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Friday, January 21, 2011

Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger- Thad Matta's aces in the hole

As the Ohio State men's basketball team gets set to take on Illinois tomorrow afternoon, their first road game of the season since being voted number one in both the coaches and associated press polls, speculation has run rampant as to how good this squad can really be.  There are those that wonder not if, but when, Ohio State will fall from the number 1 spot.  Then there are others that wonder if this team could become the first since Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers in 1976 to finish undefeated.   Thad Matta has once again put the basketball Buckeyes in the midst of the national title discussion, and for two very good reasons: freshmen sensations Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger.

It is no small coincidence that any discussion involving the Ohio State men's basketball program would start and end with their freshman center, Jared Sullinger.  The team's second leading scorer and its leading rebounder, Sullinger gives the Buckeyes a post presence not seen since another frosh sensation, Greg Oden.  And, even though at 6-9 he is technically a little small to be playing center, most people would agree that he has played the position better than Oden ever did.  Sullinger's ability to back his opponent into the low post, combined with his soft touch at the free throw line, make him very hard to defend.  His durability gives him a third advantage over his predecessor Oden.  If there is one major weakness in his game, it is that he has a tendency to get into foul trouble.  That is something that also plagued Oden, especially during tournament time.  How deep the Buckeyes go into march this season might be contingent on how long 'Sully' can go before picking up his third foul in any given game.

On the other hand, if there is an 'x' factor that the Buckeyes have this season that suggests they will indeed go farther than last season's sweet sixteen loss to Tennessee, it has to be freshman point guard Aaron Craft.  I must admit, when I first saw Craft play this season, I wondered why he wasn't starting.  After watching a few more games, I think this may turn out to be the finest coaching decisions Matta has ever made.  The Buckeyes have been able to start strong without starting Craft, and, when Matta deems the time is right, he inserts his secret weapon into the game.  Craft not only doesn't turn the ball over that much, a definite plus, he also plays with such an aggressive nature for a point guard that it makes him even harder to defend.  Only the more reason to fear Ohio State come tournament time.

At the end of the day, how far the 2010-011 Buckeye's men's basketball program goes will inevitably depend on a variety of factors.  If freshmen Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger have any thing to say about it, they just might be cutting down the nets in Houston

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