Why Ohio State is struggling with entering the ball to Jared Sullinger
In early February last season, Luke Winn studied all of the catches made by Jared Sullinger and found that seniors Jon Diebler and David Lighty were responsible for 60.5% of post entries. In last night’s game, we saw Ohio State miss several opportunities to enter the ball into Sullinger, which was quantified by Andy Glockner. Sullinger is one of the most efficient players when he can catch the ball on the block, all he needs is a strong passer to give him the ball. Let’s look at the differences between Diebler/Lighty from last year and Aaron Craft/William Buford this year.
First, let’s take a look at how Diebler and Lighty found ways to enter the ball into Sullinger. Kentucky defended Sullinger well in their Sweet Sixteen game but focus more on the entry pass to get the ball to Sullinger, who has good position in all these clips.
What to notice is how Diebler and Lighty do one of two things before they make the entry pass. They either make the pass right away after receiving the ball, before the defense can react, or they force the defense to react to movement which puts them off-balance. They can do this by either a ball fake or a jab step to put the defender on his heels and leave a passing lane to Sullinger. This makes it hard for the defense to get a hand on the entry pass and Sullinger is able to get the ball while isolated.
This season, Craft and Buford are not making it hard enough on the defense and they are able to clog the passing lane to Sullinger. They hold the ball too long and allow the defense to get in good position to defend any entry pass or when the defense is positioned to defend the pass, they don’t utilize a ball fake often enough or other type of deception to disguise the entry pass. This is illustrated by the first and last play in the following video, as Buford and Craft stare into the post but don’t have the ability to make a good pass to the post.
Other times, they don’t put themselves in good position to make the pass. This is shown in the last two plays in the videos, which highlight passes that should have been made by Craft. In the first play, he could take one dribble toward the corner, give a slight ball fake to Erving Walker and dump the ball into Sullinger. The same principle applies for the second play, as Craft tries to make a difficult pass over the top instead of dribbling to the wing to make the easy pass. Sullinger comes away from both these possessions empty-handed.
While it didn’t cause Ohio State to drop the game against Florida, it may come back to hurt them at some point in the season. Ohio State has strong perimeter players but their bread and butter lies in Sullinger. They need to find ways to give him the ball on the block to put him in position to score or draw a foul. They can’t leave him to fight for offensive rebounds to stay involved on the offensive end. If they can find a capable distributor, they will be a tough offense to stop.