|Jared Sullinger :: Reid Compton/Icon SMI |
Everything was in place for the most memorable Ohio State basketball season in half a century until a loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 dashed the Buckeyes' title hopes. OSU darted out to a 24 -- 0 start, receiving immediate contributions from freshmen Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft, and benefiting from a productive season from William Buford and record-setting shooting displays by Jon Diebler. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles and headed into the NCAA tournament as the nation's best team before falling to Kentucky.
Sullinger passed up the chance to be a top-five pick and Buford also put off his pro career after a dreadful shooting night against UK.
Still, the Buckeyes are going to need a major boost from their incoming class to contend after senior David Lighty, Diebler and center Dallas Lauderdale graduated.
The possibilities are boundless for Sullinger, an obvious candidate for National Player of the Year honors. Blessed with a powerful lower body, soft hands, natural footwork and basketball IQ, he is the best low-post option in the country and the main reason why the Buckeyes are capable of going very far again.
Sullinger is best suited for the 4-spot, and the coaching staff wants to see if freshman Amir Williams can fill the void at center where Lauderdale once stood. If he's too raw or inconsistent, look for the staff to lean on Boston College transfer Evan Ravenel, a sturdier albeit less dynamic performer.
Also, the coaches will pair up Sullinger in the frontcourt with Deshaun Thomas for stretches of games. A slick, offensive-minded lefty, Thomas is in line for major playing time if he can hold up to the grind. Youngsters J.D. Weatherspoon and Trey McDonald don't figure to make the rotation, but possess some specialty skills.
This season, newcomer Shannon Scott, son of former NBA point guard Charlie Scott, could help lead the Buckeyes' backcourt when paired with Craft. Scott's skill set and readiness to help with the ballhandling duties could allow Craft to put even more energy into his airtight defensive skills.
This is now a top-10 program and Matta has reloaded once again. We'll know by January if the Buckeyes are again capable of seizing another Big Ten crown and a high NCAA seed. And even if there is trepidation to that point, Matta is as good as it gets at getting teams to peak in February and thrive in March. Matta may have as many healthy pieces as he's ever had, and he knows how to teach unselfish play. In other words, don't count this team out -- of anything.
Trey McDonald (C, Fr.): Needs time to develop.
Evan Ravenel (F, Jr.): Transfer from Boston College is a useful body inside with limited ability.
Shannon Scott (G, Fr.): Very comfortable setting up teammates and running pick-and-roll plays.
Sam Thompson (F, Fr.): Defensive player can guard wings effectively.
Amir Williams (C, Fr.): Needs some polish but can swat shots and provide activity on the boards.