Ohio State, after finishing with the best record of any Big Ten team last season, returns with as much firepower as ever. They lost Jared Sullinger and William Buford, but have more than enough talent to make up for their losses.
Their best player left is Deshaun Thomas, who’s not too shabby. Thomas is a junior and will benefit the most from the exit of Sullinger and Buford. He will be the go-to-guy for the Buckeyes, due to his ability to score in many ways. Last year he averaged 15 points and five rebounds a game and those numbers should rise even higher this year. He was named a Sporting News Preseason All- American coming in to this season and with another good year his draft stock will be on the rise. He is as good of a scorer as anyone in the conference, if not the nation.
Another key starter for the Buckeyes is point guard Aaron Craft. The junior is known for his rabid defense and shot making abilities. He is a fantastic college point guard. He is able to run a smooth, consistent offense, while scoring himself when needed. Craft also has a knack for shutting down the opponent’s point guard and creating turnovers and chaos on the perimeter.
Ohio State has a pair of promising sophomore wings who will be poised for breakout seasons. LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson averaged just four and 11 minutes, respectively last season. Ross, who had eligibility issues early on, was behind the curve from the start, slowing his development. He is a skilled wing who can drive to the rim and showed a potent outside shot towards the end of last season.
Thompson, is very similar to Ross, though even more athletic. He is very long, which allows for him to be a great on ball defender. Ross and Thompson will compete for playing time at the small forward position throughout the year.
Guards Lenzelle Smith Jr and Shannon Scott will be very important supporting players this year. Smith is a junior and started every game last season. He can do a little bit of everything, averaging seven points, five rebounds and two assists last year. His ability to come up big last year was huge. In the NCAA Tournament he was named to the All East Region first team after averaging over 17 points in their first two games. For a 6-4 ft guard he is a fantastic rebounder, using his strength and bulk.
Scott, a sophomore, had a relatively small role last season as a freshman. However, that role should grow. A Jordan Brand All American before coming to Ohio State, Scott has a ton of potential. With more minutes Scott will be able to produce. The fact that he is sharing the court with Thomas, Craft and others will allow for a lot of opportunities as defenses focus on Ohio State’s stars.
One worry after the strong recruiting classes in 2010 and 2011 for Ohio State is the weak 2012 class. It is made up of just one player, Amedeo Della Valle, a three star recruit. This should not be a big problem for Ohio State, as they have enough talent on the roster currently to cancel out the lack of freshman talent. However, it is something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Thad Matta has himself a very special team. It is a testament to his recruiting abilities that after losing arguably their two best players they are able to return with the 4th best team in the USA Today Preseason Poll. The combination of Thomas’s scoring, Craft’s shooting and defense as well as an array of talented role players should prove to be great combination for the Buckeyes this year as they chase another Big Ten title as well as a NCAA Tournament run. Big Ten Record Prediction: 14-4