Ohio State’s peak potential this season has always depended on Jared Sullinger. When the 6-9 sophomore is at his best, the Buckeyes might be the nation’s best team.
When he’s anything less, they’re beatable. (Barely.)
Take Tuesday’s 79-74 loss to Illinois. Yes, Brandon Paul was flat-out amazing (43 points on 15 shots), while Sullinger was merely good. In 38 minutes, he hit nine of 16 shots, had five rebounds and three steals, but there were times when he just seemed off. Such as when Paul blocked his shot in the final minutes. (Yes, that photo right there.)
Perhaps that bone bruise suffered last month is still affecting him. Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer thinks so.
“It’s affected his conditioning and how Ohio State plays as a team,” he said in this video. “We haven’t seen him at his best because of what he missed in December.”
Perhaps. Sullinger was pretty nasty against Iowa (28 points on 18 shots and eight boards), but Lesmerises is certainly correct about the condition and the team play. He missed two games, most of another and a lot of practice. Plus, 38 minutes is a load for a big man. Sullinger’s legs might not have had much lift at the end vs. Illinois.
Those tired legs and missing practice also might explain a couple of late defensive mistakes against the Illini. The Mikan Drill has a breakdown of those here, but notes that defensive lapses have been an issue for Sullinger most of the season. That goes with the territory, though.
He’s not a defensive game-changer such as Anthony Davis or Fab Melo, but that’s not Sullinger’s game. He’s there to ensure the offense is crisp, and play to solid defense. Ohio State’s defense wouldn’t be this efficient if Sullinger was a liability. (And it’s not like he was guarding Paul, either.)
If Sullinger truly does need conditioning work, he’s gotten it the last two games (69 total minutes). And he’s been back with the team long enough to work out the offensive kinks.
I’m guessing the Illinois loss will mostly provide a little extra motivation for the next game, a Sunday home matchup against Indiana, one of two teams to beat OSU this season.
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