to make the right judgments most of the time, regardless of the situation. That means being efficient in half-court sets and understand the risks worth taking, and the ones that aren't.