If I told you that a team was losing two double digit scorers and a defensive juggernaut off a Sweet 16 team, you'd think o.k., they can't be favorites to win the whole thing again, right? Well, that's not the case in Columbus as the Ohio State Buckeyes are just that because they happen to return two great front court players and have an amazing recruiting class coming in as well.
Conference Record/Finish: 16-2 (1st and Tournament winner)
Postseason: NCAA Tournament - Sweet 16 (60-62 Loss to Kentucky)
Head Coach: Thad Matta - 190-57 in 7 seasons (292-88 in 11 years overall)
Returning Starters: 2
- William Buford (Sr., Guard); 14.4ppg, 3.9rpg, 2.9apg
- Jared Sullinger (So., Forward); 17.2ppg, 10.2rpg, 1.2apg
Newcomers: Trey McDonald - 6'8" 225lbs. (Fr., Center); Shannon Scott - 6'1" 180lbs. (Fr., Guard); Sam Thompson - 6'7" 190lbs. (Fr., Forward); Amir Williams - 6'11" 220lbs. (Fr., Center)
Anytime you loose players like guards Jon Diebler (12.6ppg) and David Lighty (12.1ppg, 3.3apg) and a force inside like Dallas Lauderdale (4.2ppg, 3.2rpg) there is going to be some transition. Luckily for the Buckeyes Jared Sullinger did the smart thing and stayed in school instead of jumping to the NBA. Returning along with Sullinger is a 14ppg scorer in guard William Buford. Those two are just about the best returning pieces any team not named North Carolina have back in the country. Sullinger was named the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and rightfully so, he's about as complete a player there is in this league.
Sullinger, Bufford, and Aaron Craft are all on the Top 50 list for the Wooden Award and Craft will finally get to start at the point. He averaged 6.9ppg, 2.9rpg, and 4.8apg last year. He was a major player off the bench, averaging 29.6 minutes a game and clearly can step up to be the distributor at the PG position this year. Joining the trio of Bufford, Craft, and Sullinger as starters appears to be Sophomores DeShaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith, Jr., neither of which have started a game in their careers until this seasons exhibition game. Smith poured in 6 points and Thomas added 7, but they won't be counted on to be major scores obviously early on this year. Off the bench you should look out for another Sophomore in Jordan Siebert, who had 15 points in only 16 minutes of action in the exhibition game and will be the first man off the bench at the guard spot for the Buckeyes.
Of the newcomers, the biggest player this season should be Shannon Scott at the backup point position. Also, Amir Williams will be worked into the rotation as a Center to spell Sullinger up front. So, how much time will they have to figure things out, will they be challenged in the non-conference slate?
Non-conference schedule highlights: vs. Florida (11/15), vs. Duke (11/29) (B1G/ACC Challenge), @ Kansas (12/10), @ South Carolina (12/17)
- This slate could've been a lot tougher, but Wright State and Valpo are both down after graduating a ton of quality players. Overall the games against Florida and South Carolina are more than winnable, but they may have trouble with Duke and Kansas, those could be the only two losses the Buckeyes see, if any in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Conference schedule: Couldn't get a much easier start to the conference schedule than this: vs. Northwestern (12/28), @ Indiana (12/31), vs. Nebraska (1/3), and @ Iowa (1/7). The most challenging part of the Big Ten slate? How about a 4 game portion at the end of January/beginning of February where Ohio State plays vs. Michigan (1/29), @ Wisconsin (2/4), vs. Purdue (2/7), and vs. Michigan State (2/11).
- A team that only lost 2 conference games, with one of those coming to our Badgers when they were ranked #1 in the country, sure doesn't need help, but they got it from the schedule makers in the conference, that's for sure. Nothing like a soft start and only 4 games that are going to be stringed together as tough ones. It will be important if they want to maintain their preseason top 5 ranking that they win all of those games. I don't see it happening as we all know just how hard it is for anyone to come into the Kohl Center and win.
Overall, this team is going to be really good. Seriously, Jared Sullinger is just crazy good and can carry a team on his back all by himself. Do I think they'll take the conference like everyone else? Well, here's my preseason conference prediction:
1. Ohio State
4. Michigan State
12. Penn State