"The thing that makes Jared Sullinger great is I feel he has a great basketball IQ, and he's very smart," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "He's a really good passer. He understands how to play angles. He can score inside and out. People look at his size, but the thing that's never talked about is he really understands the game."
Patric Young will get the initial assignment of trying to contain Sullinger, but it would be tough to find any player in America that could slow the sophomore down. Sullinger scored 19 points and pulled down nine rebounds in Ohio State's 73-42 season opening win over Wright State.
Last season, Sullinger averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds as a freshman.
His craftiness around the basket helps him score, as well as an ability to step outside and hit a jump shot. His 6-9, 280-pound frame helps him gain position under the basket, but Young said it's his "big butt" that makes him tough to guard.
"It really helps him get good position," Young said. "If you're not ready, once he ducks you in, you can't get around him. You have to be really alert when you're guarding him in. They have set plays where they're going to wait for him to duck in and throw it in to him. That's probably what they're going to do a lot."
Young played just 12 minutes in the matchup last year, as the Gators needed Vernon Macklin's scoring presence in the game. This year, Young will get the first matchup with Sullinger. He'd much rather it be that way, too.
Sitting on the bench of most of last year's game, Young watched Sullinger torch the Gators for 26 points while going 13-for-17 from the field.
"I just thought that I could go in there and compete against him because I've done it in AAU before," Young said. "I knew my time would come to play against this guy again one day. The opportunity is right in front of me right now."
It's tough to take a player like Sullinger completely out of the game, but the Gators are aware of his strengths. Sullinger is the Buckeyes' threat on the glass, especially when going for offensive rebounds. The lack of depth in the Florida frontcourt could struggle with Sullinger, but they've made it clear that the goal is to keep him off the offensive glass.
"The game plan is to keep him off the boards and not let him get anything easy," Young said. "He's a good player, and he's going to score a few points here and there. Don't let him get anything easy. He scores a lot of points on offensive rebounds."
Those points often come on contested rebounds. Kenny Boynton said the Gators have seen on tape multiple times where Sullinger will fight off four members of the opposing team and come down with an offensive rebound.
His ability to position his body in the right place to make a play or get a rebound is what impressed Donovan the most.
"He almost reminds he of a throwback guy from a long time ago," Donovan said. "You have guys that are big and strong, but he understands how to use his size and strength. When he's away from the ball, he sets himself up for when the ball gets back to him. That's what makes him a really good player."
On the defensive end, Sullinger will have to spend more of his time on the low post this season. During last year's matchup, Ohio State put 6-8, 255-pound Dallas Lauderdale down low to bang with Vernon Macklin. That let Sullinger roam the perimeter while covering Alex Tyus.
This year, Sullinger will be forced to stay down low on Young.
That has produced a more focused Young this week. Florida players have seen Young with a different look in his eye, knowing the challenge of covering Sullinger will be his toughest test of the year. Young is ready to make a statement about his sophomore season.
"Pat has been more focused this week," Boynton said. "He's focused on getting better positioning in the low post. I think he's ready to put the challenge on."
Stopping Sullinger and the Buckeyes would go a long way towards setting the tone for this season. When the schedule was released this season, that's exactly where Boynton had on his mind.
"When I saw them on the schedule, (Sullinger) was the first one that I thought about," Boynton said.