Ohio State Basketball is like being George Harrison to the football program’s John Lennon/Paul McCartney. Sure, they produce their share of memorable moments, but they will never be top billing in the band (or University for that matter). While it is nice if they have a great year or a nice run of solid years, the Scarlet and Gray fan base will always be more excited for Spring Football than the NCAA Tournament.
But as I told you last week, this years version of Buckeyes hoops squad is one you all need to pay attention too. Last night, in Gainesville against the #10 Florida Gators, Thad Matta’s club pounded the home team into submission, making them tap out in a 93-75 thrashing. Its as impressive a performance against a high quality opponent in a November basketball game as you will see.
Led by fabulous Freshman Jared Sullinger and Senior leader David Lighty who both scored 26 points, the Bucks second half surged abused the Gators, who took a three point lead into the half. After the break, they hit a sizzling 24 of 34 shots and pulled away in the end, outscoring Florida by 21.
Its been said a lot over the last 18 hours, but this team is better than last year’s version that was a #2 seed and featured the National Player of the Year, Evan Turner. The difference is two-fold.
In the post. Sullinger gives Matta something he didn’t have last year – a true post presence. The Columbus native would not be in Scarlet and Gray if not for the one and done rule, so enjoy him while you can. I know I certainly did last night. In the second half, it was clear that no matter who Florida threw at Sullinger, whether it be 6’10 Senior Vernon Macklin or 6’8 Senior Alex Tyus, nobody was stopping the kid.
He showed back to the basket moves and used both hands to finish, a quality that few 18 year old Freshman possess. “I’ve said he’s productive, he produces and he finishes,’’ Matta said. “Look at his field-goal percentage. He was 13-of-17. He shoots like that in practice.’’
That’s right, he was 13-17 from the field. Amazing stuff. The thing is, this is only the tip of the iceberg for Sullinger, playing in just his second college game.
Multiple scoring options. Last year, the Buckeyes literally played six guys. This year, Matta’s Freshman class is so special that it has opened up his rotation. They are built for March. The point guard situation coming into the season is the biggest question mark. William Buford starts but is more of a combo guard. Freshman Aaron Craft is the one who will have the ball in his hands the most. Off the bench last night, Craft played 29 minutes scoring seven points and dishing out five assists. Yes, he turned the ball over three times, but you can expect some nerves from a kid playing his first road game in a hostile environment. However, he looked smooth and under control.
The balance they showed last night will carry them far. Matta doesn’t have to just rely on Sullinger to get points in the paint. The doubling down on Sullinger opened up the perimeter for Lighty, Jon Diebler, and Buford, who combined to hit eight threes in 15 tries. Four of the five starters scored 14 points or more.
“When you’ve got someone like that it opens up everything, the penetration, the outside shots and that’s what our team likes to do with our guards,’’ said Lighty. “We had this at times last year with Dallas [Lauderdale], but it was more on the defensive end. Sully has the skill on the offensive end to open everything up.’’
Matta was playing this game as if it were a tournament game, relying heavily on his starters and Craft. We didn’t see as much of McDonalds All-American Freshman Deshaun Thomas (only played eight minutes), but we will. Once March comes, your rotation shortens. If you look at the last three NCAA Champions, these squads played strictly eight guys:
Duke 2010 (8):
Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek, Miles Plumlee, Mason Plumlee, Andre Dawkins
North Carolina 2009 (7):
Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, Ed Davis, Bobby Frasor
Kansas 2008 (8):
Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Colllins, Sasha Kaun, Cole Aldrich
This Ohio State team has a ton of potential and they put it on display last night. Make sure you get on board now. Its gonna be a fun winter in Columbus.