Next up in our Around the Big Ten preview series: Ohio State. The Columbus Dispatch’s Bob Baptist stepped in to answer our questions about the Buckeyes this year. You can hear more from Baptist on his twitter account or his blog.
Evan Turner is gone but there is no shortage of talent in Columbus
Losing the most productive college basketball player is obviously a tough blow to handle but this is still a very talented roster. Is this a team that compete for the Big Ten championship?
It can, but I think bad things would have to happen to Michigan State and Purdue for it to happen — like, Kalin Lucas and Robbie Hummel going down again. And I don’t want to see that happen. Michigan State is just as deep if not deeper than it was last season, and Purdue has the best threesome of any team in the conference in Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. Ohio State can’t match either, in my opinion, at least not at this point. I could be persuaded differently come February, but I don’t see it changing unless, as I said, Sparty and the Boilers have health issues.
Jared Sullinger is the top-rated freshmen in the Big Ten
Jared Sullinger highlights a star-studded freshmen class. Can you break down the incoming freshmen and how much they are expected to contribute?
Sullinger, from everything I hear out of “open gym” — closed gym, actually — is a load and is going to give people problems on the offensive end. Defensively, I’ll be interested to see how his matchups are handled by the coaching staff. One matchup I’m looking forward to is watching him and Draymond Green of Michigan State bang on each other.
I also hear good things about point guard Aaron Craft, who naturally is going to have his share of doubters because he played at a small high school. Craft, I’m told, plays within himself and does the things the team needs him to do, which is take care of the ball, set up his teammates, defend and make the open shots he gets.
DeShaun Thomas could be a factor at the 4 when Sullinger is at the 5 or not in the game. He can score. The question will be how much his man scores on him.
Jordan Sibert appears recovered from his knee injury and making shots, Matta said recently. What Matta wants to see more of is for Sibert to embrace a role of defensive stopper and use his length and athleticism to become a lockdown defender on the perimeter. Over the years, that’s been the surest way for freshmen to earn early playing time under Matta, on the defensive end. David Lighty is Exhibit A in that argument.
Lenzelle Smith is recovering from wrist surgery and may or may not be ready for the start of the season.
J.D. Weatherspoon is a jumping jack who can rebound and flourish in a transition game, but he may get caught in a numbers game. Speculation is he will redshirt. Matta said he won’t make that call until he has to.
William Buford is a kid that I feel like has the potential to be a first team all conference player. What do you expect from Buford this year?
It all depends how confident he’s become in his handle after working on it during the offseason. He probably has the silkiest pullup jumper I’ve seen at Ohio State in the dozen or so years I’ve covered the team, but for him to become a first-team All-Big Ten player, as you suggest, he needs to round out his game with some dribble-driving. He also could be helped by more of a transition game on offense if Ohio State can improve its rebounding enough to trigger it more. If indeed he has improved his handle enough to create his own shot more, Buford also needs to become more assertive in the flow of the offense and not defer to the seniors.
Aaron Craft should see some time running the point guard for Ohio State
There is talent up and down the OSU roster but the blatant hole is at point guard. There are no true point guards returning on the roster so I assume a significant chunk of the point guard duties will have to be filled by freshmen. Is this a major concern for the OSU coaching staff? Might we see an upperclassmen shift over and try to run the point?
If it is a major concern for Matta, he’s not admitting it; he’s Mr. Glass Half Full. But it bears watching early to see how he proposes to handle it. Going in, I expect to see the four returning starters — Buford, Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale — to start with Sullinger, and Craft to come off the bench. Matta has said he is confident that all three of the returning guards have improved their ballhandling enough in the offseason to initiate the offense. He said it could be somebody different on a given possession depending on who they’re matching up with. To me, that’s fine for most of the nonconference competition. But I’d be a little uneasy taking that approach into the Big Ten season. The defense in conference play is too good.
What are some of the highlights of OSU’s non conference schedule?
Games at Florida and Florida State and a home game against South Carolina. Everyone else is mid-major, although there are some proven mid-major opponents coming in, like IUPUI, Oakland and Miami of Ohio.
Record prediction? Conference and overall.
Wow. Tough this early. My first run through the schedule comes out 23-8 overall, 12-6 in the conference. One thing I noticed on that run-through is Ohio State has a very favorable early Big Ten schedule for a team that will rely on the youngsters for depth: first 6 games, Buckeyes get Indiana, Iowa and Michigan on the road and Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa at home. A 6-0 start would be a very nice way to start the new year.
Most feared player in the conference?
Robbie Hummel. He can hurt you so many ways.
Projected most improved player in the conference?
I really can’t say at this point because I haven’t seen anyone play. But I’ll tell you this, if JaJuan Johnson improves as much from last year to this year as he did last year from the previous year, and is consistent night in and night out, he’s going to be scary.
Projected conference champs?
Purdue. Maybe. Ask me again the end of January.
Toughest place to play in the Big Ten?
For Ohio State, it’s without a doubt Wisconsin. The Kohl Center is the only Big Ten venue in which Matta hasn’t won.
Do you think you win your Big Ten challenge game [versus Florida State]?
No. But then, I know nothing about Florida State at this point. I’m just trusting that Leonard Hamilton has something in the cupboard.