Tomorrow night the Ohio State men’s basketball team plays its first game, against North Carolina A&T. It will begin what is likely to be one of the most interesting Buckeye basketball seasons in many years.
Evan Turner, the junior stud who led Ohio State’s team last season, is gone to the NBA. He leaves behind four experienced players — Dallas Lauderdale, David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and William Buford — who were Iron Men in last year’s run to the Big Ten championship. They will be joined by a number of highly touted freshmen. (It is a Thad Matta-coached team, after all!) The freshmen include Jared Sullinger, a 6′ 9″ forward who was a consensus high school All-American, Aaron Craft, a multi-dimensional point guard, guards Jordan Sibert and Lenzelle Smith Jr., and forwards Deshaun Thomas and J.D. Weatherspoon. The task for Coach Matta and his staff will be to fit the talented pieces together and get the team ready for a schedule that includes games at Florida and Florida State and a Big Ten that features hard-nosed, veteran teams like perennial Final Four contestant Michigan State and Illinois.
Ohio State’s freshman class is impressive, but you win in the Big Ten with toughness and experience. Ohio State’s four returning starters bring those qualities to the team. Last year I was particularly impressed by David Lighty’s fearless ability to take the ball to the bucket and break down the defense; Ohio State fans will be hoping that he continues to do so this year and manages to avoid the injuries that have dogged him during his career. William Buford and Jon Diebler also displayed real talent — Buford, as the silky scorer and able defender, and Diebler as the long-range gunner who threw many a three-point dagger at opponents. Lauderdale was the dogged shot blocker on defense.
In prior years, Coach Matta has shown a great ability to blend new players into a strong rotation. This year, he needs to identify a true point guard. The Buckeyes will be hoping that freshman Aaron Craft can handle the ball at the point — an assignment that asks a lot of a youngster who is facing hostile Big Ten venues for the first time. They also will be looking to Jared Sullinger to contribute scoring, ball-handling, and passing from the low post. If Craft can get the ball past the half court line and Sullinger can suck the defense down low before feeding Lighty, Buford, and Diebler, Ohio State could have a season to remember.