NEW ORLEANS —
While Kentucky coach John Calipari, never one for understatement, said he thinks Game 1 will be played in the 90s, Las Vegas oddsmakers disagree. The over-under for Louisville-Kentucky is the exact same as it is for Ohio State-Kansas: 136.5. The Buckeyes are 2.5-point favorites over Kansas — a sign of how big a difference Sullinger and a neutral court mean in the eyes of the "experts."
Of course, both teams have changed considerably over the past three months.
"Guys were still finding their own way. Guys were trying to define their own role to the coaching staff," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said of the December meeting. "Eventually it hits and guys say, 'OK, this is what I need to do.' I know that has been a big thing for us."
The game has other intriguing matchups, namely how the rematch between guards Aaron Craft of Ohio State and Tyshawn Taylor of Kansas will play out. In the first game, Taylor had 13 assists despite playing with a bulky brace on his knee. Craft had 11 points and six assists.
"From December 10th until now, I think I'm a completely different player," Taylor said.
There's also the coaching matchup of Self, who snapped a 20-year title drought at KU in 2008, against Matta, who restored Ohio State's program after scandal during the Jim O'Brien era.
These are two programs with 62 wins this year and 24 Final Four appearances overall between them.
Some undercard, huh?
Ever the well-spoken diplomat, Sullinger naturally said he appreciated the intensity of Louisville-Kentucky.
"Two great coaches, two great basketball teams that are playing very, very well right now," he said. "But we can't focus on that game. Because if we overlook Kansas, we'll be packing our bags up and heading home."