Decisions from Sullinger, Thomas Loom Large for Ohio State
By Brandon Castel
NEW ORLEANS — In the moments after Ohio State’s 64-62 loss to Kansas, it was hard to process exactly what to make of the moment, especially for those involved.
For 20 minutes, the Buckeyes looked like the far-superior team at the Superdome in New Orleans, getting out to a 13-point lead on three different occasions in the first half only to squander the game down the stretch.
Star sophomore Jared Sullinger was just 5-19 from the floor, including a rough 2-11 showing in the second half against Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson.
Classmate Deshaun Thomas—the leading scorer in this NCAA Tournament coming into the game—was just 3-14 from the floor, and 1-7 behind the arc, including two bad misses in the final minute.
It was not the best showing by Ohio State’s top-two scoring options, but now the Buckeyes might have to ponder a future without either of them, along with senior William Buford.
Asked about his future after the game, Sullinger was not ready to make a decision on whether he would be back in the scarlet and gray for a third season.
“I don’t know yet,” a somber Sullinger said.
“I have to sit down with my family and talk to my coaches, and from there make a decision. But I definitely don’t have a decision made at this point right now.”
Despite struggling at points this season—including the second half of Saturday night’s game—Sullinger is still being projected as a top-10 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He was also projected to be among the first players taken in last year’s draft, but shocked many by returned to Ohio State for a second season.
“I wanted to make a statement that not everybody is using college basketball as a pit stop to go to the next level,” Sullinger said this week.
But at some point, Sullinger does want to play in the NBA. He certainly grew as a player during his second season, especially by adding a perimeter game to his dominant low-post ability, but it also gave people another opportunity to pick apart his weaknesses.
The same could happen for Thomas next season, if he opts to return for a junior season with the Buckeyes. Much like Sullinger, he wasn’t ready to make a decision immediately following the loss.
“I’m going to have to let this loss soak in right now,” he said.
“People are looking at me and if there is a chance for me to go to the next level, then I’ll look into something like that, but right now I am trying to (think about this) loss, get my head right, focus on school, and do what’s best for me.”
It is much harder to project where Thomas would go in the NBA Draft if he did make the decision to turn pro, especially considering where his draft stock was just a few months ago.
The 6-7 forward out of Fort Wayne, Ind. is a combo forward who can pop out and shoot the three or back his defender down in the post. He is an excellent offensive rebounder and has improved considerably as a defender, but there are still question marks about his athleticism.
Both players will take some time to make their decisions, but the future will ultimately look drastically different for Ohio State depending on the outcomes. It seems unlikely both Sullinger and Thomas would be back in a Buckeye uniform next season, but if they both decide to leave, it would put Thad Matta in a particularly tough spot.
It would leave Ohio State without its three top scorers from the 2011-12 season, and those three—Sullinger, Thomas and Buford—accounted for 64 percent of the team’s offense this season.
Point guard Aaron Craft will be back next season, and he should be more of a scoring threat in year three, along with shooting guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. He averaged only 6.7 points per game this season, but showed glimpses of his scoring ability during the regular season, and in Boston last weekend.
Where the rest of the points will come from remains to be seen. Freshmen Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott will have larger roles on the team next season, but they accounted for eight total points in the NCAA Tournament.
Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams, the two post players who would replace Sullinger in the event he decides to leave, accounted for nine total points and 11 rebounds in the tournament, and no one else on the bench played a minute for the Buckeyes this postseason.
There is a high level of optimism over freshman LaQuinton Ross, a gifted scorer who should did not play much in his first season with the Buckeyes, but the return of a player like Thomas would give them one of the premier scorers—and players—in the country.
It is also possible Matta and his staff could land a commitment from Tony Parker, a 6-9 forward out of Lithonia, Ga., but he is also considering Duke, Kansas, UCLA and Memphis.
Regardless of what happens, the Buckeyes are likely to be a much different team next season.
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