Cody Cousino / Photo editor
LAWRENCE, Kan. — All eyes are on Ohio State men’s basketball’s sophomore forward Jared Sullinger, whose availability is unknown as the Buckeyes prepare for their first road test of the season against the University of Kansas Jayhawks.
After suffering back spasms in a Nov. 29 victory against Duke and missing No. 2-ranked OSU’s last game, Sullinger may miss consecutive games for the first time in his college career when the Buckeyes battle the No. 13-ranked Jayhawks Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.
Sullinger’s health was the first topic OSU coach Thad Matta addressed during a Thursday press conference.
“(Sullinger) is feeling better,” Matta said. “He’s doing more every day, but quite honestly, I don’t know if we’ll know until Saturday whether he’s going to play or not.”
An OSU athletic department spokesman did not immediately respond to The Lantern’s Saturday request for comment regarding Sullinger’s status.
OSU sophomore guard Aaron Craft said Sullinger was walking around gingerly at the start of the week, but made noticeable improvements in the days that followed.
Craft added that he was uncertain of Sullinger’s availability the Kansas game.
“(Sullinger) has got the bounce back in his step,” Craft said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”
Matta said he was amazed at how much better Sullinger was moving around, but that he doesn’t want to jeopardize his player’s health.
“I’m thinking ‘big picture’ here,” Matta said. “Much more than Saturday’s game, or anything along those lines.”
Sullinger started all 37 games OSU played last season and had started in each of OSU’s first seven games during the 2011-12 campaign until he was forced from the lineup for the team’s 64-35 win against Texas-Pan American last Saturday.
Should Sullinger miss the Kansas game, Matta said the team will not deviate from its usual game plan.
“To reinvent the wheel — we’re not going to do that,” he said. “I like the progress we’ve made this week.”
Without Sullinger, guarding Thomas Robinson, Kansas’ 6-foot-10, 237-pound junior forward, may be complicated.
“(Robinson) is a phenomenal basketball player, and probably the best that we’ve gone against this year,” Matta said.
That task of defending Robinson would likely fall to junior forward Evan Ravenel or sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas, and then OSU still has the Jayhawks’ 7-foot, 235-pound redshirt junior center Jeff Withey to contend with.
Ravenel said hard work could help nullify Robinson and Withey.
“Getting early position, boxing out — things you learn when you first start playing basketball,” Ravenel said of his likely defensive assignments. “(Robinson) is a great athlete and he works hard.”
With or without Sullinger, Craft said he thinks that playing on the road against Kansas is a great opportunity for OSU.
He also thinks the Buckeyes can win.
“If Jared doesn’t play, Jared doesn’t play,” he said. “We’re not going to miss a beat. We have great guys like (Ravenel) … that have come in and practiced just as hard as Jared has.”
“We work on execution,” Ravenel said. “We’re going to get in there and do everything we can.”
OSU (8-0) tips off against Kansas (6-2) at 3:15 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.