Guest Article BY: Simmons Calls Me
Anyone watching college basketball this season knows by now that Ohio State has something special. The Buckeyes are currently sitting atop the Big 10 at 26-2, and many pundits believe they will be the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Expectations for Ohio State are much higher than just a conference title – fans are expecting a deep run come March. As I was thinking through how far the Buckeyes might make it, I kept comparing them to the 06-07 squad. I realized that while many similarities exist between the two teams, there is one key difference that I believe makes this year’s team better.
First, the similarities. Both teams have an extremely young, talented group of freshmen complemented by strong upper-classmen leadership. The 06-07 team featured seven freshmen, two juniors, and two seniors. This year’s team consists of five freshman, two juniors, and four seniors. The success of the team this year will depend largely on whether the upperclassmen can keep the younger guys focused on the task at hand once the Madness begins.
Both teams also had freshmen at the point guard position. Mike Conley took the nation by storm, setting the Ohio State single-season record for assists along the way. Current point guard Aaron Craft isn’t quite the dynamic player Conley was, but is a very solid shooter (49.1 percent overall, 42.6 percent beyond the arc and 71.7 percent at the line) and his 2-to-1 ratio of assists to turnovers is surprisingly efficient. Perhaps the biggest similarity between the two players is that they are both glue guys keeping the team together and providing leadership from arguably the game’s toughest position.
Now the difference. Whenever people compare the 06-07 team to this year’s squad, conversations always involve comparisons between Greg Oden and this year’s Player-of-the-Year candidate Jared Sullinger. Sullinger has posted similar stats as Oden (although remember Oden played injured much of the season), but I believe there is one big difference between the two that could set this Ohio State team apart. Greg Oden, by all accounts, was a MAN. A dominating 7-footer in high school, Oden was given all the physical gifts required to be a truly dominant center. But, the criticism of Oden has always been that he lacks a killer instinct, and it’s true. Watch Oden play and you’ll see a guy that’s physically able to impose his will on others, but often is more than content shooting some layups, collecting some boards, and blocking a couple shots before going back to whatever actually interested him. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying Oden was lazy; rather I am arguing that Oden lacked the ability to mentally take his game to another level. Sullinger, however, has the singular focus to really dig deep when the going gets tough. His enthusiasm and relatively fiery on-court temperament stand in sharp contrast to the calm demeanor of Oden. With Oden, you knew that as long as the physical matchup was good, he would do well; but, he never seemed to really want to crush his opponents. With Sullinger, you get the distinct feeling that he is saving his best for that decisively tough moment that will undoubtedly arrive once the Madness begins.
It is always tough to predict who will end up performing come tournament time. By all accounts, the 06-07 team wasn’t supposed to enjoy the success that it did, but the Buckeyes just got hot at the right time. I am not trying to say the current Ohio State team will win the national championship, or even make it to the Finals. However, I am arguing that there are enough similarities between the two teams, and one key difference in the on-court demeanor between Sullinger and Oden, that could propel this year’s Buckeye team to win a national championship.