<span style="font-size: 12.0pt; font-family: Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font: minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family: Cambria; mso-fareast-theme-font: minor-latin; mso-hansi-theme-font: minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family: "Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font: minor-bidi; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-fareast-language: EN-US;">Ohio State is better without Evan Turner.
It sounds nuts, but hear me out. I’m not saying that Thad Matta would be worse off if Turner, last year’s National Player of the Year, had opted to return to Columbus instead of departing a year early for the NBA.
However, I’ll take the swap of Turner and whoever else departed a year ago - Walter Offutt, Jeremie Simmons, P.J. Hill, Kyle Madsen and even Mark Titus - for a freshman class that includes Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas.
That was clear on Tuesday night when the Buckeyes pulled away in the second half for an easy victory against Florida.
It was built up as the elite non-conference matchup in November.
Two Top 10 teams.
But it wasn’t even a game after the break as the Buckeyes made the Gators look like the NIT team they were the two seasons following the back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007.
``They’re a great team,” Florida senior Chandler Parsons said after the 93-75 loss. ``Really good.”
Freshman Jared Sullinger was dominant in his debut on the big stage with 26 points and 10 rebounds.
``He’s legit,” Parsons added of the 6-foot-9, 280-pound big man. ``He’s a monster.”
Fellow frosh Aaron Craft helped answer the primary question facing the Buckeyes in the preseason.
Who will replace Turner at running the team?
``He’s really good,” Parsons said of Craft.
Then they’ve got one of the nation’s ultimate glue guys in fifth-year senior forward David Lighty – who shared team-high honors with Sullinger with 26 points and is one of the top all-around players in the nation.
Need a shooter?
Enter Jon Diebler, who has made more than 41 percent of his trifectas over the past two seasons and was 4-of-7 against Florida.
How about a scorer?
William Buford starts at the point, but he’s more of a scoring guard who will eventually – as Craft continues to progress – play off the ball. Buford wore both hats effectively on Tuesday with 16 points and eight assists.
It’s only mid-November, but this may be Thad Matta’s best overall team – eclipsing the one with Greg Oden and Mike Conley that lost to Florida in the national title game in 2007.
This team has all the pieces – including four veterans with Lighty, Diebler and starting center Dallas Lauderdale – all seniors – as well as Buford, a junior.
``Those four guys have really helped us handle the pressure,” Sullinger said. ``They teach us and we’re listening.”
Sullinger is soaking it all up.
``It’s all because my teammates got me the ball,” he said after he made 10-of-13 shots from the field.
One of those guys was Craft, who has played with Sullinger since the pair was in the ninth grade.
``He doesn’t pass the “look test,” Sullinger half-joked. ``It’s always been that way, but he’s always been able to handle the pressure. He led us today and had no problem handling the pressure.”
``I’ve been dealing with it for a while,” Craft said of being questioned because he doesn’t look the part. ``It is what it is.”
Craft is the ideal guy to run this team.
He’s tough, defends and gets the ball where it needs to be. Against a talented Florida backcourt of Kenny Boyton and Erving Walker, Craft more than held his own – and didn’t get sped up.
``It doesn’t get much better than that,” Craft said of being out on the court with the quartet of Sullinger, Lighty, Buford and Diebler. ``It makes my job easy and takes a lot of pressure off me.”
There wasn’t much pressure on the Buckeyes entering the season after losing the No. 2 pick in last June’s NBA Draft.
``A lot of people doubted us,” Sullinger said. ``We had six freshmen coming in.”
But I’m taking the swap.
Six frosh for Turner.