After watching Ohio State's 87-54 win over Northwestern, however, one would never have guessed the Buckeyes (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten) had to improvise for much of the past two weeks while waiting for Sullinger to fully recover.
Starting off Big Ten play with a bang, the Buckeyes now have only a couple of days to prepare for a big road contest at Indiana on New Year's Eve. Ohio State, however, now seems primed to continue its hot start against what looks to be a Hoosiers basketball team that resembles the Indiana of old.
Before switching focus to the next game, we take one final look at some of the things we noticed in the victory of Northwestern in the latest version of View From Press Row:
• This is the William Buford I envisioned – Before the season started, this is what I was expecting would be an average game for Buford. And it isn't necessarily about the numbers he put up on the Wildcats. Sure, Buford scored a career-high 28 points, but it was the confidence and the assertiveness to his game that I really came impressed with. It was a good time for Buford to show up, and he did a little of everything, hence the nine rebounds and four assists. He wasn't shy to attack the basket when he had even a little room to drive and he certainly wasn't hesitant when pulling up that famous jumper.
Though Sullinger is always going to be the main offensive threat, I think Buford needs to start playing like the senior leader he is. That assertiveness and confidence to put the team on his back is invaluable, and frankly its something we didn't see in some of the big games early in this season. Maybe this big game to kick off conference action is exactly what Buford will need to springboard him into a big finish at Ohio State.
• Sullinger looks to be back in full healthy – After Ohio State's victory over Lamar last week the sophomore said he felt "horrible" about the way he played. Just two games later, the big man accounted for 17 points and 14 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season. While there is no telling whether Sullinger is close to being at full health, he certainly played like it against the Wildcats. Active in the paint and physical on defense, Sullinger had another terrific game and had his way with Northwestern for the majority of the contest. Ohio State fans can relax a little to know things are trending toward health for Sullinger, not the other way. After all, a season filled with missed games and minor lapses with injury would not fare well for this Buckeyes time with huge aspirations.
• Is 3-point shooting crucial to success? - During non-conference play the Buckeyes averaged fewer than five made shots from beyond the arc per game. Through the first half against the Wildcats, the Buckeyes had already knocked down seven while posting a crucial 24-3 run to break the game wide open. Ohio State finished the game with 10 made shots from beyond the arc and the team's offense looked more explosive than it has all season. The best effort Ohio State had from beyond the arc to this point in this season was an 8-of-14 game against Duke, and everyone remembers the results of that game. With the loss of Jon Diebler from the roster, the Buckeyes don't pose the same threat from beyond the arc. But if guys like Buford can get hot, the results are pretty clear.
• Light coming on for Jordan Sibert? – Speaking of 3-point shooting, Ohio State is in desperate need of a difference-maker off the bench and Sibert was the one penciled in to fill that role early in the year. Instead, he has been almost a non-factor from beyond the arc. Against the Wildcats, however, Sibert knocked down 4-of-6 attempts from long range in 20 minutes of playing time. Sibert had made only eight attempts from downtown all season entering this game, so if the light is turning on for the sophomore now couldn't be a better time. His minutes will steadily increase if the team can rely on him for that boost. Confidence is key with any great 3-point shooter and it is possible this could springboard him into more success. The Buckeyes are definitely going to need it.
• Northwestern's game plan – The Wildcats' gameplan has been successful against Ohio State in the recent past. This time, however, it wasn't even close. For the Wildcats to be successful in running down the shot clock to stay in the game, it is imperative for them to knock down tough shots late in their offensive progression while also playing good defense. In the first half, Northwestern did anything but that and Ohio State was able to build a sizable lead. Once Ohio State had that sizable lead, it was no longer advantageous for Northwestern to try and grind toward a close contest late in the second half. Drew Crawford and John Shurna, the Big Ten's leading scoring duo, combined for only 9-of-30 field goal attempts, which also didn't help Northwestern's cause.
• Deshaun Thomas is crucial to this team's success - There was a lot to notice about this game that had nothing to do with Thomas. But even in this case, the sophomore forward had 16 points and five rebounds. If that is a quiet game for Thomas – who has played the best month of basketball of his career up to this point – this is going to be a tough team to beat heading into March.
• Why no Sam Thompson? – I thought Thad Matta did a good job of rotating his bench into the game, some of which came as a necessity due to foul trouble. However, I was curious about the lack of playing time for Sam Thompson. He was a guy that I thought was close to cracking the regular rotation at the two-guard spot. Now, he is even lower in the rotation than I thought. Maybe it was because Sibert was playing well, but I thought he should have had more time this evening. Follow Me on Twitter and find us on Facebook.