Can The Badgers Stop Sullinger?

Keaton Nankivil will be charged the task of trying to stop freshman beast Jared Sullinger Saturday as the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes come to the Kohl Center.

MADISON — Big Ten basketball coaches have been given a riddle this season.

How do you stop a 285-pound man-child with dancers feet in the post when four of his teammates shoot over 40 percent from three-point range?

Eight different coaches have been posed the conundrum, and eight different coaches have failed to come up with a suitable answer.

Now it is Bo Ryan's turn to give the problem a crack with undefeated No. 1 Ohio State and freshman phenom Jared Sullinger coming to the Kohl Center Saturday afternoon.

"Team's have tried different things with Jared, they have tried to double him, play him different ways, trap him from different angles and give him different looks. He has handled it all well," UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. "He is very poised, very calm, always under control and passes well out of double teams. He doesn't force things."

The first part of limiting Sullinger is to prevent entry passes into the post.

Unfortunately, the 18-year-old possesses an almost zen-like awareness for creating room for himself while the ball is on the opposite side of the court. It is an ability that Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer are still picking up the finer points of in their fourth years at UW, and Sullinger has nearly mastered the use of his big body for creating passing lanes from the perimeter.

"Yeah, that is the big key to his game," UW forward Keaton Nankivil said. "He moves so well without the ball that when he gets the ball a lot of his work is already done. That is what makes him most effective."

When Sullinger catches the ball, defenders are posed with a pick-your-poison scenario. They can either let Sullinger go to work one-on-one with his defender — the freshman averages 18 points a game on 57 percent shooting — or double down and risk the four three-point gunners who surround him getting open.

William Buford, David Lighty and Jon Diebler all average in double-digit scoring and the Ohio State coaching staff would be willing to bet that Sullinger leads the nation in "hockey assists", or the pass that leads to the assist.

"His skill set for someone who is blessed with that kind of body, to go along with that, the number of things he can do on the court — he can shoot a little bit, his footwork is so good — he is an impressive player," Nankivl, who will likely be the primary defender said.

As if Sullinger needs one more weapon in his arsenal, the freshman excels at getting to the line.

For the season, he is averaging 7.4 free-throw attempts per game and converts from the line at a 69 percent rate — preventing an hack-a-Shaq strategies.

Where Sullinger does resemble Shaq, however, is the difficulty he gives refs in deciding what is a foul and what isn't. With Sullinger forcing contact on every play, the refs whistles may play a larger part in outcome of the game then fans (or the combustible Ryan) may be comfortable with.

"I have never envied the position of a referee, but especially in a game like this, it puts the pressure on the ref to say 'I can't call every single thing, but what do I pick to call?'" Nankivil said. "He does as a player put that pressure on him."

So what is the solution for this seemingly impossible problem?

Well, no one has claimed yet that Sullinger is a beast on the defensive end. With both Leuer and Nankivil keys to the Badger offense, Sullinger will have to guard one of them.

As Nankivil spends plenty of time spacing himself for three point attempts, Sullinger will have to work as hard on defense as he does on offense.

"It is a two-way street," Nankivil said. "We do our off-season work to make sure we are always able to keep up in a game like this and try and wear them down, no matter who the opponent is."


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