NCAA Final Four Kansas Ohio St Basketball

Jeff Withey and Deshaun Thomas cause Jared Sullinger’s off-night

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Kansas didn’t have just one hero as they came back from 13 points down to knock off Ohio State 64-62 and earn a trip to Monday’s national title game.

Travis Releford, Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson all made play after play down the stretch to help seal up the win. Thomas Robinson was sensational in the second half. Deshaun Thomas probably deserves some of the credit as well, as his offensive woes and foul trouble were a catalyst for the Jayhawks in the second half.

That said, there was no one more valuable to Kansas than Jeff Withey.

The 7-foot center was sensational on Saturday night. You know that 5-for-19 line that Jared Sullinger posted? The majority of those misses can be attributed to the long arms of Withey. He finished with seven blocks and eight boards in 34 minutes, and he made have had an even greater affect on Sullinger than those numbers indicate.

“He really, really compliments what they have out there,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said of Withey. “He seems to really know his role and take great pride in it.”

It isn’t a secret that Sullinger struggles when he is guarded by players that are bigger than him. The key for Withey was that he was able to hold his own on the block and not get bullied by the stronger Sullinger.

“He’s a big guy and a great offensive player,” Withey said when asked what he did to contain Sullinger. “It was definitely tough. I think my length kind of bothered him. I’ve guarded big guys before, and as long as my base was fine, my [arms] are a lot longer.”

That wasn’t the only reason that Sullinger struggled, however. Deshaun Thomas found himself in foul trouble for much of the second half. Without Thomas on the floor, Kansas was able to double-team Sullinger hard. So in addition to having to figure out a way to score over the much taller Withey, Sullinger had to deal with Thomas Robinson collapsing on him for much of the second half.

“I wasn’t expecting Kansas to double,” Sullinger said. “A couple times it caught me off guard.”

With Sullinger struggling and Thomas riding the pine, Ohio State simply did not have enough offensive weapons to hold off the Jayhawks, and as a result, they are heading home.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.