This article was originally published on November 16th, 2011 at Buckeye Grove
The Ohio State football team is reeling. It's four days removed from another conference loss, this time at the hands of the unranked Purdue Boilermakers, and have basically seen the door closed on any realistic hopes they had of a 7th straight Big Ten title. They're goal right now is simple: get better.
I have no doubt the ongoing turmoil has contributed, as has the development of first year head coach Luke Fickell, but the structure is there and the talent is there, yet the struggle has been well documented.
Ohio State basketball is another story. The Buckeyes are as hyped as any team in recent Ohio State hoops history, currently sit No. 3 in the nation behind only North Carolina and Kentucky, and are coming off a big early-season win in the Schott against 7th ranked Florida.
But the reality of the situation is - the two teams are not that dissimilar, just headed for different results.
Strong leadership is a needed piece to any successful sports team. When it becomes game time in football, the key leaders behind any success is normally found in the form of a head coach and quarterback. The relationship, communication, and productivity between the two can be the rock - or the detriment -of any team no matter the team's overall level of talent. On the college hardwood the required leadership, and perhaps the most important, is found inside of your on-court leaders.
The turmoil the Ohio State football program has endured has been no secret, and we've seen case after case of the effect it's had on the team's ability to be successful in 2011. The numerous suspended players have certainly had an effect, and Dan Herron has shown some serious senior leadership since returning a few weeks back in Champaign (Ill.), but the real leadership of the program who earned back-to-back BCS trophies is long gone: Head Coach Jim Tressel and three year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
No matter what the media or opposing fan bases might tell us, Jim Tressel was the leader of men. From the living room of a recruit to the fifty-yard-line on Senior Day - he led in the form of X's and O's, life lessons, tough love, and the ability to get one hundred-plus young men to move in the same direction from Spring Practice through the BCS bowl season. There's no question that his leadership is sorely missed in 2011.
Terrelle Pryor rarely failed his teammates. Yes, he made the same on-field mistakes all college-level quarterbacks make. Yes, he made mistakes when speaking with the media, choosing his style of eye black, and at times while moping around the sideline after a stretch of poor play. But his coaches and teammates looked to him to make plays when a game in the balance wound down and more often than not he made them. Look no further than Wisconsin 2008 or fourth-and-nine in Iowa City (Iowa) at Kinnick Stadium back during the 2010 season. Ask Rich Rodriguez, Chip Kelly, or Bobby Petrino if need be.
In three seasons at Ohio State Pryor lead his team to 34 wins, three Big Ten titles, three wins over the team up north, and two BCS bowl victories in three tries. No, he didn't do it alone, but he led his troops and we basked in the glory.
Obviously the 2011 football Buckeyes haven't recovered from the loss of the Vest and the problem child, but that speaks more to their leadership on the sideline and under center than it does about the talent of the 2011 Buckeyes.
This year's Ohio State basketball squad is missing some serious leadership as well. The loss of seniors Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, and David Lighty cannot be understated. Lauderdale was a defensive force inside and if he served no other purpose than to block shots, rebound, and allow super freshman Jared Sullinger to rest a bit on the defensive end then was absolutely worth the minutes he saw as a senior. You can't just replace his impact and senior leadership by asking Sully to step up the effort on the defensive end or by throwing in an inexperienced freshman to block some shots and run the floor. With Dallas you knew what you were getting game in and game out and he rarely disappointed against the expectation.
Jon Diebler ended his career as Ohio State's (and the Big Ten's) all-time leader in three point field goals made. He started 115 games in Scarlet and Gray, including every single one from the start of his sophomore season through graduation day. In today's college basketball landscape you rarely see that type of mainstay and production over a three year period from one player. We can talk about today's Buckeyes collectively making up for the loss of Diebler but that's nothing more than a motivational clich?It simply doesn't work that way.
David Lighty seemingly spent a lifetime at OSU. He was the guy who tied Mike Conley, Greg Oden, and Daequan Cook to Evan Turner and then Evan Turner to Jared Sullinger. He saw court time in an NCAA record 157 games, second to nobody, from 2006 to 2011. You just can't replace that experience, nor can you simply "pick up the slack" after losing a stalwart like Lighty.
Sullinger was the focus and hype in 2010, but these three seniors were the glue, the calming force, and the on-court leadership for arguably the best team in America. 60% of the Bucks starting lineup: Gone.
Both are young. Both are getting much needed experience in 2011. Both are sitting on the front half of the learning curve.
In spite of the national ranking the OSU basketball team can be described in one word: Young.
Aaron Craft saw plenty of court time last year but remember he only started one game all season. DeShaun Thomas saw spot duty in 2010 and is now getting used to a starting spot in the rotation. Lenzelle Smith, Jr. saw less than five minutes per game in 2010, most of which was earned in mop up duty. Jared Sullinger is only a sophomore but was obviously a key factor in last year's run. Senior William Buford is the only starter on the 2011 Buckeye basketball team not found in The Ohio State University's freshman or sophomore classes.
The football team, relative to key playmakers at the skill positions, is in the same boat.
On offense our quarterback was being hyped as the best one in America last year??while planning for his senior prom. His receiving corps is no more than a who's who of 2010 mid-western high school wide receivers. In the absence of Boom Herron for the first six contests of the season we saw youngsters Jaamal Berry, Carlos Hyde, and Rod Smith carry the load.
On the other side of the ball, while we should be seeing much more out of vets like Tyler Moeller and Travis Howard, the key contributors in the box scores and highlights have basically been a bunch of freshmen (Bradley Roby and Ryan Shazier) and sophomores (Christian Bryant, Johnathan Hankins, and Adam Bellamy) sprinkled in alongside junior John Simon.
Our football team, in just twelve total games, can, will, and needs to continue gaining experience in order to get better and end up where they want to be. Truth be told, so does our basketball team.
SO WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
Jared Sullinger doesn't play football.
One great player, no matter his age, can't typically carry a football team to the Promised Land. John Elway, at the time regarded as the best college quarterback ever, couldn't do it in Palo Alto (Calif.). Ricky Williams broke the all-time NCAA rushing record but couldn't carry Texas to a national title. Andrew Luck can't either.
You know who can? Players like Kansas' Danny Manning, Connecticut's Kemba Walker, and Syracuse's Carmello Anthony. Why? Basketball isn't football.
No matter how many similarities we can find between the Ohio State football and Ohio State basketball programs, they're headed in a different direction in 2011. One is no more experienced than the other. The basketball team doesn't have more or less relative positions reserved for freshmen or sophomores expected to contribute. The football program, "Doesn't rebuild, they reload." So does Thad Matta's basketball program.
But one player can carry a team to the national title in a sport where "team" is the same five on offense as it is on defense. No matter what Detroit drew up as the, "Jordan Rules," he was still Mike. We just watched Kemba Walker make one of the most impressive individual runs in NCAA (and Big East) tournament history, and they weren't even the favorites.
Make no mistake, Jared Sullinger can carry Ohio State to the national title no matter how much Amir Williams develops, DeShaun Thomas contributes, or the total number of off-nights William Buford records in thirty-plus games. Regardless of what the overall number-one seed in March's tourney did earlier this year with solid senior leadership, or what expectations are out there for Roy Williams and his 2011 Tar Heels, Sully can carry the Bucks to the promise land.
I wish we could say anything remotely close to the same for Braxton Miller and the football Buckeyes.
Same boat. Different destination.