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From the Pressbox: Notes from Newark

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NEWARK, N.J. -- "They really don't have a weakness. They have athleticism, they have shooters, they have guys that can create off the bounce and they have a scoring threat around the goal with (Jared) Sullinger. And they play hard."

So says Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall, whose Eagles lost to Ohio State 64-45 in late November.

Rookie big man Sullinger is the Buckeyes' leading scorer but coach Thad Matta's team has great balance, with any of their perimeter players being capable of big scoring games. So if Tyndall had a guy like DeAndre Liggins, which OSU player would he pick for Liggins to defend?

"That' s a great question," Tyndall told The Leach Report radio show. "I think you probably put Liggins on Buford because he's probably the most aggressive (of their perimeter guys). And I would take my chances and not double Sullinger. If he gets 30, you've got to live with that. You don't want to give guys like (Jon) Diebler and (David) Lighty open looks at the end of the possession."

The MSU coach said Kentucky can create some matchup issues for Ohio State, too.

"Brandon Knight, first and foremost," Leach said. "Aaron Craft is a very good player but he'll be at a size disadvantage and he's going to be overwhelmed a little athletically. Craft is what I call a poor man's Bobby Hurley and he's better than people think."

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Has Ohio State faced any team similar to the challenge Kentucky will present? We put that question to longtime OSU radio voice Paul Keels.

"Maybe, in some ways, Purdue, because of the ability they have to get (different) guys rolling and because of the athleticism," Keels said. "Maybe Illinois a little, but Kentucky  has been more consistent (than the Illini)."

Ohio State lost as the favorite to Tennessee in the round of 16 last March and Keels believes that memory has been a motivating force for this team.

"I think that was big," he said. "That was a game a lot of people thought Ohio State could and should have won."

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Kentucky is 2-4 all-time in the NCAA Tournament when facing number No. 1 ranked teams. The last win came in 1996 when John Calipari was coaching the opposing UMass Minutemen. The other win was the 1975 upset of undefeated Indiana in the Mideast Region final.

You could make the case that if Kentucky upsets Ohio State on Friday night, it will be UK's biggest NCAA upset since the epic performance against the Hooisers.

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Darius Miller's streak of consecutive double-figure scoring games ended at 10 in the West Virginia win. A return to that previous form would greatly enhance UK's chances for an upset against Ohio State, given that the Wildcats are 14-1 in Miller's career when he scores at least 15 points.

Back in 1998, a veteran player, Jeff Sheppard, took his game to a higher level and led Kentucky to a national championship. 

"Darius is, I think one of the few players on the team that understands and appreciates what it means to have Kentucky on the front of the jersey," Sheppard said. "When I was a fifth-year senior, I completely understood what that meant and it gives you the extra motivation to go out and do what you need to do to win games. But you can't press it. It has to flow and he needs to push and drive and do what he does, but at the same time, he can't try to do things that he usually doesn't, and that was the good thing about the team in 1998 was that we had the ability to know our role and do what we do."

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Freshmen have carried a big share of the load for the last two Kentucky teams, a stark contrast to the previous UK teams that made it to the national title game.

In 1975, Jack Givens was the sixth man on the squad that fell to UCLA in the finals and remembers clearly that he did not expect to have a prominent role.

"I understood that team belonged to them and they were nice enough to let me score some," Givens said. 

"The Goose," by the way, led UK with 24 points in the 1975 semifinal win over Syracuse.

Givens knows times have changed when it comes to players staying in college for four years, but at this point in his life, he looks back most fondly on those days wearing the blue and white.

"I wish there was a way that I could meet with these guys to let them know how wonderful it is to play four years," Givens said. "I am all for the guys going and making the money. I cannot say much because you go to college to get a great job and make good money. But the experience as I walked around (the Georgia Dome at the Southeastern Conference Tournament),  these Kentucky fans are just unbelievable."

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