Jan. 3, 2011
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa men’s basketball team has a tall task ahead, as it welcomes second ranked Ohio State to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday night.
“We have a very difficult game on Tuesday night,” said UI head coach Fran McCaffery, whose Hawkeyes are 7-6 overall and 0-1 in the Big Ten after dropping an 87-77 decision to No. 23 Illinois on Dec. 29. “(J.J.) Sullinger is one of the best freshmen that I can remember in my entire coaching career in terms of his maturity on the floor.
“Along with him, they have a number of weapons that make them difficult to prepare for and that’s why they’re undefeated. It’s a tall task for us, one that we’re preparing for.”
The Buckeyes bring a perfect 14-0 overall and a 1-0 record in Big Ten play into Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Ohio State has been dominating so far, as it has yet to play a close game this season with its tightest contest being an 11-point win over IUPUI on Dec. 9.
Sullinger leads a group of five Buckeyes in double figures, averaging a double-double at 17.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, while shooting better than 60 percent from the field. William Buford (14.2), David Lighty (12.8), Jon Diebler (12.4) and DeShaun Thomas (11.4) also average in double digits.
“When you watch this team play, there are days when you say Lighty is their best player, another day Buford is their best player, then Sullinger is their best player,” said McCaffery. “Then Diebler makes eight threes in the next game.
“When it is all said and done, I think it still resolves around Sullinger because he’s almost impossible to guard one-on-one in the post. If you double him, they have too many shooters around.”
Sullinger and his supporting cast have been putting up 82.8 points per contest, while limiting their opposition to 54.7 per game — the fourth fewest in the nation. Offensively, the Buckeyes are connecting on 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc with Diebler ranking eighth in the nation at 51.2 percent.
The Hawkeyes look to mix and match their defenses to try and contain Sullinger and the Buckeyes — a task McCaffery knows will be challenging for his squad.
“You spend all this time on Sullinger and they’ve got multiple double figure scorers and experience at the other spots,” said McCaffery. “I don’t think I can take one guy and say you’ve got Sullinger. There’s not a team in America that could say that. I’m not sure the Lakers could say that.
“You have to deal with this guy, he’s too strong and too gifted. I think you have to keep different people going at him and we’ll have to change defenses. I think that’s the only way to deal with Sullinger.”
McCaffery knows the margin for error against the Buckeyes is small, but he is confident his team will come out ready to compete.
“I think we’ll have a good game plan and we’ll be ready to play,” said McCaffery. “When you play teams of this caliber, your margin for error is very small, it’s plain and simple.
“We’ve got some inexperience and maybe not as much size, but I think we’re making progress. I think we were in a position to win the Illinois game and hopefully we learned something from that game that will help us in the Ohio State game.”
Tuesday night’s game will tip-off at 8:06 p.m., and be broadcast to a national audience on the Big Ten Network.