BOSTON – Returning for a second season, Jared Sullinger’s sophomore campaign has been anything but a breeze.
Along with Harrison Barnes, the Buckeyes forward was the biggest “brand name” entering the season, with a recognizable face you don’t often get in college basketball.
Unfortunately, though, he hasn’t dominated the way many harsh critics expected him to.
In fact, deciding to stick around Columbus may have exposed Sullinger’s game and shown NBA scouts his flaws, which is why his bout with Yancy Gates could be the most intriguing game-within-the-game here in the East Regionals.
“It’s going to be an interesting challenge playing against such a good player,” said Gates during Wednesday’s news conference with the media.
The kind words were reciprocated no more than 30-minutes later by the Buckeyes big man.
“It’s going to be a physical match‑up,” said Sullinger. “I believe [Gates] can shoot the basketball, so I’m going to have to guard him a little bit on the perimeter, as well, and he can post‑up.”
Despite similar (and solid) numbers between his freshman and sophomore seasons, the wow factor hasn’t quite been there from Sullinger in enough games. Even worse, many people pointing to sluggish performances against formidable Big Ten bigs, including Illinois’ Meyers Leonard, and Michigan State’s Derrick Nix/Adreian Payne, drive home the notion that Sullinger is not nearly the great back-to-the-basketball guy many have made him out to be.
As our own Rob Dauster points out, the reason for Sullinger not dominating every game like he’s unfairly supposed to lies in the Buckeyes perimeter, which are less dangerous this season and allowed perimeter defenders to sag off their man and double the post.
In terms of the Buckeyes – Bearcats Sweet 16 match-up tomorrow night, Sullinger and Gates will essentially be attached at the hip when both are in the game. They will guard each other, look to solidify themselves early, and hope to force the other into foul trouble.
The tale of the tape shows two large men, both 6-9, weighing in the 260s, and eliciting the “he looks a lot bigger in person” comments from just about everyone.
It will be fun to watch, and could be the match-up that decides who advances to the Elite Eight.
For Sullinger, it’s about “Who’s Next?” as he continues to try to prove doubters wrong by stuffing the stat sheet against a physical and sizable big man.
For Gates, it’s about turning heads by excelling against a tough match-up in the biggest game of his career.
“I think it’ll just be another challenge, trying to get to New Orleans,” said Gates. “One that I’m up for.”
If Gates can hold his own against Sullinger, if not get the best of him, the Bearcats might be partying like it’s 1962.
Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN