Matta believes teams playing 'Hack-a-Sully'
The phrase ''Hack-a-Sully'' is being added to the Big Ten lexicon.
To put it quite simply, teams are trying to beat unbeaten Ohio State by beating up center Jared Sullinger.
At least that's a theory floating around the top-ranked Buckeyes these days, and teammate William Buford isn't a bit surprised at the tactic.
''Jared's a big monster down there,'' Buford said Saturday, shortly before the Buckeyes (23-0, 10-0 Big Ten) boarded a charter for Sunday's test at Minnesota. ''You can't really stop him. I don't think if you put two people on him you can really stop him. So you have to send people who just hack him all day.''
The 6-foot-9, 280-pound freshman leads the Buckeyes with averages of 18 points and 10.1 rebounds. Built like an 18-wheeler and almost as utilitarian, few teams even try to guard him one-on-one. So, they drop a defender off one of Ohio State's perimeter shooters to help out.
A master at using his body for leverage, he invariably gets fouled, gets a bucket in traffic - or both. So far, the blows have bounced off Sullinger's body, which is more akin to that of Charles Barkley than your typical, chiseled big man.
But that doesn't mean Buckeyes coach Thad Matta likes all the hand-to-hand combat.
After a black-and-blue, 62-53 win over Michigan on Thursday night - with Sullinger muscling his way for 19 points and 15 rebounds - an exasperated Matta said there was a third way to try to stifle Sullinger: continually foul him.
He cited something he heard after 7-footer Greg Oden, a dominant force in the middle during Ohio State's 35-4 national runner-up team from four years ago, moved on to the NBA.
''It's like a Big Ten coach told me after Oden left: 'We told our guys, foul him every single time - they won't call every one,''' Matta said.
Matta compares Sullinger with former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough, a legendary giver and receiver of punishment around the hoop. He's even reached out to the Tar Heels' coaching staff to ask how they handled the surplus of hard fouls dealt to Hansbrough.
In the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, where assault and battery is just a form of good defense, those knots and welts build up. Matta has no doubt teams just figure they'll send three big men out to exhaust all their 15 fouls and hope Sullinger gets frustrated or even strikes back.
''Yeah, I think that they say, 'Let's be as rough and as physical as we can.' There's no doubt about that,'' Matta said.
Michigan's John Beilein disagrees. He said his team didn't set out to intentionally pound on the Buckeyes' big man, in part because Sullinger is such a good free-throw shooter and because he didn't want to thin out his corps of big men.
''He's a 70-percent guy,'' he said of Sullinger. ''You end up getting guys in foul trouble (and) they're going to foul out of the game. I've never really used that strategy unless it was late in the game.''
Others believe that Sullinger's not being treated any differently than anyone else; it's textbook defense in the conference to make an opposing star earn every point. Besides, it's not as if it's just under the basket where Big Ten games turn into wrestling matches.
Take, for example, Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe, who will butt heads and other body parts with Sullinger on Sunday.
''That was one of the main reasons why I came here. My game fits perfectly,'' he said of the rough-and-tumble Big Ten. ''I'm one of those guys that invites contact. I think it fits my game pretty well. It's a very physical conference. We beat each other up on a nightly basis.''
Ohio State freshman point guard Aaron Craft was an all-state quarterback in high school.
''There's definitely some brutal football games. But overall just being here and playing the amount of games, this is more of a grind on your body,'' he said. ''I mean, the guards are no slouches themselves. There's definitely some bumping and grinding going on out there as well.''
Adding to Ohio State's unease are that only one current player, David Lighty, has ever won a game at Minnesota's Williams Arena, and that the Golden Gophers are deep and talented on the frontline.
''I don't know if there's a more post-oriented team than Minnesota,'' Matta said.
In other words, that many more candidates to throw in Sullinger's way.
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.