Film Study Helps Sullinger Master Michigan

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Last updated: 02/05/2011 6:14 PM
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Men's Basketball
Film Study Helps Sullinger Master Michigan
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — After Thursday night’s win over Michigan, Ohio State coach Thad Matta called this the best team he has ever coached at watching film.

With three seniors and one experienced junior in the rotation, this group of Buckeyes has become expert at breaking down opponents, but it was a freshman who changed Thursday’s game with his work in the film room.

Jared Sullinger scores against Michigan
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jared Sullinger

The first time Jared Sullinger faced the Wolverines, he had all kinds of problems with John Beilein’s zone defense. He still finished with 19 points and nine rebounds in Ann Arbor—which is a testament to just how good he really is—but they were able to keep him from finding his teammates the way he normally does. 

“They were bringing so many people (at him),” Matta said after Thursday night’s game.

“I think a couple of cheerleaders came out on him in game one a couple of times. He kept his balance (tonight) where he lost his balance up there a couple of times.”

Teams have tried just about everything to contain Sullinger this season. That includes throwing double teams, and sometimes even triple teams at the talented young freshman. He has handled all comers with uncharacteristic grace for an 18-yeard old kid.

“Guarding Jared Sullinger, it is really hard to guard him and stop him without fouling,” Beilein said.

“You're looking at the No. 1 team in the country. You're looking at a team that really has a great plan, that they're trying to get the ball to the right people, and Sullinger is a freshman, but he's a very unusual freshman.”

Unusual because his greatness doesn’t define him.

Sullinger is obviously blessed with the tremendous physical abilities that make up a great big man, but it’s his mental preparation that has allowed him to transition from National High School Player of the Year to front-runner for the same award at the collegiate level.

“He made a couple of plays today…the one, down four, (they) threw and air ball, he makes the catch opposite and lays it in,” Beilein said.

“I turned around and said the last time I saw that Blake Griffin did that. It's incredible body control and hands. It's just hard to guard and you get in foul trouble.”

Like they did in the first meeting, the Wolverines frequently brought their double-team from the baseline Thursday night, in an effort to cut off Sullinger’s angle to the basket. This time, however, the plan backfired.

“When you don't do that, it's hard to simulate it in practice,” Matta said of the unique way in which Michigan defended Sullinger.

“He watched a lot of film going into this game and I thought he did a good job. We only had two days to prepare for this game.”

After watching film of the game in Ann Arbor, Sullinger recognized the double team was coming as soon as he put the ball on the floor. He adjusted by catching the ball inside and going straight up with it before a second defender had time to get there.

“A couple of times I tried to attack it with a quick jump-hook to the baseline so the double team wouldn't get there because I knew the double team was coming off the dribble,” Sullinger said.

“There's time where I felt like I could score, then there times when there was a double-team right there and you've got to kick it out to an open teammate.”

That’s where Sullinger had a particularly difficult time in the first meeting, as he turned the ball over six times trying to find his teammates for open shots. Things went much better the second time around, as Sullinger knew where his teammates were going to be and how to find them.

“The beauty was he was telling guys 'Get here, if I catch it here they're coming from here,' and he knew where guys were,” Matta said.

“The game plan we were trying to put in place, I thought he did a pretty good job with it.”

He finished the game with 19 points and 16 rebounds as the Buckeyes improved to 23-0 on the season. It was his 10th double-double of the year, despite the fact Michigan defenders seemed to be hanging on him every time he got position down low.

“Like a Big Ten coach told me after (Greg) Oden had left, he said 'We told our guys to foul him on every single time (because) they won't call every one,” Matta said.

“I'm not saying that that's the case at all, and Jared has to make his free throws, there's no doubt about that.”

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