- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ohio State began its season with a touted freshman class, four starters returning from a regional semifinalist and aspirations of a deep NCAA tournament run.

It did not have Evan Turner, the 2010 national player of the year, who acted as the Buckeyes’ catalyst throughout a remarkable season.

While it seems simple enough - freshman Jared Sullinger rolled onto campus and became the nation’s most dominant big man - it doesn’t mean Ohio State (34-2) didn’t adopt a drastically different on-court philosophy while swapping offensive fulcrums after last season.

Yet while Sullinger is the leading scorer for the tournament’s top-seeded team (the Buckeyes meet fourth-seeded Kentucky on Friday in Newark, N.J.), the work of holdovers William Buford, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty is just as crucial.

“From last year to this year, they played a role,” Ohio State assistant Jeff Boals said. “Everyone had a role last year. Everyone has a role this year. With Evan leaving and him handling the ball, we knew Buford, Lighty and Diebler all had to get better.”

Adding freshman Aaron Craft (4.9 assists per game) didn’t hurt, but all three veteran guards needed to adjust how they went about their business. Buford and Diebler improved their shooting, while Lighty’s 3-point percentage increased as his turnover rate was slashed considerably.

Just as importantly, they expanded their games to provide Ohio State what it required.

“Last year, we were so perimeter-oriented,” Diebler said. “Evan was so good that you could just hand him the ball and go, ‘Here you go, man, create for everyone.’ And that’s what he did. He was so good, he could do that for all of us. I think when he left, it made Will, myself and Dave evolve our games and really work on a lot of things we didn’t do last season.”

The Buckeyes’ changes were contingent on Sullinger living up to his advance billing, which he has by averaging 17.1 points and 10 rebounds. But the penultimate play in many Ohio State possessions isn’t an entry pass to the talented freshman.

As George Mason learned Sunday, Sullinger is adept at kicking it back out - if not to find an open man, then to get it to another perimeter option who will exploit a clean look as a result of the efficient ball movement. The Buckeyes shot 16 of 26 from 3-point territory in the 98-66 demolition of the Patriots.

Therein lies the greater danger for Ohio State’s opponents. With Turner, one player was likely to destroy an opponent. With Sullinger, anyone on the floor possesses that capability.

Jared helps those guys out, and those guys help Jared out,” Boals said. “The whole year, everyone kind of game-planned a different way. One game, someone would double- or triple-team Jared, and the next game they’d play him single coverage because our shooters were so good.”

Lighty said the differences aren’t vast; the holdovers simply have more responsibilities. But it did force coach Thad Matta and his staff to come up with a significantly altered approach to the season.

Then again, Matta has a little experience with talented big men during his time in Columbus.

“I think they went back to a lot of plays they had when Greg [Oden] was here and Terence Dials was here,” Diebler said. “Obviously, coach likes to play four guards, but at the same time he likes to have big guys in the game. I know he brought back a lot of plays this year that we didn’t run last year. … He’ll say, ‘We used to run this for Greg’ or ‘We used to run this for T.D.’ “

So the Buckeyes adopted an old look and made it look new - and Ohio State already matched its success from a year ago when Turner was scorching opponents.

“They were four out, one in, sometimes five out,” first-year assistant Dave Dickerson said. “The court was always spread. For us to go from that style of play to now focusing on getting the ball to Jared and getting him touches, it’s been pretty amazing.”

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