2012-2013 ITH season preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

With the college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next few weeks. Today, we look at the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Jared Sullinger’s decision to return to Columbus for the 2011-2012 season, along with the veteran presence of William Buford, the grit of Aaron Craft and the scoring presence of Deshaun Thomas, pushed Thad Matta and Ohio State to a co-Big Ten Championship and a Final Four appearance. Sullinger, now a member of the Boston Celtics and Buford, who is playing in Spain after going undrafted by the NBA, have moved on. But the Buckeyes are expected to once again contend in a loaded Big Ten.

While Michigan State is considered the top program in the conference over the last decade, there’s also a strong argument to be made for what Matta has built in Columbus. Since taking over in 2004, Ohio State has five Big Ten regular season titles, three conference tournament titles and two Final Four appearances under his direction. Whether those totals are added to this winter will depend largely on Craft, Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. leading a cast of unproven characters who will be thrust into pivotal roles.

Craft will once again be the catalyst in the backcourt and should only improve statistically on an impressive sophomore campaign. The junior guard is a disruptive on-ball defender who has the ability to lead the conference in assists and steals and could also shoulder more responsibility on offense. He won’t win any 3-point shooting contests (35.9 percent), but Craft is certainly capable of getting to the basket and also scoring more regularly from midrange.

Craft will be joined by Smith Jr., who started all 39 games last season and improved steadily as the year moved along. As a sophomore, Smith posted an effective field goal percentage of 55.6 and averaged close to five rebounds per game. Shannon Scott, a former McDonald’s All-American who played sparingly as a freshman, figures to back up Craft and freshman Amedeo Della Valle, could see some time if the Buckeyes need a perimeter shooter.

Thomas will lead the charge in the front court and while he’s been criticized for being a shot vacuum, he’s efficient. As a sophomore, he led the Buckeye regulars with an effective field goal percentage of 57.4. He’s particularly dangerous from inside the 3-point line (59.9 percent on 2′s) and without the presence of Buford and Sullinger, it’s not out of the question that he’ll lead the Big Ten in scoring. LaQuinton Ross figures to slide in and play significant minutes on the wing. While Thomas will swallow up many of the attempts vacated by Buford and Sullinger, Ross might be the third option offensively if reports of his offseason progress prove accurate. Sam Thompson, an ultra-athletic wing, will provide energy off the bench.

In the middle, Amir Williams, another former McDonald’s All-American, gets the unenviable task of filling in for Sullinger. He’ll be surrounded by enough talent that his level of success will likely be gauged by how well he defends the paint and cleans up the defensive glass. Evan Ravenel, who averaged just over ten minutes per game a season ago, should provide backup relief for Thomas and Williams.

Bottom line: It’s hard to imagine Ohio State not taking a step back following the loss of their two best players, but the program’s success over the last nine seasons makes the Buckeyes impossible to discount when ranking the Big Ten’s contenders. If Craft and Thomas perform to their capabilities and guys like Smith, Ross and Williams fill their roles, Ohio State could be a top ten team. Even if that doesn’t happen, this group looks like a lock for the top five in the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament.

Quotable: “It’s a tremendous advantage for us, having Aaron back. Two years into the program, he’s won 65 games, he’s won two Big Ten championships in his time here. … From his freshman year, he played a certain role, last year he played a certain role and I think the beauty is guys are looking to him to even expand his role a little bit more. The way he competes. The way he plays the game, you want a guy like Aaron Craft leading your basketball team. So I think the players have the utmost respect for him and everything he does. So it kind of makes it an easy follow.” – Matta on Craft.

PreviouslyNebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, Iowa, Illinois, PurdueWisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan State

  • iudawg

    I think Sullinger just drew another foul. I also think Craft just got a steal even though he poked Hulls in the eye and ripped some of his hair out.

  • ScoopGeoff

    Craft is physical, but he is also a tremendously fundamentally sound defender, he moves his feet as well as any player I’ve ever seen.

    36% from 3 is definitely respectable… It’s not Jordy Hulls, but to put in perspective it equals 54% from 2′s… Not many bigs reach that number playing 6 ft and in…

    I think this team sees a bigger drop off than MSU. Both teams lost their best player and leader, but MSU has a better coach and Harris coming in. They also have a couple bigs in Payne and Nix with talent AND significant experience.

    IU > MSU > UM > OSU

  • DarkSouth

    I’m more sold on OSU than MSU this year, at least at this point. I can see OSU having enough guys to keep a defense honest and allow for Thomas to go to work, I expect him to easily lead the conference in scoring. I also think Ross is a future star and will take a big step this year.

    I’m not sure about MSU’s shooting and how it will impact their spacing. Trice was the only good 3 pt. shooter they have coming back. Unless Appling regains an outside shot, Harris is the only project starter who’s a threat from outside. I can easily see teams packing it in on Nix and Payne and making it difficult for Dawson to get in the lane.

    Then again, maybe they’ve got it figured out…we’ll see soon enough.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dmcdonal Dee McDonald

    Let’s not forget about Russell Byrd, who is the best shooter on the team. If he stays healthy, he’ll be one of those senior that come out of the woodwork for Izzo. He always has some white kid play out of his mind for a year or two for him that surprises everybody. Byrd is that guy this year and let’s not forget, he’s 6’7″…very Diebler-like.

  • iudawg

    Doubt that. I’d prob lean toward any post about Moses Abraham being a savior for the program.

  • JohnFromBeyond

    Hilarious!

  • Evansville Hoosier

    I’d pit the B1G’s top 11 versus any other conference’s top 11. And Nebrasketball will get there…

  • marcusgresham

    I’m sick of Thad Matta raiding Indiana for players, I’m sick of Aaron Craft mugging people with no call, I’m sick of Ohio State choking in the tournament when I finally have to break down and root for them, and I still think that’s a pot leaf on the logo.

  • ScoopGeoff

    Water is wet

  • SCHoosier

    U don’t have to love the Bucks but you have to give them some respect. Craft is strong..and I think the center Williams will develop. Qeustion is..will Thomas be “on” or “off”..lord knows he’s gonna put up his shots…and every arena he plays in will smell of gunpowder before the game is over. Kid can light’em up on some days however.

  • geoffclarke

    I thought Buford would make the NBA. What do you think his weaknesses are?

  • disqus_6lb9IOk7lC

    That is so hilarious! You have summed up how so many of us feel….

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