COLUMBIA -- Ohio State sophomore power forward Jared Sullinger has been described in several different ways during the past year.
Many have called him one of college basketball's best players and a future lottery pick. Both seem spot-on. He is projected by NBADraft.net to be selected fifth in next year's draft.
Others have said he is critical to the Buckeyes' chances of a deep NCAA tournament run, and that would be correct, too. He leads second-ranked Ohio State with 18.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game entering today's game at South Carolina. The Buckeyes' only loss, last Saturday at Kansas, was the second of two games Sullinger missed because of back spasms.
But Sullinger, who returned from his injury Wednesday against USC Upstate, has almost certainly never been characterized the way USC coach Darrin Horn described him this week.
"His IQ is off the charts," Horn said. "He is an incredibly smart basketball player. He does a lot of little things. He's got a very mature game. He's not super athletic. He's like the old guy you play when you're young down at the Y or in church league or whatever, and he's just giving it to you. He's got all the little things down."
Limiting Sullinger, as much as that's possible, will be a challenge today for USC freshman power forward Anthony Gill as the Gamecocks (4-5) attempt to pull off a monumental upset. In USC's 79-57 loss last season at Ohio State, Sullinger had 30 points and 19 rebounds. Nine of his points came on free throws. He shot 12 of them, highlighting his ability to draw fouls.
"Since Tyler Hansbrough, he gets more fouls called or draws more fouls -- or maybe both -- than any player I've ever seen in college basketball," Horn said. "He's very good at it."
Gill has done a better job lately of avoiding foul trouble while still playing as aggressively as Horn asks him to. Gill said he committed too many "silly fouls" early in the season, because when he defended in the post, he put two hands on an opposing player to account for a strength difference. Gill, who is 6-8 and 235 pounds, gives up one inch and 45 pounds to Sullinger.
"He uses his body," Gill said. "He has a big butt and can use it in many ways to get a lot of position. So I'm definitely going to have to maneuver myself and play smart."
Gill said watching film before games and noticing an opposing player's tendencies early in them have helped him put himself in better position on defense to avoid fouls.
"You've got to be smarter than the other person," Gill said. "You've just got to be smart and get in the right positions to where they have a weakness and you have the strength."
But the Buckeyes are ranked second in the country because they have more than just Sullinger. Senior shooting guard William Buford is their second-leading scorer, with 16.3 points per game, and is making 41.7 percent of his 3-pointers.
"I'm not so sure Buford isn't just as good of a pro prospect as Sullinger," Horn said.
Buford is also a projected first-round pick by NBADraft.net, which predicts him to go 23rd. That kind of talent -- led by coach Thad Matta, who made the 2007 national title game and reached the Sweet 16 the past two seasons -- is why Horn called today's nationally televised game a "tremendous challenge," but also a "tremendous opportunity."
"It's the kind of game that you want to be in," Horn said.
--USC sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington will miss just one game because of football -- Dec. 31 against USC Upstate. Ellington, who missed the first six games while playing wide receiver for the Gamecocks, will play in the Dec. 28 home game against Wofford, then travel to Orlando, Fla., where USC plays Nebraska in the Jan. 2 Capital One Bowl. Ellington will return in time for the Jan. 3 home game against South Carolina State. USC begins bowl practice today.
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