The newly-formed Buckeye Bloggers Network put their heads together again! This time we will be looking at the impact that each starter and the bench had on the game against Purdue on Tuesday night.
Tuesday night, Jared Sullinger’s season was condensed into one game.
Sullinger finished with 18 points and 6 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. Those are excellent, though not dominant, numbers. But his impact on the game felt less substantial. William Buford went unconscious for a career-high 29 points. Sullinger was in foul trouble early. In the second half, the coaching staff had to take him off the court on two separate occasions for two distinct injuries.
Excellent, albeit not always dominant, play. Foul trouble. Injuries. All were issues for Sullinger Tuesday. All have been recurring themes for Sullinger this season.
That’s especially true when Sully’s year is compared to his freshman campaign. Last year, everything was fresh. Seniors were the emotional and tactical backbone of the team and Sullinger was the future lottery pick that nobody could stop one-on-one in the paint. On the basis of last season, Sullinger was projected to take his dominance to a different level this season. National Player of the Year-level dominance.
But Sullinger’s star has faded slightly. Instead of the consensus top player in the country, he’s comfortably in the top five. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Ohio State is lucky to have him on the court this year. But it’s hard to deny that there’s something off.
The reason he hasn’t maintained his standing as NPOY frontrunner is that basketball fans expected an explosion out of him. Sullinger was supposed to use last year as a stepping-stone to something even greater. Something historic.
He hasn’t done that, at least not statistically.
For the 2010-11 season, Jared Sullinger averaged 17.2 points per game with 10.2 rebounds and 0.5 blocks in 31.7 minutes.
For the 2011-12 season, Sullinger is averaging 17.4 points per game with 9.0 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in 28.6 minutes.
The most astonishing thing about these statistics is that they’re nearly identical across his freshman and sophomore years. Statistically, Sullinger hasn’t improved at all. Statistics drive the national media’s perception of the NPOY race. Unless a columnist watches each game that every candidate plays, statistics are the only objective measure of comparison at his disposal.
The perception, based on statistics, that Sullinger hasn’t progressed as a player this year, is understandable. It’s also wrong.
A year ago, Sullinger (and Aaron Craft) had a great deal at his disposal that he lacks this season. Jon Diebler and David Lighty provided an elite distance threat. There was an inherent risk in double-teaming Sullinger because it left the perimeter open for the Buckeyes’ sharpshooters. That left Sullinger with one man to deal with in the post, a losing battle for whoever was assigned to guard him.
The Buckeyes lack that consistent perimeter threat this season. Aaron Craft is an elite defender and an excellent game manager, but nobody fears his jumper. Lenzelle Smith and Buford are both capable of catching fire, and Deshaun Thomas can hold his own at times, but none have done it with any consistency. As a result, teams focus on Sullinger when Ohio State has the ball. That’s resulted in some frustrating nights for Sullinger and the Buckeyes.
Additionally, the foul trouble and injuries that marred his game against Purdue Tuesday night have been lingering issues all season.
Loss of perimeter help. Double-teams. Foul trouble. Injuries. When those factors are considered together, Sullinger’s statistics this season begin to look more impressive, especially compared to last year. He hasn’t dropped off at all, even though he has a variety of reasons that would justify a slip. When the adversity and challenge Sullinger has faced this year is taken into account, 2011-12 actually looks pretty damn impressive.
That makes Sullinger’s game Tuesday night pretty damn impressive too. Despite taking a beating and being victimized by poor officiating, the guy put up 18 points, above his season average. He also provided a consistent force in the paint. Tuesday night showcased Jared’s “it” factor; so has this season.
The country will see it soon enough. Only one of the Buckeyes’ remaining regular season games won’t be shown on CBS or ESPN. Then comes March. After a strange season, if the Buckeyes start clicking, Sullinger will be both the catalyst and the beneficiary of a deep run into the Tournament.
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