It’s hard to find someone who does not believe that the Ohio State Buckeyes (29-8, 14-4 Big Ten) fit somewhere in the top five of college basketball. In 2009-2010, the Buckeyes tied for first in the conference, won the Big Ten Tournament and at the Big Dance made it to the Sweet 16. In that round, Tennessee eliminated them 76-73. This year, OSU will take to the court without the star power of swingman Evan Turner. Turner, who turned pro after last season, was a massive force with a huge amount of talent as he averaged 20.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 3.7 APG. Still, this team is filled with a boatload of returning talent and the best incoming class in the Big Ten, including center Jared Sullinger, who is considered to be one of the nation’s top three recruits.
The frontcourt is deep and rich. One major reason is Sullinger and another is the return of senior Dallas Lauderdale. Both will be utilized to give the Bucks one of the most potent frontcourts in the nation. The major trick for head coach Thad Matta is figuring out how he will use these guys?
Sullinger, who stands 6-9 and weighs 280 pounds, has the bulk to bang inside and the skill to manipulate the ball with ease and finesse. He possesses an array of inside moves and is a skilled and tenacious rebounder. But Sullinger is not just an inside the paint player. He is an excellent shooter from downtown and is athletic enough to pop out and pop the basketball in.
As for teammate Lauderdale (6-8, 255 lbs., SR, #52, 6.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 0.3. apg, 25.1 mpg, .773 FG, .000 3PT, .407 FT), the Buckeyes will certainly be using him in the frontcourt too. Listed as a forward/center, it’s expected that Lauderdale will slip into the forward spot when Sullinger is on the court and then also see some time playing center, when the freshman is out. Along with being an amazingly accurate shooter inside, he hit .773 from the floor last season, the swingman is an aggressive rebounder with the ability to grab the ball and take it down, getting a second shot on the offensive end. Lauderdale is also an expert at setting picks. His foul shooting, which stands at 40%, is a major problem. He is definitely an inside player.
Ohio State is certainly blessed with a stable of swingmen and senior David Lightly (6-5, 220 lbs., SR, #2, 12.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 36.3 mpg, .492 FG, .383 3PT, .632 FT) is one of the best. The highly athletic Lightly is a versatile athlete. Last May, he broke a bone in his foot in a pickup game, but he’s expected to be ready to go once the season starts. He can play the power or small spots upfront and then move into the backcourt at guard. Along with being able to hit anywhere from the court, Lightly is also the club’s most driven defender. He’s a true team player.
The backcourt is very deep. They have five solid performers who can step up and play, including two excellent shooters—William Buford (6-5, 205 lbs., JR, #44, 14.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 34.4 mpg, .438 FG, .383 3PT, .754 FT) and Jon Diebler (6-6, 205 lbs., SR, #33, 13.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, 37.2 mpg, .418 FG, .420 3PT, .873 FT). Together, they make up one of the best offensive backcourts around.
Buford is the team’s returning leader in points, rebounds and assists. That triad of stats says a lot about Buford’s ability and drive. The guard can make effective dishes, hit the outside shot or grab a rebbie on the offensive boards and turn it into two points. With Turner gone, this looks like it could be a breakout season for the sure-handed Buford.
On the other side of the backcourt, Diebler is a shooting sensation and considered to be one of the best three-point men in the nation. In the past two seasons, he’s hit 212 shots from beyond the long-range arc. Because he takes so many threes (he launched 276 threes last season and just 62 twos), he rarely grabs an offensive rebound. Last season, he scored 10-plus points from downtown in each of 11 games, with three of those contests occurring in March Madness. It looks to be bombs away once again this season.
The Buckeyes, due to returning players and new recruits, have a very fine bench. In the frontcourt, freshman Deshaun Thomas, a McDonald’s All-American, will definitely get playing time. He’s a point scorer who is talented at grabbing the all-important offensive rebound. Another frosh player, Aaron Craft, will be utilized in the backcourt. Craft is known as a tough, in-your-face defender who can shut down offenses.
Last season, the Bucks had the seventh most efficient offense in the nation, notching an impressive 118.6 mark, while their defensive efficiency was also very impressive, ranking 24th at 90.2. Their 56.1% field goal percentage was fourth in the country and that was important because this team was not very good at grabbing offensive rebbies. They took down just 30.1% in the attack zone, which was 263rd nationally.
Just how dynamic was the offense? Along with hitting 54.8% (3rd) of their twos, they knocked in 39.0% from downtown, making them 17th in that category. They were also good at getting their shots in the air, as just 5.8% were blocked, and at ball handling, as they lost 8.2% of their possessions to steals, rating them 33rd.
OSU was a below average foul shooting team. Thus, the fact that they were ranked 302nd in the amount of offense they generated from the line didn’t hurt them so much. Although they scored 30.2% (90th) of the their points from downtown, opponents earned 32.3% of their points from that same area. Still, other teams could not match the Bucks on three-point accuracy, as Ohio State hit 39% of their threes, while opponents were good just 33.7% of the time.
Head coach Matta (258-85 in 10 years, 156-54 in six years at OSU) is a master recruiter who creates teams made up of mix-and-match, diverse elements. As usual, OSU is big, brawny and athletic in the frontcourt. But Matta also has a point producing backcourt. Can he get this team to the NCAA Finals? The major problem the coach must deal with is a daunting regular season schedule that may just drain his players, leaving them little reserve for the Big Dance. For Matta, who has never won a NCAA title, the trick will be using his freshman players as effectively as he can, giving the starters as much rest as possible. This is a real personnel management challenge for the coach.
The Ohio State Buckeyes, who start the season with a national ranking of 17th, are loaded despite the fact that Turner is gone. They return four premium experienced players and bring in four highly talented frosh. The questions marks are the guys on the bench who are returning for another season. Most of them have underperformed. Guard Eddie Days, forward Nikola Kecman, and center Zisis Sarikopoulos did little last season and not much is expected from them this year. Thus, ready-to-play freshmen will need to contribute mightily. This OSU team will be first or second in the league and a contender in March Madness. Will they have enough gas to propel themselves to a championship? It’s possible but not probable.
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