Led By Example

January 26, 2011

Ohio State’s drubbing of 12th ranked Purdue last night is being used as validation that the Buckeyes are the best team in the nation. While I’m reluctant to say just yet that Ohio State is head and shoulders above the rest of the country, last night’s game should make the Buckeye faithful cautiously optimistic for March.

It is rare in college basketball today that you see a team that is centered around an underclassman, yet really is supported by the upperclassmen on the team. While Ohio State’s offense starts with freshman center Jared Sullinger, this Buckeye team gets nightly contributions from less-heralded upperclassmen such as junior William Buford and seniors Jon Diebler and David Lighty. Last night’s game is just one example; while Sullinger struggled in the first half, Buford picked up the slack and lead the team with 19 points. In addition, freshman guard Aaron Craft played arguably the best game of his career, adding 11 points and six assists.

When I look at this Buckeye team, I see a crucial part of the puzzle that was missing on teams that were led by younger players in prior years. That piece of the puzzle is the leadership that the upperclassmen have displayed. Last year’s Kentucky team was probably one of the best young lineups ever to take the floor in a college game. However, when it really mattered in March, that team was unable to deal with the pressure of getting down early like they did against West Virginia in the Elite Eight (consequently, that was the last game that those four freshman would play in a Kentucky uniform). The reason? None of them had been there before, and there was no one telling them “it’s okay guys, just settle down”.

We’re only in January, and while I’m sure that Ohio State isn’t dreading being undefeated, I’m do know that those upperclassmen are telling the younger guys that they haven’t accomplished anything yet. Only players that have been there before truly believe that it means nothing to be number one in January if you’re not number one in April, regardless of what the younger players say in interviews. Buford, Diebler, Lighty, and the other upperclassmen will keep the younger players hungry, which is something I think teams without experienced guys in the locker room sometimes lack when March rolls around.

Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean that you are the best player, either. No one is going to argue that Jon Diebler or David Lighty are more talented players than Jared Sullinger or Aaron Craft. But they are just as important, and when you get a group of upperclassmen that aren’t angry that the spotlight is on younger players most of the time, you have a deadly combination of talent and experience, which is a recipe for success in the NCAA tournament.

That Kentucky team, Kevin Durant’s Texas team, and more familiar to Ohio State fans, the 2007 Buckeye team that lost to Florida in the National Championship game, lacked a key component that this current Ohio State team seems to possess. Like I said, I’m not ready to crown this team the best in the nation hands-down, but I will say this: if they can put themselves in position to win in March, they have the tools to finish the job.

– K. Becks

2 Responses to Led By Example

  1. Amanwhoknowsnothing on January 26, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    I agree with the tools to finish the job, but can those tools really be used. With most of the spotlight in basketball the past couple years centered around young talented players, who too often move onto the NBA, will the overlooked upperclassmen still be able to contribute from the shadows without disrupting team morale?

    • K. Becks on January 28, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      Yes, I believe that leadership qualities from the older players is an asset that can be used to a team’s advantage. Ohio State is an example of a team benefiting from it, but there also teams out there suffering from a lack of it. Just take a look at Michigan State. Two of the players that were key components in the Spartans 2010 Final Four run are no longer on the team, and Coach Izzo is now left with a group of talented, but young players. How are they doing this season without a core of leaders that can help direct the younger guys?

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