David Lighty was not the most heralded player from Thad Matta’s stellar 2006 recruiting class. He was a scrappy defender and athlete, but the headlines went to fellow freshmen Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr.
David was the 6th man, and a guy that Coach Matta could depend on for rebounds and solid defensive play. He certainly didn’t ‘light’ it up in terms of point production(3.7ppg as a frosh). Now, Matta is having the last laugh. Lighty is Ohio State’s Mr. Dependable. He isn’t just playing the role of lock-down defender. He’s playing the role of leader, veteran, and clutch everything. So when the undefeated Buckeyes’ backs are against the wall – they turn to that old, weathered 6th man who seems to do no wrong when his team needs him the most.
He’s the perfect frontman for a rock star cast of young talent and veteran scoring machines. The more pressure that’s put on this team, the better they play, and that’s a characteristic of Championship teams, legends.
Ohio State fans didn’t quite know what to expect from this years basketball team. They knew the team would be good, but how good? Player of the Year Evan Turner had left for the NBA, and the Buckeyes needed to find a way to replace that 20+ points per game in their line-up. Lighty would have to step up his offensive game, and freshman Jared Sullinger would have to pick-up where Turner left off. They did just that.
In Sullinger’s debut he poured in 19 points. He scored 26 in game 2 @ Florida. Three weeks later he tallied an Ohio State freshman record 40 against IUPUI. Sullinger has silenced his few critics by being every bit as strong on the inside as he was in High School. At 6’9? 280 pounds, Sullinger demands double-teams. His post moves are polished, and his scoring touch, deft. Sullinger, while only 18 games into his College career, has already proven to have more upside and raw ability than B.J. Mullens, Kosta Koufos, and Greg Oden. The size of his lower half makes him a block-out nightmare. The only solution teams have found(to this point)is to flop at contact – a move that we called a ‘Mitch Uline’ in High School. Mitch wasn’t the best athlete, but he was a great actor.
Sullinger isn’t the only freshman making an impact. Deshaun Thomas is a rangy player who plays with tenacity under the basket. Thomas has embraced his role off the bench – even though he’d be starting for any other program in the country.
Aaron Craft has defied his 3-star recruiting ranking, and turned out to be a hidden gem with ball-handling skills and poise well beyond his years. Craft is averaging 9.6 points and 5.2 assists per game in Big Ten play. He seems to be taking on a larger role as each game goes by, and provides Ohio State with their first legitimate starting point-guard since Jamar Butler(’07/’08). This team would be good without these freshmen, but these freshmen provide a dynamic and depth that has helped move Ohio State to the top of the rankings. All of the credit for the advanced development of these players goes to the upperclassmen, and Coach Matta.
If you had to single-out the one thing that makes this Ohio State team dangerous – it’s the near-limitless scoring options. 6 players on this team have gone for 20 points on multiple occasions this year, and Craft nearly became the 7th player to hit 20 at least once; falling 1 point short with 19 against Penn State this past Saturday. If you’re going to talk about scoring – then you have to talk about the all-time leading scorer in OHSAA(Ohio High School Athletic Association) history, Jon Diebler.
Diebler finished his Ohio High School career with over 3200 points. 562 more than Lebron James, and 770 more than Jerry Lucas. Diebler is a pure shooter – the kind of shooter that molds defensive gameplans, and haunts opposing coaches in their sleep. So, needless to say, when Diebler hit just 29% from 3-point range as a freshman, it came as a shock. Chalk it up to the small-town-kid-deer-in-the-headlights-sydrome. Since then, Diebler has been on fire. In his Sophmore campaign Diebler increased that percentage to 41.6, and hit 96 3-pointers. Last year he hit 116 at 42%, and this year has hit 55 @ 50% through 18 games. One game in particular showed just how dangerous Jon Diebler can be.
On December 15th, 2010, Ohio State faced Florida Gulf Coast in ‘The Schott’. The announcers warned after Diebler missed his first two shots from behind the arc, “you can’t keep giving Jon Diebler open looks like that”. They were right. Diebler proceeded to hit the next 9 shots from three-point range. The feat tied an Ohio State record, but I’m quit sure that when Jay Burson did it, he didn’t hit 9 IN-A-ROW! Sometimes I get the feeling that if Diebler was a little more selfish, or played for a lesser team, he’d be averaging 30 points per game.
So what happens if Diebler gets shut down(I know – he’s hit a 3 in 34 straight games – BUT HYPOTHETICALLY)? The answer? You turn to the master of hitting difficult shots with a hand in his face – William Buford.
Buford is the kind of silky-smooth shooting guard that has the NBA scouts drooling. He’s 6’5?. He can take the ball to the hoop. He can hit the 3. He can jump out of the gym. The better question is, ‘what can’t Buford do’? The occasionally aloof Junior is averaging 13.6ppg, 3.5apg, 4.2rpg, 1spg, and is shooting 41% from the arc. The real question is how in the world Thad Matta has been able to get these players to play with this team-first attitude.
Sometimes asking a player like Dallas Lauderdale to take a smaller role can backfire. There can be dissention. Not with this team. Dallas comes in to give the frosh superstar a breather, and to play solid defense in the process. He’s an even better defender in the paint than his younger counterpart, and he provides a solid back-up if Sullinger gets in foul trouble. The Buckeyes have so many scoring options at the other four starting spots that it doesn’t really hurt this team when Sullinger has to leave the game. Lauderdale enters the game with an edge, and a shot blocking ability second to none. He has the longest wingspan in College basketball, and he could be a huge asset when Ohio State faces teams with elite big-men in the NCAA tournament.
7 of the next 9 games for Ohio State are against ranked teams. Right now the Big Ten has 6 teams ranked in the top 25. The worst teams in the Big Ten are Iowa, Michigan, and Indiana. Michigan took #2 Kansas to overtime, and Iowa easily handled Alabama out of the SEC. Indiana? Well, Indiana stinks. Point being, getting through the conference schedule unscathed is a very tall order. There’s no doubt that it will only help this already fantastic team get better. See everyone tonight at the Schott, or on the Big Ten network where Ohio State will play the Iowa Hawkeyes at 6:30 EST. Of course you wouldn’t know that by looking at the ESPN schedule because they don’t tell you what games are on BTN. Saturday we have the noon CBS game against Illinois. Thanks for reading, and GO BUCKS!