COLUMBUS, Ohio – At one point, early in most of Ohio State's victories this season, the realization has been driven home to the other team's defenders.
They pack down inside to try to stifle big man Jared Sullinger and he kicks it back out to Jon Diebler or David Lighty for an easy 3. Or maybe they cling to Diebler, Lighty and Will Buford like a second skin only to have one of them dump a pass inside to Sullinger or Dallas Lauderdale for a dunk.
It's the either/or that makes the second-ranked Buckeyes (14-0) so good.
"I think it's kind of hard to just key in on one person," said Buford, one of a number of perimeter marksmen for Ohio State. "Because if you key down on Sully and double-team him, that'll give the guards the opportunity to score and do what we do. Then if you play Sully one-on-one, he's basically going to destroy you."
Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter said the Buckeyes' inside-out game ties a team in knots.
"They're a very good passing team, got a very good inside presence," he said after an 85-60 loss to Ohio State early in December. "You can't help out away from perimeter people too far, because they shoot it so doggone well, and they find the open man. They play with a lot of poise."
It's a do-or-die choice for an opposing coach. Sullinger, a 6-foot-9 freshman, isn't the longest or the most athletic big around. But he knows how to draw fouls, can muscle up shots and always seems to either be open or passing to someone who is.
Sullinger is averaging 17.6 points a game, but he's far from the only threat for the Buckeyes. Buford is hitting for 14.2, Lighty for 12.8, Diebler for 12.4 and another freshman, 6-7 Deshaun Thomas, comes off the bench to score 11.4 points a game.
And that doesn't even include the brawny 6-8 Lauderdale, sixth-man point guard Aaron Craft or Jordan Sibert — the third and fourth first-year players in the eight-man rotation — all of whom can hurt an opposing team that's paying too much attention elsewhere.
That Matta, a glittering 170-54 in seven years at Ohio State, recognizes the bind all that firepower creates for the opposition.
"That is a trademark of a really good basketball team," he said. "Having the guy or guys who can finish down low and command the respect is good. With the perimeter guys and the ballhandling we have, that's one of the things I enjoy about this team. There's a lot of different ways that we can go."
A year ago, the Buckeyes had four of the same starters. But the team was built around Evan Turner, the consensus national player of the year. Turner took his 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6 assists a game to the NBA a year early. But with Sullinger, the Naismith Award winner as the top high school player in the nation, stepping into the starting lineup, the Buckeyes are at least as lethal offensively as they were with Turner.
Ohio State beat Indiana with its 3-point shooting in the Big Ten opener on New Year's Eve, stroking in 13 shots behind the arc. Earlier this season, though, Sullinger had 40 in a victory over IUPUI. Lighty and Diebler, in separate games, have hit 29 points apiece.
"That just shows how special our team is," said Lauderdale, a senior who specializes in blocked shots and rebounds. "We're finally a complete team. So if you try to focus on one part of us or one option, we'll go to the next option. And the next option is reliable."