It certainly says something about what Thad Matta has built the Buckeyes program into when the team has lost both Jared Sullinger and William Buford, yet is still a top-five ranked squad for the preseason polls. As you can tell, I am not that high on Ohio State this year since the team has some big shoes to fill.
With Sullinger and Buford gone, DeShaun Thomas becomes the go-scorer. Getting buckets has never been an issue for the lefty as he is a difficult matchup defensively because of his ability to shoot the three, attack the basket, and use his strength to post up smaller defenders. He does get too shot-happy at times, and needs to improve as a defender, but is well-deserving of being on the preseason Wooden Award List.
Joining Thomas on that list is junior point guard Aaron Craft. If you appreciate basketball, you cannot help but love how hard Craft competes on both ends of the floor, especially on defense as he is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in college basketball. He is used to deferring to others on the offensive end, but must become a more aggressive scorer to help take some of the load off Thomas.
Those are the two constants for the Buckeyes this season, but there are plenty of variables as to how successful the team will be. The biggest hole is in the middle where 6-11 sophomore Amir Williams is expected to take over. He is nowhere near the scorer Sullinger was, but brings a ton more on the defensive end as a rim protector. Evan Ravenel will return to his role as an energetic and physical option off the bench, while Trey McDonald isn't likely to see a whole lot of floor time since Matta usually utilizes a pretty tight rotation.
Like Williams, LaQuinton Ross is another guy expected to make major strides this season after barely playing a year ago. His length, athleticism, and versatility provide Matta with some flexibility in the frontcourt. Elite athlete Sam Thompson will once again be a valuable reserve. He has incredible ups and is a solid defender, but is still improving his all-around offensive game.
Lenzelle Smith returns to start at shooting guard. He proved to be a capable scorer at times in 2011 but for the most part, was used more as a glue guy-type player because of all the talent surrounding him. That will need to change this year, and he will need to be more consistent and aggressive as an offensive weapon. Shannon Scott figures to see minutes as the backup point guard and shooting guard, while freshman Amedeo Della Valle will likely have to wait his turn.
Ohio State doesn't have a ton of depth but that shouldn't be an issue for Matta, who typically only uses a seven-man rotation, eight at tops. The impact that guys like Williams and Ross make right away will be the difference between the Buckeyes being a Final Four contender or second-tier Big Ten program.
Player to Watch: Aaron Craft, PG
I had the opportunity to interview Craft one-on-one for the first time at the Big Ten Media Day. I was already a huge fan of his game on the court and that basketball man crush grew even more after our conversation.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/9 vs. Marquette (on USS Yorktown)
11/17 vs. Rhode Island (Hall of Fame Tip-Off)
11/18 vs. Washington/Seton Hall (Hall of Fame Tip-Off)