Bucks' Sullinger refusing to be rattled in Big Ten
BY BRUCE HOOLEY
Feb. 6th, 2011
There are 180,000 reasons no one should confuse Ohio State center Jared Sullinger with Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton and three reasons they should.
Unlike Newton, Sullinger's father didn't try to sell him for the price of a three-bedroom split-level on a quiet cul-de-sac.
But just like the Heisman Trophy winner, Sullinger is smiling his way through the taunts he encounters in the hostile environments of the road while keeping his team unbeaten and on track for a national championship.
Hold on, that's just two reasons.
The third is that OSU, like Auburn with Newton, had no clue just how dynamic and far-reaching Sullinger's impact would be.
It's become obvious to the Buckeyes, just like it became with Auburn, that what separates them from the rest of their competition is the impervious man-child in the spotlight.
Sullinger could well win national player-of-the-year honors in his first season, given that the 18 points and 13 rebounds he contributed to an 82-69 win Sunday at Minnesota was really a ho-hum performance for him.
He shot only 8-of-20 from the field and was a woeful 2-of-8 from the free throw line. But despite the struggle those numbers suggest, OSU doesn't win as easily and perhaps not at all if Sullinger hadn't been at the center of everything, both literally and figuratively.
Watching the 6-foot-9, 280-lb freshman run the floor, dominate the glass and locate open teammates, it's apparent there is no big man like him in college basketball.
Sullinger isn't as integral to OSU as Jimmer Fredette is to BYU, only because Fredette must score 50 percent of his team's points for it to win.
Sullinger need not do that because of the weapons around him, but it is inarguable that he raises the effectiveness of his teammates because of his scoring capability and wondrous passing ability.
Play Sullinger one-on-one, as Minnesota tried at times, and he'll get a handful of and-one opportunities and put his assigned defender on the bench in foul trouble, as he did 6-10 Colton Iverson with four personal fouls in only 14 minutes.
Double-team Sullinger and he'll find a teammate for an open 3-pointer, which he did twice, or a dunk, which he did once.
At the start of the season, the ball wasn't going into the post as frequently because OSU figured its best bet was relying on three-year starters Jon Diebler, David Lighty and William Buford on the perimeter.
That's not how it's working now, nor how it should be.
OSU has realized its offense comes much easier by going through Sullinger. If he can't score himself, he'll make the return pass outside before the defense can adjust.
That often leads either directly to an open 3-pointer or the same shot via one quick additional pass.
As the defense scrambles to recover, it's become easier for Lighty and Buford to get past their man and score on mid-range jumpers.
The Buckeyes can afford to feed the post because they know it's coming back out if that's the proper play. Sullinger has 36 assists so far, or 25 more than Dallas Lauderdale managed all of last season playing the same position.
Sullinger rarely throws the ball away, and he almost never loses possession while making an offensive move.
He had just two turnovers in 35 minutes against Minnesota, which sent three physical defenders his way throughout. That mirrored Sullinger's zero turnovers in 40 minutes at Illinois, and shows why he's committed only 35 turnovers in 24 games.
Think Minnesota coach Tubby Smith is jealous?
His three bigs had a combined 12 throwaways against OSU.
Together, the Gophers trio of Iverson, 6-11 Ralph Sampson III and 6-9 Trevor Mbakwe outscored Sullinger by just four points and finished with one less rebound, despite playing in tandem and sometimes all at once.
That's quite a departure for Ohio State, which last season played with virtually no post threat because of Lauderdale's repertoire being limited to whatever he can dunk or tip in.
Lauderdale scored eight of his 10 points in the first four minutes of the second half against Minnesota on just such plays.
There's not a chance he finds that freedom if Sullinger isn't on the floor commanding Minnesota's attention.
Without him, the Buckeyes would still be an NCAA Tournament team, but they wouldn't be 24-0 overall, 11-0 in the Big Ten and owners of a 3