Here are three quick thoughts after No. 3 Ohio State held off a late Florida surge to beat the seventh-ranked Gators, 81-74, in a very entertaining clash in Columbus.
1. Jared Sullinger in the post = lights out ... if he can get the ball. Two big questions for OSU this year are whether the Buckeyes can successfully feed Sullinger down low at the same kind of rate as last season and whether he can consistently handle double-teams with lesser perimeter shooting to make the opponent pay.
On Tuesday night, the answers were "not in this game" and "yes."
Give credit to Florida for its concerted effort to stop Ohio State from feeding Sullinger on the block. Patric Young battled hard for position all night and Florida's guards almost always flash-doubled (sometimes more than once) when Sullinger did make a catch. As colleague Luke Winn artfully noted last season, Jon Diebler was a tremendous post feeder last season in addition to being a lethal 3-point shooter, and his presence will be difficult to fully replace.
By my count, Ohio State only successfully fed Sullinger in the low post on nine of their 68 total possessions (although he had several other catches down low off feeds/inbounds plays and also had a handful of high-post touches that were fruitful). On those nine possessions, the Buckeyes scored 15 points, or a lofty 1.67 points per possession. On their other 59 possessions, whether Sullinger was in the game or not, they scored 66 points, or a more normal 1.12 points per possession. When you add in the baskets and foul shots Sullinger created on his high-post and other touches, it was clear that any possession where he didn't factor in was a plus for Florida.
2. Aaron Craft is incredibly disruptive and underrated. The three steals in the box score don't do any justice to the impact Craft, one of the nation's best perimeter defenders, had on the game. He stripped the ball away numerous additional times on Florida drives and uses his chest and torso incredibly well to disrupt dribblers without fouling. His on-ball defense was a huge reason why Florida had 16 turnovers and his calm control on the other end is a large part of why the Buckeyes had just seven.
Mix in his passing ability and his sensibility on when to attack off the bounce and get his own points -- he's fantastic as a layup finisher -- and you have a player whose value far surpasses was what a nice box score line: 13 points, three rebounds, seven assists, three steals.
3. Erik Murphy will be a big factor for the Gators. Murphy's ability to knock down 3-pointers from the 4-spot will create significant matchup problems for a lot of teams and really opens the floor for the rest of the Gators. His presence on the perimeter meant that Patric Young had space to show off a more refined post game in one-on-one situations and the rest of the Gators on the perimeter have more room to attack off the dribble.
There's no doubt the tenor of the game changed for the worse for Florida when Murphy went out with foul trouble in the first half, and the game started to get away from the Gators when he banged his head on the court early in the second half and spent some more time on the bench.
Young remains the only real post defense presence and, as mentioned above, he did as good a job as you could expect on an All-American center, but Florida will be at its best when Murphy's out there with him.