Robbie Hummel and the Boilermakers are ready to compete for a Big Ten title this season. (MSNBC)
By Ronak Patel
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Season: 24-13 (10-8)
Key Losses: Kosta Koufos, Othello Hunter, Jamar Butler
Head Coach: Thad Matta
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Noopy Crater 6-1 Fr.
SG: William Buford 6-5 Fr.
SF: Evan Turner 6-7 So.
PF: David Lighty 6-5 Jr.
C: B.J. Mullens 7-1 Fr.
Key Reserves: Nikola Kecman 6-8 So. PF, Walter Offutt 6-3 Fr. PG, Jeremie Simmons 6-2 Jr. PG, Jon Diebler 6-6 So. SG, Dallas Lauderdale 6-8 So. PF
Disappointment clouded the 2007-08 season for Thad Matta's squad. The Buckeyes, led by Kosta Koufos and Jamar Butler, were expected to make a return appearance to the Big Dance. They had no such luck, but did manage to start a string of one-and-done big men that could continue this year.
Last season, the Buckeyes began with top recruit Kosta Koufos poised to lead this team back to the national championship game. Unfortunately, the team would go on to lose 13 games and be forced to go to "that other tournament." Once they got there, however, they took their game to another level and ran through the NIT on their way to an NIT championship.
This team does have youth on its side, but that could hurt Ohio State this season. The Buckeyes of 2008-09 are without a senior on scholarship. Could two straight years of one-and-done talent finally be hurting Matta?
Returning from last year to play big roles on this Ohio State team are David Lighty and Evan Turner. These two are expected to fill in as the team's starting wing players.
Lighty brings strong defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game last season, and a consistent scoring option. On offense, he is an exciting, athletic player who likes to play above the rim. Lighty will also be looked at from a leadership standpoint as he will be the only junior in the starting lineup and one of the few starters with big game experience. As crazy as it sounds, because he has only been a key player for one year after being a role player who came on late in the season as a freshman, Lighty has to be considered the most experienced player on this Ohio State team.
Alongside Lighty will be Turner, the only other returning starter besides Jon Diebler, who started eight games last season. The 6-foot-7 swingman is a do-it-all layer. Turner will be looked to as a versatile forward, likely playing both the small and power forward positions as well as shooting guard at times. Turner is the leading returning rebounder (4.4) and a strong offensive player (8.5 points per game, 47 percent field goals).
At center, we start to see a trend. Over the last two seasons, the Buckeyes have produced one hit wonders in Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos. This year could be the same. Rivals.com #1 recruit B.J. Mullens joins Matta's Buckeyes and will be expected to follow in the footsteps of his incredible predecessors. With a shaky point guard situation, expect Ohio State to lean on its star big man this year. Mullens will be a handful for any team with his massive frame (7-foot-1, 275 pounds). Not only can Mullens take up space, grab rebounds and block shots, but he is a force around the rim on the offensive end. Mullens has great touch and will put the ball in the basket as long as he can get a hand on it.
Joining Mullens in the frontcourt will be fellow first-year Buckeye, sophomore Nikola Kecman. The junior college transfer brings size as well as a sweet outside touch to the offense. Kecman can run the floor well and stretch the defense with his shooting touch. This can also force matchup problems and allow Mullens to dominate in one-on-one situations inside. Whether or not Kecman will start right away is yet to be determined, but either way he will get plenty of minutes and opportunities to prove himself. Sophomore big man Dallas Lauderdale only played about six minutes per game last season, but he will be counted on much more off the bench this season. Buckeye fans are optimistic that a frontcourt combination of Mullens and Lauderdale could be lethal to opposing teams.
Possibly the biggest question mark this season is at the point guard position. Three-star prospect Anthony "Noopy" Crater will be given the first shot at the point guard spot. The freshman from New Hampshire possesses outstanding ball-handling skills, but whether or not he can lead this team is yet to be determined. Former Buckeye Mike Conley, Jr., who wasn't too shabby as a freshman point guard himself, has already endorsed Crater as the heir to the recent Buckeye tradition at point guard that includes Conley, Jamar Butler and Scoonie Penn.
With the attention Mullens has been getting, another McDonald's All-American who Matta is bringing in has flown under the radar a bit. William Buford, Ohio's Mr. Basketball, brings an explosive game that will catch more than just the scouts' attention. Buford will be counted on to contribute immediately and has a good chance to start right away in Columbus.
Jon Diebler is another returning contributor from last year's NIT champions. Diebler is another swingman, a position loaded with talent on this squad. While the sophomore contributed quality minutes to the team last year, statistically he never did anything to separate himself and could be lost on the depth chart this season. In high school, Diebler was a tremendous scorer, breaking LeBron James' Ohio high school career scoring record. As a freshman last season, Diebler was a very streaky shooter, so it is unlikely he will begin the season as a starter, but if he steps his game up he could move up the depth chart throughout the season. At the very least, Diebler will be one of the first players off the bench.
Also look for newcomers Walter Offutt and Jeremie Simmons to contribute this season. Offutt's health is still up in the air, but if his knees hold up, he can be another productive freshman. Simmons is a junior college transfer who Matta brought in to challenge Crater for the starting job at point guard.
This team, while young, has the talent to not only get back to the NCAA tournament but make a deep run in March. However, there are certainly holes on this team. Can the Buckeyes overcome the giant question mark at point guard? With so many players challenging for spots in the starting lineup, will the players who are left out be content coming off the bench? Will B.J. Mullens live up to the expectations brought on by his predecessors? Will David Lighty be capable of leading this team emotionally as a junior? These questions will all be answered when the Buckeyes hit the hardwood.