Ohio State had great success with talented freshman 7-footers in recent years. That’s what makes B.J. Mullens’ development so intriguing.
Mullens, who has had a somewhat limited role as the 15th-ranked Buckeyes have put together the nation’s current longest winning streak, looks to continue his progression in a matchup with West Virginia on Saturday.
In 2006-07, freshman center Greg Oden led Ohio State to the NCAA title game, losing to Florida. He jumped to the NBA after dominating in the paint for one season with the Buckeyes.
Last year, Kosta Koufos gave Ohio State a strong inside presence as the team went on to win the National Invitation Tournament, but he also decided to turn pro.
The Buckeyes (9-0) have won 15 straight dating back to its first-round victory in the NIT last season, and they have yet another 7-footer trying to make an impact.
Coach Thad Matta has eased Mullens, considered one of the top big man recruits in the nation, into Ohio State’s rotation. But on Monday night, Mullens broke out with a 19-point effort in an 83-59 win over UNC-Asheville.
“It’s definitely coming easier,” Mullens said. “As the season goes on, it’s going to come a lot easier.”
Mullens had never played more than 20 minutes nor scored more than 11 points. He dominated versus the Bulldogs, though, going 8-of-11 from the field— including six dunks—while adding eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
“He’s growing into it. He’s getting better,” Matta said. “It’s the consistency. He did a better job on his post-ups, he did a better job on his finishes, he moved on penetration, and was a little more active defensively.”
Still, Ohio State needs consistency from Mullens with Big Ten play starting Wednesday against Iowa.
For the third straight season, Matta is working with a team comprised almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores.
The Buckeyes have no seniors, and junior captain David Lighty will miss at least six more weeks after undergoing surgery on his broken foot on Dec. 18. Most of the playing time is going to first- and second-year players.
Sophomore swingman Evan Turner leads Ohio State with 16.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. But he’s also turned the ball over 3.6 times a contest, and needs Mullens to draw more of defenses’ attention.
Mullens may be headed for another big game against undersized West Virginia (9-2).
The Mountaineers have one player taller than 6-9. Dee Proby is 6-10, but the junior is playing just 8.1 minutes per game.
Alex Ruoff leads West Virginia’s backcourt, averaging 17.0 points a contest, and he’s coming off an outstanding performance, having scored a career-high 38 to lead the Mountaineers to an 89-54 win over Radford on Tuesday night.
He also set a school record with nine 3-pointers, but missed his last three shots in a bid to become the first player to score 40 points for West Virginia since 1978.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins fixed a minor flaw in his shooting stroke, and Ruoff shot 12-for-19 overall after making 34.1 percent (15-for-44) in his previous four contests.
“I haven’t been shooting it great and I worked with (Huggins) … and he kind of fixed something with my form with my hand and my thumb,” he told the Mountaineers’ official Web site. “It’s helped a lot and I’m definitely going to listen to whatever he tells me.”
Ohio State leads the all-time series with West Virginia 9-5.