Jared Sullinger believes Ohio State’s hectic early schedule should better prepare the team for what to expect come March.
The third-ranked Buckeyes seem more than capable of making a deep run with their sophomore standout leading the way.
Seeking a fifth consecutive win, Ohio State continues a busy stretch when its hosts high-scoring VMI on Wednesday night.
The Buckeyes cruised to an 85-50 victory over North Florida on Monday behind Sullinger’s season highs of 27 points and 13 rebounds. Ohio State has outscored opponents by 29.2 points per game in opening 4-0 for the third time in four seasons.
While the Buckeyes haven’t been challenged aside from an 81-74 victory over then-No. 7 Florida last week, their upcoming schedule is certainly demanding. Ohio State concludes a stretch of three games in five days against Valparaiso on Friday before facing No. 6 Duke on Nov. 29.
“This is almost like a March week,” Sullinger said.
“(In March) you play on a Friday, you’re off on Saturday and you have a little practice, and then you’re right back at it on Sunday. It’s a quick turnaround. So it’s kind of a test for what we’ve got coming. It’s almost like a midterm for March.”
While it’s still early in the season, the Buckeyes have looked every bit like contenders thanks largely to Sullinger. The 6-foot-9 forward has averaged nearly a point a minute (47 in 48) in their past two wins.
Ohio State will surely look to get Sullinger involved early and often as it continues to struggle from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes, who made just 4 of 17 3’s on Monday, are shooting 26.2 percent from long distance.
“Coach (Thad Matta) always says we get good shots when we get it inside,” said forward Deshaun Thomas, averaging 12.8 points. “When we throw it into Sully and me, the percentages are up. That’s one of our goals. We try to be a great 3-point shooting team, but inside’s working real well right now.”
After scoring 41 points off Jackson State’s 26 turnovers in Friday’s 85-41 victory, Ohio State converted 23 of North Florida’s turnovers into 25 points.
Matta’s team is forcing 22.5 miscues per game.
“Any team that wants to be good on this level has to turn turnovers into easy buckets,” swingman Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. “Different teams do that well, like your Kentuckys and your North Carolinas. Mostly every time they get a turnover they’re scoring at the other end. This program is just as big as that.”
The Buckeyes have outscored teams by an average of 24.0 points in recording 26 consecutive home victories. They haven’t faced much difficulty in taking both all-time meetings with VMI (3-1) either, defeating the Keydets 107-69 on Nov. 10, 2006, and 90-57 on Nov. 25, 2007.
VMI is coming off Saturday’s 84-79 victory over UMBC. Forward Stan Okoye and guard Keith Gabriel each recorded season highs of 24 points.
With six players averaging at least 10.0 points, the Keydets - who led the nation in scoring the past five seasons - again rank as one of the country’s highest scoring teams (88.3 points per game).
Most of VMI’s offense revolves around the 3-pointer, as 48.6 percent of its field goal attempts have come from long distance. While the Keydets are averaging a whopping 33.8 3-pointers, they’re only shooting 29.6 percent from beyond the arc.
VMI hasn’t faced a ranked opponent since the 2006 loss in Columbus to the then-No. 7 Buckeyes.