Mirror Images: Buckeyes resemble 2006-07 team
Published: Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 01:06
When the Ohio State men's basketball team (18-0, 5-0) was named the No. 1 team in the nation in both The Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches' polls Monday, it became the first OSU men's team to accomplish such an honor since the 2006-07 squad, which finished its season as the runner-up to national champion Florida.
As this year's group continues to replicate the 2006-07 Buckeyes' success in the polls, grabbing a hold of the No. 1 ranking isn't the only similarity between the two teams, as both squads have found their ways to the top of the polls through the play of blue-chip freshmen and the leadership of veteran role players.
The star freshman: 2010-11 Jared Sullinger and 2006-07 Greg Oden
Both the 2006-07 and 2010-11 Buckeye teams received boosts in preseason hype and attention because of the additions of heralded freshmen post players in Greg Oden and Jared Sullinger.
Despite missing the first seven games of his only season at OSU because of a wrist injury, Oden averaged 15.7 points per game for the Buckeyes, including a 25-point, 12-rebound performance in the National Championship Game against Florida. A selection to The Associated Press' 2007 All-American team, Oden left OSU after his freshman season where he was selected first overall by the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA draft.
Sullinger has provided similar support for this year's Buckeye team and is one of 30 players selected to the midseason watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, given annually to the nation's best player. In ten weeks, he has been named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week eight times and the conference's Player of the Week three times.
A Columbus native, Sullinger said the excitement around this year's team reminds him of what his hometown was like when Oden was a Buckeye.
"The fans is coming out and supporting us. The student life is back at it again," Sullinger said. "It's great, but at the same time we can't let the hype get to our head, and we got to stay grounded and keep playing Ohio State basketball."
The freshman point guard: 2010-11 Aaron Craft and 2006-07 Mike Conley
In the 2006-07 season, Oden's high school teammate, Mike Conley Jr., took command of the Buckeyes' point guard position and averaged 11.3 points and a Big Ten-leading 6.1 assists per game. Conley, the No. 4 pick in the 2007 NBA draft by the Memphis Grizzlies, hit a game-winning shot against then No. 1-ranked Wisconsin on Feb. 25, 2007, that helped the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes clinch the Big Ten regular season title.
Unlike Conley, freshman Aaron Craft doesn't start for the Buckeyes but has still managed to make his mark on the point guard position early in his OSU career, averaging a team-leading 4.9 assists. A former AAU teammate of Sullinger's, Craft was named the Big Ten's Freshman on the Week on Jan. 17, following a career-high 19-point performance in OSU's 69-66 win against Penn State.
OSU coach Thad Matta said Conley walked away impressed with OSU's new point
guard after competing against him in scrimmages at OSU during the summer.
"Michael liked him just from the standpoint of, Aaron, you know, started guarding him when he pulled into the parking lot when he was here 'cause he wanted the challenge," Matta said.
The senior leader: 2010-11 David Lighty and 2006-07 Ron Lewis
Despite having the talented freshmen, both OSU squads benefited from the leadership of their seniors.
As a fifth-year senior during the 2006-07 season, Ron Lewis' veteran presence was most apparent during the 2007 NCAA Tournament, where he was the Buckeyes' top scorer in three of their six tournament games. He also hit a game-saving 3-pointer against Xavier to send the second-round game into overtime.
In his fifth year as a Buckeye, David Lighty, a freshman on the 2006-07 team, has grown into a role similar to the one Lewis played, averaging nearly identical statistics as his former teammate. Matta said Lighty, who has more wins than any player in program history with 113, doesn't get the recognition he deserves.
"I think David Lighty will go down as the most underrated player to ever play at Ohio State," Matta said. "He is definitely one of my all-time favorites that I've coached anywhere."
The 3-point specialist: 2010-11 Jon Diebler and 2006-07 Ivan Harris
With all the attention paid by opposing defenses to their talented post players, both OSU teams have seen an abundance of 3-point shot opportunities, and both teams had the players to knock them down.
Of the 257 field goal attempts that senior forward Ivan Harris made during the 2006-07 season, 58 percent of them were from beyond the 3-point arc. Harris connected on 39 percent of those 3-point shots and averaged 7.6 points per game.
This year, OSU has relied heavily on senior Jon Diebler. Eighty percent of Diebler's shot attempts this season have been 3-pointers, and on Dec. 15, he tied a single-game school record when he made nine 3-pointers in OSU's 83-55 win over Florida Gulf Coast.
"Ideally, we want to be able to score inside and outside every game," Matta said. "We've shown we can do both, and that's what I love about this team."