*College basketball is here (unlike the NBA), and this year might be one of the best in recent memory. The powerhouse is back, while the Cinderellas believe. That’s a deadly combination. We know some of y’all have been asking for some previews. We have you covered â€“ the top 16 teams in the nation will be previewed individually in the next few weeks. After we broke down Big East giants Syracuse and UConn yesterday, we’ll keep this going with No. 3-ranked Ohio State (ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll).*
Had he entered the NBA Draft, it’s quite possible that Jared Sullinger may have been the first overall pick. Instead, after trimming off 30 pounds and moving to power forward, he will be back with a vengeance for his sophomore year. There’s no doubt that Ohio State’s offense will run through the big man but does his supporting cast have what it takes to bring them to a championship?
For years, Thad Matta has been one of the nation’s top recruiters. Although last year’s seniors Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty are now gone, Matta has replaced them with younger, more athletic players. Lighty’s replacement, Sam Thompson, perhaps has the best shot at showing off his athleticism. At 6-7, Thompson has the ability to create on offense and guard multiple positions on defense. Newcomer Shannon Scott should also provide some much needed athletic depth as he is considered one of the most college-ready players of his class. Although they prefer not to push the pace, if they have to this squad has the talent to get up and down the court and run with the best of them.
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3. Ohio State
A few teams might be able to beat Ohio State, but if one thing is for sure, Ohio State will not beat itself. Last year, they were top five in the nation in both field goal percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio. Proving to be both smart and efficient, they hope to repeat on these important fundamental statistics this year. While becoming a monster recruiter, Matta has also established himself as one of the top Xs and Os coaches in the country. Their offense revolves around star big man Jared Sullinger, who’s not only a proficient scorer and rebounder, but also an exceptional passer out of the post. With two intelligent guards to distribute the ball in Scott and starting incumbent point guard Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes’ offense may not be the most explosive, but it certainly defines efficient. And fundamental, efficient basketball is what wins college games.
Thanks to last year’s run as one of the top teams in the nation, this Ohio State team has plenty of experience despite a lack of upperclassmen. The toughest task will be to replace Jon Diebler, the Big Ten’s all-time leader in three-point field goals made, and the perfect inside-outside compliment to Sullinger. Now graduated, it’s up to Matta to find a suitable replacement to stretch the floor. Senior William Buford was second on the team in three pointers made last season and should assume an even larger scoring role this year. A strong core of Sullinger, Craft, Deshaun Thomas and Buford can help to guide this team through any team chemistry issues it might stumble across.
Since Mike Conley Jr. left in 2007, one of Ohio State’s biggest knocks has been its lack of point guard play. Before the emergence of Aaron Craft, coach Matta even resorted to starting small forward William Buford initiating the offense. With Shannon Scott now arriving in Columbus, Matta might have given himself one of the fiercest guard combinations in the nation. The freshman already has a silky smooth mid-range and an uncanny ability to see the floor. The only thing missing from his game is a long-range jumper, which we should see develop throughout the season. Scott is sure to see the floor, even as a freshman, because of his tenacity on defense. He is considered an above average on-ball defender and if Matta elects to pair Craft and Scott together, it could form one of the peskiest backcourts in the country.
When Brandon Knight hit a game-winning jumper to eliminate Ohio State from last year’s NCAA Tournament, Buckeye fans were devastated. But perhaps nobody took the loss harder than Sullinger, who pasted the picture of Knight knocking down the bucket to his bathroom mirror as motivation to work harder before he starts his day. Certainly the team’s goal is to advance further than it did last year, but with Sullinger able to leave after any given season, this is a “must win it all right now” type of team. With a preseason rank of No. 3, anything less than a championship will be considered a failure, but with a strong core and top-tier coaching, a title is totally feasible.