Jared Sullinger is undoubtedly the star of the Buckeyes.
The freshman forward is a sure-fire top-five pick in the NBA draft, draws the ire — and spit — of opposing fans and, most notably, runs the Columbus karaoke scene with his renditions of Miley Cyrus songs.
He accounts for almost a quarter of OSU’s offense, an offense that runs mostly through him, despite freshman forward Deshaun Thomas’ best efforts.
Yet, if the Buckeyes want to win a National Championship, it will hinge on the efforts of soft-spoken junior guard William Buford.
His importance to the team was even more apparent in OSU’s two losses.
Buford ignited his squad in the first and early second half of the game at Wisconsin.
However, he disappeared at the end. OSU coach Thad Matta even said Buford, at the end of the game, lacked the same kind of aggressiveness he showed earlier.
Against Purdue, he picked up two early fouls that knocked him out of rhythm. Still, in a game like that, he can’t take just five shots.
When all else fails, like it did against Purdue for long stretches, the team needs Buford because he is the only one who can create his own shot off the dribble.
College basketball — and really basketball, in general — is dominated by guard play. Of the past 20 players to win the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, only five of them were primarily post players.
Naturally, some of that is because of the overall lack of size in college basketball, as most tall and talented players go to the NBA after one year. That’s what makes a team like Ohio State, with a dominant post player, so tough to guard.
Sullinger can only go as far as the rest of his team takes him. That’s where Buford comes in.
Sure, fifth-year senior forward David Lighty has the ability to take over, but his jump shot isn’t consistent enough. Senior guard Jon Diebler is only a spot-up shooter, and freshman point guard Aaron Craft serves more as a facilitator, with most of his points coming in transition.
We have seen Buford dominate in stretches of games this season, more thoroughly than ever before. His ball-handling skills have improved light-years beyond where they were even a year ago.
At times, though, when he’s not the primary ball handler, and with Craft on the floor, he seems to be more passive.
When Matta last had a dominant post player, Greg Oden, he took his team to the Final Four. That 2006–07 team’s run was aided by dominant guard play.
Guard Ron Lewis hit the game-saving shot against Xavier, and also had big games against Tennessee and Memphis. Point guard Mike Conley Jr. and guard Jamar Butler were also key contributors.
Sullinger is more naturally gifted on offense than Oden, and does a better job of staying out of foul trouble. Yet, for as tough as he is on the blocks, he can’t do it alone through a rigorous March and, possibly, April.
If the Buckeyes want their “one shining moment,” as national champions, No. 44 fulfills an equally important role in getting them there.