Buckeyes well aware of recent history with Kansas


Buckeyes well aware of recent history with Kansas

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) After Kansas knocked off Ohio State last season in the national semifinals, Buckeyes guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. didn't have the heart to even watch the championship game.

As this season has progressed, Smith has grown more and more excited by the looming specter of a home rematch with the Jayhawks.

``I've kind of been waiting for this game ever since our schedule got released in the summer,'' he said about Saturday's game pitting No. 9 Kansas against seventh-ranked Ohio State.

These are not the same teams from a year ago, when Kansas beat Ohio State twice. But that doesn't mean there still won't be a little edge to the game. What would you expect with the teams' recent history?

``I'm sure they have some hard feelings toward us and it is going to be a really tough environment,'' Kansas big man Jeff Withey said of the contest at Ohio State's Value City Arena. ``We haven't really been on the road yet so we'll see how the new guys react to that. But we are definitely looking forward to it.''

The 13th-ranked Jayhawks won the regular-season matchup at Allen Fieldhouse almost a year ago, taking advantage of All-America forward Jared Sullinger's absence (bad back) in a 78-67 victory over No. 2 Ohio State.

Then they squared off in New Orleans in the Final Four, with the Buckeyes leading most of the game and by 13 points before withering down the stretch to fall 64-62.

``If you look at the games last year, we didn't play them very well at all, but they guarded us. And they didn't play great, but we guarded them,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said. ``The difference for us was in the second half we were able to get some 3-on-2s and some 2-on-1s and was able to make six or eight easy baskets and score easy points that we didn't have to go against half-court defense.''

The game figures to be a grade card for each team.

``Kansas right now is playing at a level as high as anybody in college basketball,'' Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. ``They start four seniors. It's like, wow. Their leading scorer is a redshirt freshman. So they're a very, very experienced, seasoned team. From the standpoint of the caliber of the team that they are, obviously you're going to hopefully learn quite a bit about your team as you get ready to head into January, February and March.''

Comparisons to last year are frivolous, since the two best players on the floor are now in the NBA. Kansas' Thomas Robinson had 19 points and eight rebounds in the Final Four and now plays for pay for the Sacramento Kings.

Sullinger had 11 points and 11 rebounds but had three shots blocked by Withey in New Orleans. Currently with the Boston Celtics, Sullinger was surrounded by defenders after teammate Deshaun Thomas got into foul trouble in the semifinal.

Thomas, who pondered skipping out of his final two years to join them in the pros, is averaging 20.4 points and 7 rebounds a game. The 6-foot-7 junior never met a shot he wouldn't take - and make - which makes guarding him the biggest task for the Jayhawks.

``If you're a natural scorer like he is and averaging over 20 a game you've got the green light to shoot some good contested shots and he is good at making them,'' Self said. ``He is a shotmaker. He is a professional scorer at our level and last year we didn't stop him.''

Thomas had 19 points and kept Ohio State in it before a raucous crowd in Lawrence, Kan., a year ago.

The Jayhawks (9-1) have benefited from a comfortable schedule so far. They've had six home games in addition to three games before friendly faces in Kansas City. Their only loss came in their lone foray far from home, a 67-64 defeat to Michigan State in Atlanta.

Ohio State (9-1) dropped its biggest previous challenge, a 73-68 decision at current No. 1 Duke on Nov. 28. In that game, much like the last meeting with Kansas, the Buckeyes led most of the night but didn't make enough plays down the stretch.

Aaron Craft, Ohio State's pesky defensive whiz at point guard, believes the rematch will come down to toughness.

``Who's going to be the tougher team?'' he said. ``They do a phenomenal job of getting second-chance points, grabbing 50-50 balls, really limiting possessions. We have to find a way to overcome that, and match or better their intensity and their toughness. Because that's what Kansas basketball is about.''

Funny, but that's what Kansas also thinks of Ohio State.

``They are physical and they play that Big Ten style where they try to bully you,'' Withey said. ``They do all that really well. We've got to come ready.''

No matter who wins, both would like a redo - when the NCAA Final Four shifts to Atlanta in April.


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Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 


The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall reamins out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.

The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.


The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.

By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine, if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


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Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread


Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Detroit Red Wings

Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Mich.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Red Wings will be broadcast on NBCSN.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (42-24-7) take on the Red Wings (27-35-11) Thursday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Detroit.


The Capitals-Red Wings game will be broadcast on NBCSN. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Check back with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Red Wings (on NBCSN)
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime


Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Red Wings game:

Alex Ovechkin -  Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Travis Boyd - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches: Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body injury), Alex Chiasson, Jakub Jerabek


You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.