While Indiana has the best record of any team in the Big Ten so far this season, the undisputed leader of the Big Ten is predicted to be the Ohio State Buckeyes. After winning the Big Ten conference championship and the Big Ten tournament, the Buckeyes entered the NCAA tournament last year as a number 1 seed, the favorite to win, and lost in the sweet sixteen. This year, they've returned with a chip on their shoulders and a sense of determination to redeem themselves.
They're doing a pretty good job so far. Ranked #2 in the nation, the Buckeyes are 10-1, shooting 50%, and averaging 18.3 assists per game, the 9th best assist average in the country. They're winning their games by an average of 26.3 points. Like Indiana, many of their victories have come against small mid-major teams. On the other hand, they beat #4 Duke by 22 and #8 Florida by 7. They lost to #13 Kansas by 13. Their one loss came without Jared Sullinger, whose presence provides the identity of the Ohio State team.
Don't get me wrong: OSU has a roster full of talented players. Sophomore forward Deshawn Thomas has more than doubled his 7.5 ppg from last season and is contributing 15.9 this season, sophomore guard Aaron Craft leads the teams in assists with 5.3 per game, and the team is led by captain and senior William Buford. But sophomore forward Jared Sullinger is this team. He leads in both points per game (16.6) and rebounds per game (9.3) and is loaded with talented; the mock NBA draft 2012 has him as the 5th overall selection, going to the Sacramento Kings. To emphasize just how important Sullinger is to this team, take a look at their games with and without him.
Sullinger played the first seven games of the season, scoring anywhere between 14 and 27 points in seven victories. After their victory over Duke on November 29, Sullinger began suffering from back spasms, practicing only periodically over the next two weeks and missing two games - one to Texas-Pan American, which the Buckeyes won by 29, and one to Kansas, which they lost by 11. He returned on December 14 to play against USC Upstate, which the Buckeyes won handily despite only having only 12 points from Sullinger, and started against South Carolina, only to go down after 6 minutes and 3 points with an injured tendon. OSU won that game as well, but only 8 and only in the last 2 minutes of the game. OSU won their first seven games by an average of 29.2 points. Since Sullinger's back spasms began, the Buckeyes have been winning by an average of 12.5 ppg.
I am by no means trying to take anything away from OSU's basketball team. They're really, really good. They're also much better when Jared Sullinger is healthy. Sullinger hasn't had the best start to the season, health-wise. I hope, for his sake, that the back spasms go away and the tendon problem is nothing serious because, even though it'd be easier for the rest of the teams in the Big Ten to beat OSU without Sullinger, it'd be a lot more satisfying to beat them with him. And he's a blast to watch - he's really, really good too. As I write this, OSU is playing Lamar (who?) and winning by 14. Sullinger is currently 1-4, with 4 points and 5 rebounds.
Today's post is entitled after Kelley Washington (whose real first name is James, middle name is Kelley), number 15 on the 2007 New England Patriots. He played college football at the University of Tennessee before being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 3rd round of the 2003 draft. He played wide receiver for the Bengals from 2003-2006, for the Patriots from 2007-2008, for the Ravens in 2009, and currently plays for the San Diego Chargers. His 2007 Patriots team was the last team to have an undefeated conference season in the NFL and will remain so for at least another year.
The Sports Nerd