Buckeye Big Men

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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 10/23/2011 3:35 AM

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Men's Basketball
What Will the Buckeyes Look Like: Big Men
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the first time in years, basketball season is not sneaking up on anyone in Ohio.  

It is still the middle of football season at Ohio State—which usually puts Thad Matta and his team on the back burner until December—but a 4-3 start has the Schottenstein Center looking a little shinier in the shadow of the Horseshoe.

The new, slimmed down Jared Sullinger
Photo by Dan Harker
Jared Sullinger

The return of Jared Sullinger has breathed new life into a program that for a while was in danger of becoming “One-and-Done U.” A year older and significantly lighter, Sullinger could be primed for an even bigger sophomore season as the Buckeyes look to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time since their championship game loss to Florida.

“This time of year is always exciting to me,” Matta said.

“First and foremost, from what I can gather so far about this group, we've got a great group of guys and that's exciting to coach. I think we've got a group of guys that want to work hard, I think they want to be great teammates, I think they want to win basketball games.”

Matta and the Buckeyes open their season on Nov. 6 in an exhibition game against Walsh University, just five days before their actual season-opener on 11/11/11 against Wright State.

With Sullinger back, expectations are high, but what will the 2011-12 Buckeyes look like this season? We take an early look at the team Matta returns, including another stellar freshman class.

Sullinger the Great

Obviously everything in the frontcourt is going to start with Sullinger. He was one of the best postmen in all of college basketball a year ago, but he could be even more dangerous as a sophomore.

The 6-9 forward out of Columbus Northland averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game as a freshman last season. He shot 54 percent from the floor and even managed to get his free throws up over the 70 percent mark (barely) by the end of the year.

Because the Buckeyes had so many shooters on the wing, Sullinger’s only real role last season was down low as a grinder. He is much too skilled around the basket to be defined as a “grinder,” but that’s really what he was. Most of his baskets came right around the basket, either on power moves or putbacks.

He was the master of body control and footwork, which helped to make up for what he lacked in height or even athleticism.

Having dropped nearly 20 pounds in the off-season, Sullinger plans to add a lot more to his game this season. He wants to play more like he did in high school, when he had the ball in his hands and would step outside and hit the 15-foot jump shot with regularity.

Sullinger will still do his best work inside, but having that ability to step outside will make him a lot harder to defender. A guy like Josh Harrellson won’t be able to handle Sullinger by outmuscling him. Teams also won’t be able to throw as many double-teams at him because he can step back and hit a jumper or find a teammate instead of trying to power through two defenders.

Dynamic Duo?

Amir Williams is a big man with shot blocking ability.
Photo by Dan Harker
Amir Williams

That mobility and flexibility might allow the Buckeyes to play Sullinger more often alongside freshman Amir Williams, which is something they did not do very often last season with Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale.

A big reason for that is the fact they only had two big men available during games because Evan Ravenel was sitting out after transferring from Boston College.

“Last year it was me, Dallas and Jared and we had to sometimes use Deshaun (Thomas) in practice,” Ravenel said.

Williams is a 6-11 shot-blocker out of Birmingham, Mich. who has the potential to be an immediate impact player for the Buckeyes. He is an athletic big man with the ability to run the floor and finish at the rim.

He can rebound the ball well at both ends of the floor and can even step out and hit the 15-foot jumper on occasion, although that will be more Sullinger’s role. Having Williams on the floor would allow Sullinger to play more of the four-spot, which is what he will undoubtedly be in the NBA.

It will also leave a big, athletic body down low to help clean up misses around the basket while everyone is focused on stopping Sullinger. There is no guarantee that Williams will be ready to step in and play big minutes for the Buckeyes, but he should be able to replace most of what the team lost in Lauderdale.

He was rated as the No. 5 center prospect in the country by Scout.com after averaging 18 points, 12.6 rebounds and nearly five blocks per game his senior season at Detroit Country Day High School.

More Depth Than Meets the Eye

Evan Ravenel brings toughness, defensive ability and experenice.
Photo by Dan Harker
Evan Ravanel

After rolling with two big men each of the last two seasons, Matta will actually have a little bit of depth in his frontcourt this season. Sullinger likely won’t be coming off the floor unless he’s in foul trouble, but the Buckeyes also have the ability to get some minutes out of Ravenel and freshman Trey McDonald.

Ravenel called himself a strong defender who brings some toughness to the post. He can rebound the ball and also brings a bit of leadership to the floor now that he’s entering his fourth season of college basketball.

The 6-8, 260-pound junior sat out last season after spending the first two years of his career at Boston College. He didn’t play a lot for the Eagles, but did average 3.3 points and 2.4 rebounds as a sophomore in 2009-10.

He isn’t a dynamic shot-blocker like Lauderdale, or even Williams, but did lead Boston College in blocked shots six times as a sophomore. He also had eight points and six rebounds at Florida State, along with eight points and five rebounds in a home win over North Carolina.

Trey McDonald is a strong, athletic big man.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Trey McDonald

He is a big body who can give them minutes when needed, which is something they might also ask of McDonald. The true freshman out of Battle Creek, Mich. wasn’t as highly recruited as Williams (only a 3-star by Rivals.com), but he is strong for his age.

The 6-8, 225-pound forward averaged 9.8 points and 6.4 rebounds as a junior and earned all-Conference honors as a senior. The fact he ran cross-country and track in high school suggests he is a good enough athlete to give the Buckeyes some minutes off the back end of the bench when Matta calls his name.

Projected Starting Five (1 of 3)

23 Amir Williams (6-11, 220, Fr.)
0 Jared Sullinger (6-9, 265, So.)
1 Deshaun Thomas (6-7, 225, So.)
44 William Buford (6-6, 220, Sr.)
4 Aaron Craft (6-2, 190, So.)

Part Two - Buckeye Wings

*Check back with the-Ozone.net tomorrow for Part 2 of our look at the Ohio State men’s basketball team.


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