OSU, Sullinger Ready For Journey

The No. 2 seeded Ohio State basketball team is excited to kick off its journey this evening in the NCAA Tournament against Loyola (Md.). Perhaps the thing the Buckeyes are most looking forward to is facing non Big Ten teams.

Jared Sullinger wouldn't go as far as calling it a rut, but perhaps his less-than-stellar month of February was a result of letting the grind of a long Big Ten regular season get to him.

The unmatched contact found in the conference – and maybe a little bit of how that physicality was officiated at times – caused distractions late in the season the All-American sophomore big man has since promised to have forgotten.

When No. 2-seeded Ohio State kicks off its final stage of the season in the NCAA Tournament against No. 15 Loyola (Md.) Thursday at 9:50 p.m. in Pittsburgh, it will be the first time in nearly three months Sullinger has lined up against a non-Big Ten foe.

"It's going to feel good," said a smiling Sullinger.

A year ago, Ohio State didn't suffer late-season struggles in conference play like it did this year. That team, who made it through the 21-game grind of the Big Ten regular season having lost only two games before entering the NCAA Tournament, earned the top seed.

Though last year's Buckeyes were knocked out in the Sweet 16 after a loss to Kentucky – a loss that occurred far sooner than most projected – Ohio State started the Big Dance by blowing out its first two opponents by a combined 61 points. Neither of those teams - Texas-San Antonio and George Mason - were Big Ten teams.

Sullinger isn't in the business of projecting Ohio State's results this year against the Greyhounds, but he's excited to face teams he hasn't continually seen over the course of the past three months. He hopes the results resemble those from a year ago.

"We're definitely looking forward to it," Sullinger said. "We faced so many different defenses (during the Big Ten season), that whatever is thrown our way, we'll be able to handle it and hopefully adjust to it."

The most important thing for Ohio State is Sullinger's ability to adjust to the way he'll be officiated, especially given his importance in the team's offensive progression.

Sullinger, who has admitted he hasn't always been pleased with the way games have been called, understands his team needs to stay out of foul trouble, and more importantly, on the floor.

The Greyhounds, who qualified for their first NCAA Tournament since 1994 after winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, don't have a big man that can match up with Sullinger one-on-one like many of the Big Ten teams do.

However, Sullinger knows he'll learn everything he needs to know to stay on the floor early in Ohio State's first game of the NCAA Tournament.

"We're going to get some different refs, we're not going to get the Big Ten refs, so you just have to feel your way out of that," he said. "The first four minutes is just figuring out what the refs are going to call, if I can be aggressive, or if I have to be less aggressive."

Ohio State has had issues on offense at times, particularly with Sullinger on the bench in foul trouble. The Buckeyes will do what they can to sport patience on the offensive end while looking for great – not good – shots.

Much of the Buckeyes' success in the recent weeks has come off of easy buckets earned in transition or off of turnovers. When Ohio State is in its half court set, it often tries to find Sullinger in good positioning in the post, which also often leads to easy buckets inside.

Sullinger has become more aggressive as of late, using his outside shot as a way to disguise the way he'll attack opponents. Aggressiveness out of Sullinger, of course, is when Ohio State is at its best offensively.

But Sullinger's attempts weren't as easy in conference play, particularly because teams have become familiar with the best ways to defend the Buckeyes. Without having to face the skilled defensive players often found in the Big Ten, though, Thad Matta hopes the Buckeyes will excel offensively.

"I am not saying this in a bad light, but it can't get any more physical than what we just faced 21 games," Matta said. "It has been a grueling 21-game stretch here. With that said, I think we're equipped to handle what it is that we have to do."

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