Monday, December 6

Buckeye Basketball Preview

While still exciting, surely the first few weeks of the college basketball season aren't nearly as important as the conclusion to the college football regular season, so for the second year in a row I'm writing a "preview" one month into the year. This works out though, because in addition to posing some questions that the Buckeyes had coming into the season, now I can provide some possible answers based on the small sample size that the Buckeyes have given us thus far.

Ohio St began the season ranked #4, and have since gone 6-0 and moved up to #2. It seems crazy to say that a team who lost the best player in the nation last year has improved, but that may be the case with the year's Buckeyes. Gone is superstar (and my all-time favorite Buckeye baller) Evan "The Villain" Turner, but enter the top freshman class in the nation, led by the sensational Jared Sullinger. With four returning starters there to help the youngsters along, the people in Columbus are thinking big. Let's take a look at some of the things that can make or break OSU this season.

Can Jared Sullinger live up to the hype?

Sullinger, one of last year's top high schoolers, enters Ohio St with mammoth expectations. At 6-9, 280, he might be the most skilled big man to ever come into OSU. (As physically dominant as Greg Oden was, he didn't possess nearly the amount of finesse that Sully has). In the team's first six games, the answer to this question looks to be a resounding "yes." Sullinger is averaging 14 points and 9 rebounds, and looks to be equally as quick and athletic as he is big and strong.

The one negative aspect of his game that I have noticed early on is that he seems to be a little lost defensively at times. Dallas Lauderdale usually covers it up, but when Dallas isn't on the court, opposing big men are scoring at will. If Sully can improve on the defensive side as the year progresses, he may be a lock for the NBA's top draft pick.

Will the lack of depth be a problem?
Can the other freshman step up?

I put these two questions together because they go hand-in-hand. If the other top incoming freshmen; PG Aaron Craft, F Deshaun Thomas, and G Jordan Sibert, can play well, then Ohio St's depth should not be a problem. So far, things look great. Craft has looked fantastic. He can handle the ball very well, as he demonstrated in the win over Florida, where he was pressed for the majority of the game. He just looks like a real gritty, feisty player. The kind of guy that you love to root for but would hate to play against because he's always getting under your skin.

Thomas appears to be instant offense off the bench. He posesses great ability to get to the basket, but also has a decent jump shot. The drawback of Thomas (other than having a ridiculous name) is that he seems too quick to pull the trigger on the jumper, very reminiscent of William Buford two years back. I like Thomas' aggressiveness, but he needs to limit his bad shots. Sibert hasn't played all that much yet, but should see an increased role as the year moves along.

In addition to Craft and Thomas playing well, Buford, David Lighty, and Jon Diebler all showed that they can go nearly 40 minutes a game last year, so Ohio St using a seven- or eight-man rotation does not concern me. If the Florida St win was any indication, Craft and Sullinger are able to handle it as well. Buford fouled out early and Thomas was injured, so Lighty, Diebler, Craft, Lauderdale, and Sullinger went pretty much the entire second half.

Can David Lighty be 'Evan Turner-good'?

Last year, The Villain was the clear leader of this team. He led the team in points, rebounds, and assists, as well as doing nearly all of the ball-handling. While coach Thad Matta can't be expecting the same results he got from Turner, he is counting on Lighty to play that multipurpose role on this squad. Lighty has answered the call thus far, averaging 15 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, and 2 steals in OSU's first six wins, while shooting nearly 50% from the field and 40% from long range.

Lighty has shown that he can also handle the ball, but gets a big boost with Aaron Craft to help him in that department, where ET wasn't fortunate enough to have that kind of guy to take the pressure off.

Is Dallas Lauderdale the biggest badass in America?

Standing at 6'8 and weighing 260 pounds, Lauderdale was always an intimidating figure. Now, he has lost weight, looks even more muscular than ever before, sports a kick ass beard, and best of all, dropped the receding hairline look in favor of a shaved head. Look at this picture and tell me you would want to see this man in a dark alley.


Granted, it has only been six games, but Ohio St has looked great. I mentioned how impressed I have been with Sullinger, Lighty and Craft, and of course Jon Diebler is still one of the greatest long-range shooters in collegiate history. The Buckeyes have gotten through the toughest part of their non-conference schedule, picking up W's over Florida and Florida St. South Carolina is the only big-time school left on the schedule outside of conference play, along with seven cupcakes, including a school named Florida Gulf Coast.

This means Ohio St should be 13-0 when they head to Indiana to start Big Ten play. That is where things will get difficult, as the Big Ten is probably the nation's best and deepest conference. Michigan St returns four starters from last year's squad and is a title contender, as always. Even without Robbie Hummel, Purdue is still a top tier team, as E'Twaun Moore and JaJaun Johnson may be the best duo in the nation. Northwestern has its best team in school history, it is still nearly impossible to win at Illinois or Wisconsin, and Indiana and Minnesota are solid as well.

While going through the Big Ten gauntlet will hand OSU some losses, it should benefit them in the long run as they will face a Sweet-Sixteen caliber opponent nearly every game. I really like what I've seen so far with this team, and right now don't see any reason why they can't be cutting down the nets come March.



Andy said...

I'd say Jimmy Jackson was my favorite Buckeye hoopster. That was a sweet team - JJ, Chris Jent, Treg Lee, Perry Carter, Mark Baker. I also liked Lawrence Funderburke - just a fantastic name.

E'Twaun Moore and JaJaun Johnson may be the best duo in the nation.
In terms of names, or basketball ability?

Figgs said...

That Jimmy Jackson team was right before my time. The first team that I really remember was the Scoonie Penn/Michael Redd team that went to the Final 4.