Cody Cousino / Lantern photographer
Is it possible that a team could lose the consensus National Player of the Year and be better off?
I present the curious case of the Ohio State men’s basketball team, whose throttling of No. 9 Florida in Gainesville, Fla., last Tuesday and subsequent stomping of North Carolina-Wilmington Saturday has left Buckeye basketball enthusiasts with national title hopes.
Pump the brakes, people. I’m not convinced.
Florida coach Billy Donovan was among those impressed after his Gators lost by 18 after leading by three at halftime.
“Ohio State has a better chance of being a better team this year than they did a year ago,” Donovan said. “Evan Turner’s a great player, the player of the year in the country, and they won 29 games and did a great job. But when you have that kind of player, you really kind of become a little more one-dimensional. They are a complete team that probably has a chance to do a little more this season because there’s going to be a lot more balance to their team.”
Donovan is right about OSU being a more complete team this year. Instead of watching Turner go one-on-five, OSU has a fluid offense centered around freshman big man Jared Sullinger.
Sullinger is not only a gifted low-post scorer, he’s also a willing passer, which presents opponents with an impossible dilemma.
Don’t double team “Big Sully?” Watch him post a double-double and put on a scoring clinic inside the paint.
Put two defenders on Sullinger, and he’ll flick the ball back out to the perimeter to Jon Diebler, William Buford, David Lighty or another one of coach Thad Matta’s 3-point snipers.
So another Big Ten title and a deep NCAA Tournament run is a certainty, right?
Anyone who observed OSU’s methodical destruction of a Florida squad that returned all five starters from last season can see this team is very good, with legitimate Final Four aspirations. But a good road win has some fans seeing delusions of grandeur.
Aside from a trip to Florida State next Tuesday, OSU won’t be tested again until Jan. 22, when the Buckeyes travel to Illinois. That’s two months from now. March is the month that matters in college basketball, not November.
The team might have a group of four senior starters that gives them invaluable experience, but they also lean heavily on three freshmen: Sullinger, point guard Aaron Craft and forward Deshaun Thomas, the team’s first man off the bench.
How will they respond to the taunts of Michigan State’s Izzone or to the physicality of the Wisconsin Badgers? Don’t be surprised if OSU slips a few times on the road early in conference season. Even less-than-intimidating conference road environments can be tough on young players.
We just don’t know yet. It’s too early to tell how good Matta’s men are at this point in the season. They’re off to a great start, but it’s not how you begin, it’s how you finish.