2008-2009 Record: 22-11, 10-8 Big Ten (t-4th)
Key Losses: BJ Mullens (8.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg),
Key Returners: Evan Turner (17.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 4.0 apg), William Buford (11.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Jon Diebler (11.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
Newcomers: Zisis Sarikopoulos
Ohio State has had a bad run when it comes to NBA Draft early entrants. Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufus, and BJ Mullens all in the last three years. As grim as that sounds, the news is not all bad. Thad Matta and the Buckeyes caught a break back in the spring when Evan Turner announced that he would be coming back to Columbus for his junior season despite being projected as a lottery pick.
On a team loaded along the perimeter, Turner is the best of the bunch. The best all-around player in the country (Lester Hudson was the only other guy to average 17 ppg, 7 rpg, and 4 apg last season), Turner's ability to create and handle the ball will be his biggest asset to this year's Buckeyes as the 6'7" forward will be the primary ball-handler for Matta. Not the greatest athlete in the world, Turner is effective because of his excellent footwork and his stop-and-go ability. His jump shot is a work in progress (he hit 44% from deep last year, but only took 25 threes), but he is a smart player when he is going to the rim. He knows when to pass, when to pull-up, and when to get all the way to the rim. While the Buckeyes do have talent elsewhere, they are going to go as far as Turner takes them.
Playing the wings this season for Matta will be William Buford and Jon Diebler. Diebler is a shooter, through and through. At 6'6", Diebler is able to get his shot off against most defenders, and when he gets hot he is as deadly as anyone in the country. Buford is a more intriguing player. Also a shooter, Buford is more effective in the mid-range. He was so good as a freshman at making decisions coming off of screens, whether it was to shoot, to curl, to fade. He still has a lot of room for improvement, however, as bettering his ball-handling and quickness will make him a more dangerous offensive weapon. Overall, having two players with the shooting ability of Buford and Diebler will keep driving lanes open for Turner.
The x-factor for Ohio State is going to be David Lighty. Lighty came into Ohio State as a hyped freshman, but after two relatively disappointing seasons and a junior year cut short by a broken bone in his foot, Matta hopes that Lighty can return to the form that made him a top 50 recruit. Lighty is a nice complement to Buford and Diebler in that he is a strong, athletic slasher. His jump shot still needs work (although I suspect that it will be improved after this injury), but Lighty will prove to be a huge addition if he can be a capable slasher.
Two other guys should be expected to get time in the Buckeye back court - seniors Jeremie Simmons and PJ Hill. The two split time last season after Anthony Crater transferred out of school. Simmons is the better scorer, but by the end of the season Hill had moved into the starting line-up. Both will likely end up coming off the bench this season, and at the very least deferring to Turner in crucial minutes.
Up front is where Ohio State is going to have problems. Two weeks ago, Dallas Lauderdale, who was expected to start at center for the Buckeyes, broke a bone in his hand that required surgery. While there is a chance he will be back in time for OSU's first game, it is more likely that he will miss a couple of weeks. Lauderdale is huge for the Buckeyes, as he is really the only tough interior presence on their roster. Lauderdale is only 6'8", but his length and athleticism make him an effective shot-blocker and exceptional finisher.
But behind him there isn't all that much. Zisis Sarikopoulos is a 7'0" transfer from UAB, but in his one season there he was fairly ineffective. Kyle Madsen is 6'9" and will give Matta energy and five fouls, but he is not going to be much of a threat on either end.
Outlook: Where Ohio State is going to excel this season is defensively. If they go with a line-up of four wings (Turner, Diebler, Lighty, and Buford), the zone they play is going to be very dangerous. All four are long and athletic, which will make it difficult to pass through and shoot over the zone. As I said earlier, this team is going to go as far as Turner takes them, but the development of Buford, Lighty, or Diebler into a dangerous scorer could keep in the race for the Big Ten title, as will a quick recovery by Lauderdale.