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Friday, January 28, 2011
POY: The case for Jared Sullinger

By Eamonn Brennan

After the official arrival of Jimmer Mania Syndrome -- a severe and influential pandemic (side effects: intense euphoria, desire to shoot 40-foot shots) that has spread to 98 percent of all sports fans nationwide since Wednesday night’s 43-point performance against No. 4 San Diego State -- it’s pretty hard to argue against Fredette’s national player of the year case. This is The Jimmer’s season, and at this point, the various player of the year honors are his to lose.

Arguing against The Jimmer isn’t my bag. (I am the guy who recited a self-written poem, “Ode to The Jimmer,” on our podcast this week.) So I won’t try. Instead, allow me to argue for a candidate who is in his own way just as deserving as Fredette and fellow POY contender Kemba Walker. That player? Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger.

Jared Sullinger
Jared Sullinger has been one of the most efficient players in college hoops this season.
Let’s begin with the numbers. Sully is averaging 17.8 points and 10 rebounds in 30 minutes a game, which are monstrous totals but even less telling than Sullinger’s efficiency stats. The freshman forward has been one of the three or four most efficient players in college hoops for the entire season. His bruising interior style leads to great position and easy buckets around the rim -- meaning Sullinger doesn’t waste many of his team’s possessions with missed shots -- and he complements that scoring ability with elite rebounding on both ends of the floor. (Sullinger is especially good on the defensive glass, where he grabs 28.6 percent of opponents’ available misses, the fifth-highest mark in the country.)

Just this week -- prior to Jimmer’s incredible Wednesday night -- tempo-free guru Ken Pomeroy had Sullinger listed atop his stats-heavy national player of the year award list for the fifth week this season.
All of that is very impressive, of course, but until you see Sullinger and these Ohio State Buckeyes play, you might not realize just how good he is. Opposing teams can’t stop Sully one-on-one. But they can’t leave Ohio State’s shooters alone. They have to make a choice.

When they double, Sullinger’s impressive passing (and low turnover rate) allows him to find Ohio State’s cadre of outside shooters for easy buckets. When they don’t, Sullinger eats them up inside. Whatever you do, the defense is the one being attacked. The defense is forced to react. And that means the defense is not where it wants to be.

Perhaps Sullinger’s greatest case for national player of the year honors is this: After seeing last season’s player of the year (Evan Turner) leave for the NBA, the Buckeyes returned four of five starters this season. The only difference? They swapped Sullinger for Turner. Not only did this team not miss a beat, it’s actually better -- more balanced, deeper, more versatile and more dominant -- than last season’s second-seeded Buckeyes ever were. If that’s not enough to prove how good this kid is, perhaps nothing will.

In other words, as Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker soak in the headlines, spotlight, and POY love in the coming weeks -- and deservedly so -- let’s not forget the big-bodied, rebound-happy, interior man-child in Columbus. He doesn’t have a catchy nickname or 35-foot range, but Jared Sullinger is the best player on the best team in all the land, and those two facts are not coincidence.