Sullinger Presents Unique Challenge For Foes

UNC Asheville will be the latest team to try and stop Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger when the Bulldogs come to Value City Arena tonight. After putting up some big numbers in recent games, will Sullinger have to start expecting opponents to double-team him? examines the question.

Ron Hunter and Darrin Horn have at least one thing in common aside from being the head coaches at Division I men's basketball programs.

Both of them entered contests against Ohio State planning not to double-team freshman forward Jared Sullinger and both of them paid the price. Sullinger put up 40 points – a record by a Buckeye freshman – in a Dec. 9 win against Hunter's IUPUI squad and then went off for 30 points and 19 rebounds nine days later against Horn's South Carolina team.

After each game, the coaches said it was not an accident that Sullinger found himself matched up in the post with one defender. Facing an OSU roster that boasts one of the most prolific outside shooters in Big Ten history in Jon Diebler as well as a handful of other threats, those scheming to stop the Buckeyes have focused on the perimeter rather than the paint.

"Threes are devastating and they open it up even more for the inside," Horn said after the game. "Each coach will have a different idea on that but if we're going to pick one we'd rather shut down the perimeter. One guy can have a big night and not beat you. It's when they get you in other areas."

On the night Sullinger scored 40, junior guard William Buford had 14 and Diebler added 13 with Buford adding that he was surprised the freshman did not receive more attention on offense. Against the Gamecocks, Buford and Diebler went for 12 and 11 points, respectively.

Admitting that he has a biased view of the situation, Matta said it is also his personal philosophy not to double-team the post. In his case, the coach's viewpoint is colored by his stops along the way to becoming the head man for the Buckeyes.

Prior to his time in Columbus, Matta served as an assistant at the likes of Indiana State, Miami (Ohio) and Western Carolina before taking head positions at Butler and Xavier.

"If you look at my road as a coach and where I've coached and where I've been, there haven't been great post players," he said. "When I was at Butler, us offensively, we didn't have a post player. You look at the league and there wasn't the 6-9, 250-pound guy that dominated. Really onto the Atlantic 10 we didn't have that."

While Matta was leading Xavier, he landed Sean Miller as an assistant. Now the head coach at Arizona, Miller joined Matta's staff from N.C. State with a message.

"He said, ‘Size, man. That's where it's at at the highest level,' " Matta said.

Horn certainly agreed. The head man for the Gamecocks said he feels having a quality big man is "the greatest commodity in college basketball."

Size is something the Buckeyes have in Sullinger. Although not imposingly tall at 6-9, he checks in at 280 pounds. When he saw the scouting report for the Gamecocks, Sullinger said he knew he could have a big night.

"On the scouting report it said 6-9 and 217 and the other was 6-9, 225," he said after the game. "I felt like we could get the ball inside with our size."

UNC Asheville will be the next team with a shot at Sullinger tonight at 8:30 (Big Ten Network). The Bulldogs start one player – sophomore D.J. Cunningham, an Ohio native from Waterford – listed at 6-10, 240 pounds.

As he adjusted to being in the Big Ten, Matta said one of the biggest changes he had to get used to was the fact that the conference is typically home to a handful of true post players – a growing anomaly in his eyes.

"You sit in recruiting (meetings) and there's not a lot of guys anymore that want to be low-post players so you don't see a ton of guys that say, ‘Hey, that's where my bread is buttered,' " Matta said.

As he adapted, Matta said he drew on lessons learned from coaching David West while at Xavier. Now a two-time NBA All-Star, West earned national player of the year honors as a Musketeer despite currently being listed at 6-9, 240 pounds.

During his OSU tenure, Matta has landed four five-star center prospects: Greg Oden, Kosta Koufos, B.J. Mullens and Sullinger. Aside from Sullinger, only Oden would be classified as a true bruiser in the paint.

Diebler said it has not been much of an adjustment getting used to having a player like Sullinger in the paint.

"We're going to go inside until somebody stops us and we're very confident in our bigs when they get it in the post," Diebler said. "I think we have a lot of threats on the perimeter and people have to respect that. If Jared is one on one, like when he had 40, we'll keep going to him. I think that shows the unselfishness we have on our team."

It adds up to a Buckeye offense that presents a number of challenges for those who are scheming to stop it.

"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 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)."

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