Big Ten basketball previews: Ohio State Buckeyes

Today's victim: Ohio State

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Blog Representation

Eleven Warriors, Along The Olentangy

Last season

After two relatively disappointing seasons (NIT in 2008, 8 seed and first round NCAA loss in 2009), Ohio State returned to national prominence in 2010, winning the Big Ten and earning a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament. When star player Evan Turner suffered a serious looking back injury in early December, it appeared the Buckeyes were on their way to another middling Big Ten season (going just 4-3 without him and looking pretty mediocre in the process). But Turner returned to the line-up much quicker than expected, and he carried his team to a share of the regular season Big Ten title, and in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament he hit what was probably the shot of the year, a 35 footer at the buzzer to stun upset-minded Michigan. Ohio State would go on to win the Big Ten tournament and advance to the Sweet 16, but they couldn't handle six-seeded Tennessee's size and athleticism and were sent home earlier than many expected (your humble author had Ohio State winning the national title; as always, I am an idiot).

Players not returning

As expected, Turner elected to turn pro after his junior season, and it turned out to be a wise move as he was selected 2nd overall in the NBA draft. This is obviously a huge loss for Ohio State, as last year Turner led the Big Ten in scoring, rebounding, and steals, finished second in assists per game, won Big Ten player of the year, won national player of the year, and took down two thirds of the Buckeye cheerleading squad (ok, so I made that last one up, but it could very well have happened). The guy was the best player in the country and probably the most dominant Big Ten player since Glenn Robinson at Purdue, and I'm happy I had the chance to watch him play.

Ohio State also graduated three senior role players, guards P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons and big man Kyle Madsen. Hill and Simmons saw their minutes decrease as the season went on, and Madsen was the very definition of replacement-level backup center, so none of these three will really be missed.

Backcourt

Ohio State brings back a ton of talent, led by shooting guard William Buford. The 6'5" junior averaged 14 points and 5 rebounds per game last season, and was freshman of the year in the Big Ten two season ago, but found himself overshadowed by Turner's brilliance. Buford is a terrific talent who certainly has the potential to elevate his game to All-Big Ten levels, and he's not lacking in brashness, as seen by this video. Someone is going to have to replace Turner as the team alpha dog, and I'd expect Buford to emerge as the guy with the ball in his hands (pun intended, and yes, I know that joke was terrible) at the end of the game.

Two other starters return: seniors Jon Diebler and David Lighty. Diebler is one of the best 3-point specialists in the country (42% each of the past 2 years), and Lighty is the Buckeye's best defensive player and also a solid scorer (12.6 points per game), utilizing an odd-looking but effective rainbow jump shot. He is also a decent ball-handler and may see some time at point guard.

Ohio State also adds three freshman guards, led by point guard Aaron Craft. By the Buckeye's lofty recruiting standards, Craft doesn't really stand out, but as the only true point guard on the roster he will likely get a lot of playing time, and he looked good in an exhibition game this past weekend with 12 points and 8 assists. If he keeps that up, he'll be known for something more than his presence at the infamous Bruce Pearl barbecue.

Shooting guards Jordan Sibert and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. should also get some playing time.

Frontcourt

Starting center Dallas Lauderdale returns for his senior year (and senior is an accurate description of Lauderdale; the guy looks like he's 45 years old), but the story for Ohio State up front is incoming 5-star freshman Jared Sullinger, a 6'9" 280 pound bruiser. The hype for Sullinger has gotten completely ridiculous; CBS's Garry Parrish thinks Sullinger is a first-team All-American and his own coach, Thad Matta, compared him to Kevin Love. He figures to be the fourth one and done OSU big man in the past five years (joining Greg Oden, Kosta Koufos, and B.J. Mullens). Sullinger gives Ohio State a very dangerous low post presence, something that was noticeably absent from last year's team. This will give Matta a lot more flexibility; he can now use the athletically gifted but offensively challenged Lauderdale as a defense/energy guy off the bench, or he can play the two together against teams with big, athletic front lines.

Sullinger has gotten all the ink so far, but Ohio State adds another 5 star player in wing Deshaun Thomas, who completely dominated Indiana high school basketball last season to the tune of 31 points and 15 rebounds per game and figures to add offensive firepower off the bench. Wing J.D. Weatherspoon, a teammate of Sullinger's in high school, adds additional depth.

Expectations

Despite the loss of Turner, Ohio State probably won't miss a beat this season; in fact I think they could be even better than last year. Matta returns four starters, and the uber-talented freshman class solves the two biggest problems the Buckeyes had a season ago (depth, low post scoring). There are a lot of similarities between this team and the 2007 team that made it all the way to the national championship game; the 2007 team also combined a solid returning core with an incredible freshman class. The only question mark is at point guard, but Craft looks like he should be able to help out right away, and even if he's not, Lighty and Buford are competent enough at handling the ball that it shouldn't be a big problem. A largely soft non-conference schedule (10 of the 13 games are at home against mid-majors) will help ease the freshmen into the lineup, while trips to Florida and Florida State will prepare them for the hostile environments of the Big Ten. This looks to be a clear-cut top ten team, and they figure to be right there with Michigan State for the conference title. I'd give a very slight edge to Michigan State due to their experience, but it should be a close race all season long.

SoP Prediction: 2nd in the Big Ten; #1-4 seed in the NCAAs.

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