Jared Sullinger has been one of the nation's biggest stories this season as the diaper dandy has been dominant for Ohio State, making Buckeyes fans all but forget that Evan Turner left for the NBA after being the consensus National Player of the Year last year.
The freshman forward has averaged 17.6 points/10.2 rebounds/1.2 assists/28.5 minutes as the Buckeyes take an 11-0 record into tonight's home game with Oakland (7-7). His 126.8 offensive rating is 65th in the nation and he also ranks 20th in defensive rebounding percentage (26.8), 63rd in turnover rate (9.8), 68th in free throw rate (70.0) and 90th in offensive rebounding percentage (13.9). His offensive rating is third in the Big Ten among players with at least 24 percent of their team's possessions, trailing Northwestern's John Shurna (135.5) and Wisconsin's Jon Leuer (128.6).
Sullinger is a big reason why Ohio State is considered one of the top challengers to Duke as the Blue Devils try to win back-to-back national titles. However, what makes the Buckeyes scary is that they are lot more than just Sullinger. South Carolina coach Darin Horn can attest to that even though Sullinger torched his Gamecocks for 30 points and 19 rebounds last Saturday in a 79-57 victory.
“When a team is really good it’s because they’re good everywhere and if you try to take it all away you’ll take away nothing,” Horn said. “It’s tough when you’ve got a guy like Sullinger you can throw it into and you know he’s getting in the rim, especially when he’s able to get to the foul line like he is. That’s huge, but then you couple that with perimeter play that’s not only skilled and capable but veteran, it’s better.”
Ohio State has the best adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation with an 83.8 mark and its 119.1 adjusted offensive efficiency ranks fifth.
The Buckeyes have five players scoring in double figures, including senior point guard David Lighty (13.2/3.9/3.8/30.4), senior guard Jon Diebler (12.6/1.9/2.5/32.2), junior guard William Buford (12.5/4.8/3.6/28.5) and freshman forward Deshaun Thomas (10.5/5.0/0.7/17.5). Thomas is actually taking a higher percentage of shots than Sullinger, 31.2 percent--that ranks 73rd in the country--and Diebler has 140.1 offensive rating, which ranks eighth nationally, with a 70.1 effective field goal percentage and a 71.8 true shooting percentage that place him ninth and 10th.
While the offense is running through Sullinger and Thomas and another freshman, guard Aaron Craft, has become the energy guy as the sixth man, Ohio State coach Thad Matta says his first-year players have been following the lead of his veterans.
"We're a unique team with three seniors, one junior and no sophomores," Matta said. "I told the freshmen when they came in that I've got great faith that the upperclassmen can lead you in right direction and show you way things should be done. The freshmen have come in with great humility, their mouths shut, they're eyes and ears open and they've done a good job of listening to the upperclassmen. I'm proud of the way guys like Jon Diebler and the upperclassmen have been leaders and I'm proud of the way the freshmen have followed them."
However, no one has stood out quite like Sullinger, who continually draws comparisons to Greg Oden, who led Ohio State to the national championship game in 2007 as a freshman before becoming the first pick in the NBA Draft that year. However, Matta has a hard time drawing parallels between the two as far as their style of play.
"They are two completely different players just from the standpoint I think Jared can score with two hands, which is important," Matta said. "He's a little bit more polished away from the basket, whereas Greg was more dominant on defense and right around the basket. What they do have in common, though, is they are both winners and both of love to compete."
Coach K Matches Smith, Eyes Knight
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski notched his 879th career victory Monday night when the Blue Devils rolled to 98-72 victory over visiting Elon. That moved him into a tie for second-place on the all-time coaching wins list with Dean Smith and there is more than a little irony in the two men being linked.
Smith, of course, spent his entire head coaching career at North Carolina, Duke's archrival. Smith won 24 of 38 meetings against Krzyzewski.
Krzyzewski is now just 23 wins away from Bob Knight's record of 902. However, the venerable Coach K says he does not keep track of such milestones.
"I have never really dwelled on anything like that, number of national championships or number of wins," Krzyzewski said. "You have to play like you have something to prove every game, and I try to coach like it's the first game that I've coached at Duke or at Army or whatever, and whatever happens after that, happens."
Nonethelesss, Krzyzewski being on the verge of passing Smith is meaningful in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina and in the ACC. The Duke and North Carolina campuses are located just eight miles apart.
Krzyzewski has said that he wishes he had gotten to know Smith better over the years. However, the fierceness of the rivalry wouldn't allow the two to socialize publicly in the Raleigh-Durham area. Those who know Krzyzewski say he has an immense amount of respect for Smith.
"Over time, that's where the respect grows," Duke assistant and former Blue Devils player Chris Collins told the Durham Sun-Herald. "It's such a unique rivalry because of the proximity of the two schools. Everything is intertwined between the fans of the two schools. The respect and friendship has grown over time. They have realized how much they meant to each other being part of Duke-UNC rivalry."
Duke (11-0) visits North Carolina-Greensboro (0-11) next Wednesday in what could be one of the biggest mismatches of the season. Duke is one of eight unbeaten teams left in the nation along with Ohio State San Diego State (14-0), Syracuse (13-0), Central Florida (11-0), Cincinnati (11-0), Kansas (11-0 and Connecticut (10-0). UNC-Greensboro is one of six winless teams along with Maryland-Baltimore County (0-12), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-11), Centenary (0-11), Colgate (0-10) and Alcorn State (0-9).
Reeling Memphis Tested Tonight
Memphis (8-1) hosts Georgetown (10-1) tonight and it will be interesting to see how the short-handed Tigers are able to stack up against the Hoyas. Since starting the season with seven straight victories, Memphis has struggled as it lost to Kansas at Madison Square Garden then needed overtime to beat Austin Peay then slipped past Texas A&M-Corpus Christi by just five.
Memphis' leading scorer, junior wing Wesley Witherspoon (13.0/4.6/1.6/27.3), is likely out until mid-January after undergoing knee surgery. Sophomore swingman D.J. Stephens has been out with a groin injury and junior forward Angel Garcia left school to begin his professional basketball career in Spain.
Memphis has also had chemistry issues. Its highly touted freshman class has struggled to jell with the veterans and there have been signs of some dissension.
"It is a question. I'm not afraid to say it. It's the truth. Will everybody buy in?" senior forward Will Coleman said. "Because I feel like if they do, if we all come together and just listen to the man in charge, we will be fine."
A&M Playing for Memory of Oyedeji
Texas A&M has quietly gotten off to an 11-1 start with its only loss coming to Boston College on Thanksgiving. The Aggies will take an eight-game winning streak into their Dec. 31 home game against McNeese State (8-4).
Texas A&M is playing with a purpose. The Aggies have dedicated their season to Tobi Oyedeji, a prized recruit who was killed in an automobile accident in May.
"This whole season is basically based on Tobi," junior forward David Loubeau said. "We're playing for Tobi. He was a great kid, played hard, wish we had him here but we keep playing."
Texas A&M paid tribute to Oyedeji in a pregame ceremony on Dec. 11 when it beat Washington 63-62. Loubeau blocked a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer with Ovedeji's parents watching at courtside.
"To have the Oyedejis, they help me with my faith," Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said. "Tobi had an infectious smile and I know he is up in heaven watching us play with a smile."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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