David Lighty was not the most-heralded player from Thad Matta's stellar 2006 recruiting class. Instead, the headlines went to fellow freshmen Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr.
David was the sixth man and a guy that Coach Matta could depend on for rebounds and solid defensive play. He certainly did not "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 is not just playing the role of lockdown defender, he is also a leader and a veteran.
So when the undefeated Buckeyes' backs are against the wall, they turn to that old and weathered yet impeccable sixth man.
He is the perfect frontman for a rock star cast of young talent and veteran scoring machines. The more pressure that is put on this team, the better they play. That is a characteristic of championship teams—legends.
Ohio State fans did not know what to expect from this year's 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 those 20+ points per game in their lineup. Lighty had to step up his offensive game, and freshman Jared Sullinger had to pick up where Turner left off.
Sullinger poured in 19 points in his debut. He scored 26 in Game 2 at 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 6'8", 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 proved 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, thus far, is to flop at contact—a move that we called a "Mitch Uline" in high school. Mitch was not the best athlete, but he was a great actor.
However, Sullinger is not 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 would likely start for any other program in the country.
Aaron Craft has defied his 3-star recruiting ranking, turning out to be a hidden gem with ball-handling skills and poise well beyond his years. He is averaging 9.6 points and 5.2 assists per game in Big Ten play and provides Ohio State with its first legitimate starting point guard since Jamar Butler ('07/'08).
This team would be good devoid of freshmen, but they provide a dynamic and depth that have helped move Ohio State to the top.
The one thing that makes this Ohio State team dangerous is the near-limitless scoring options.
On multiple occasions, six of their players have gone for 20 points, and Craft nearly became the seventh player to hit 20 at least once. He fell one point short with 19 against Penn State this past Saturday.
Impressively, all-time leading scorer in OHSAA (Ohio High School Athletic Association) history, Jon Diebler finished his Ohio High School career with over 3,200 points. That is 562 more than LeBron James, and 770 more than Jerry Lucas.
Diebler is a pure shooter—the kind of shooter that molds defensive game plans, and haunts opposing coaches in their sleep. It was shocking when Diebler hit just 29 percent from three-point range as a freshman. Chalk it up to the small-town-kid, deer-in-the-headlights syndrome.
In his sophomore campaign Diebler increased that percentage to 41.6, and hit 96 three-pointers. Last year he hit 116 at 42 percent, and this year has hit 55 at 50 percent through 18 games.
One game in particular showed just how dangerous Jon Diebler can be.
On Dec. 15, 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 nine shots from three-point range. The feat tied an Ohio State record, but I am sure that when Jay Burson did it, he did not hit nine in a row. Sometimes I get the feeling that if Diebler was a little more selfish, or played for a lesser team, he would be averaging 30 points per game.
So what happens if Diebler gets shut down? 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", can take the ball to the hoop, hit the three and jump out of the gym.
The occasionally aloof junior is averaging 13.6 ppg, 3.5 apg, 4.2 rpg, one spg and is shooting 41 percent from the arc. How has Thad Matta been able to get these players to play with this team-first attitude?
Sometimes asking a former starter like Dallas Lauderdale to take a smaller role can backfire—not with this team. Dallas comes in to give the frosh superstar a breather, and to play solid defense in the process. He is an even better defender in the paint than his younger counterpart, and he provides a solid backup 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 down the road when Ohio State faces teams with elite big men in the NCAA tournament.
Seven of the next nine games for Ohio State are against ranked teams and the Big Ten currently has six teams ranked in the Top 25.
The worst teams in the Big Ten are Iowa, Michigan and Indiana.
Michigan took No. 2 Kansas to overtime, and Iowa easily handled Alabama out of the SEC.
Indiana? Well, in my opinion, Indiana stinks. Point being; getting through the conference schedule unscathed is a tall order. There is 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.
Saturday we have the noon CBS game against Illinois. Thanks for reading, and GO BUCKS!
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