Coach: Jared Sullinger's back improving

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jared Sullinger missed No. 2 Ohio State's last game with back spasms. His teammates think he'll make it back for Saturday's game at No. 13 Kansas.

"Jared looks kind of tough, but he's a big teddy bear," point guard Aaron Craft said of the 6-foot-9 sophomore All-American. "He was walking around really gingerly about four or five days ago but now he's looking a lot better. Now he's got the bounce back in his step."

Sullinger has not practiced with the Buckeyes yet this week and coach Thad Matta said it will be Sullinger's decision whether he plays at Allen Fieldhouse.

But Sullinger did sound a note of optimism when he spoke with Matta on Thursday afternoon.

"He just told me he feels great. That was three minutes or five minutes ago," Matta said. "He said he woke up and was dancing this morning -- but I don't know what that entails."

The Buckeyes (8-0) need Sullinger -- who is averaging 19.1 points and 10.3 rebounds a game -- against a tall-and-talented Kansas (6-2) team that features 6-10 Thomas Robinson and 7-0 Jeff Withey on the front line. The Jayhawks are outrebounding their opponents by nine per game.

Kansas coach Bill Self is counting on Sullinger taking the floor.

"If I were a betting man, I'd say Thad's not a very good poker player, because I think that he'll probably play," he said.

If Sullinger is not able to play, his roommate will take his place in the starting lineup. Junior transfer Evan Ravenel took over for the absent Sullinger in the Buckeyes' 64-35 win over Texas-Pan American last Saturday and had a career-high 11 points and tied a personal best with seven rebounds.

He was asked to shed some light on how the happy-go-lucky Sullinger has handled the past week's back pain.

"Since he hasn't had practice, he's been pretty energetic," he said with a laugh. "He's been laying around but he's still the same fun guy to be around. When we don't have school, we play Xbox a lot more."

Ravenel called Sullinger perhaps the best rebounder he's ever seen, but he didn't rate his video-game ability that highly.

"Jared's terrible on Xbox," he said. "Wow. He's terrible."

The Buckeyes will be hitting the road for the first time this season. They'll also be making Ohio State's first trip to Allen Fieldhouse since 1999.

Matta was asked if he had to prepare two game plans, one if Sullinger plays and one if he doesn't.

"Do you think he makes that big of a difference?" he said with a grin. "We do and we don't. We've had some time this week to put some things in that we've been talking about doing anyway. But to reinvent the wheel, we're not going to do that. But I like the progress we've made this week with some of the things that we've added."

Craft played on an AAU team with Sullinger and has seen him when he's run down or injured.

"He would go throughout the weekend and maybe not feel the greatest and then come out and have 40 points and 20 rebounds," Craft said. "It's hard to get a read on a guy like Jared."

Matta said he had consulted with team doctors and Sullinger's father. Whether Sullinger plays will come down to how much discomfort or pain he can tolerate.

"It's kind of on him, just sort of how he feels," Matta said.