1. David Lighty—missed?
The loss of junior captain David Lighty has proven to be more serious than anyone could have expected. Lighty, a key reserve from the Conley-Oden Buckeyes, has stepped into his new role as the leader of this team among failed expectations.
Fans and media alike agreed that the loss of Lighty would not bring the demise of the Buckeyes. But a closer look at this team reveals that this injury was a serious blow to the Buckeyes.
Since Lighty exited the lineup Dec. 17, the team once with the nation's longest winning streak, including ranked wins over Notre Dame and Miami, is struggling to stay in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.
Lighty’s stats are meager at best, averaging 9.7 pts, 1.9 assists, and 1.4 steals per game, but his impact on the Buckeyes is much more than just stats.
“In Lighty, the Buckeyes lost a guard with Final Four experience, someone who understands Thad Matta's system and could be a much-needed mentor to the younger players on the team,” said Andy Katz.
The Buckeyes, now six weeks into Lighty’s 6-12 week injury, are hoping for a miracle because without Lighty, Ohio State lacks the ability to win against top Big Ten foes Michigan St. and Illinois.
2. Can the bench survive with the loss of Crater?
Backup Anthony Crater poured salt on the wound, just 11 days after the loss of Lighty, requesting a release from Coach Thad Matta. Crater had 12 points and 19 assists in the young season. This leaves the much-maligned P.J. Hill to step up and be the guy one year after Buckeye fans found out he could not be the guy.
P.J. Hill quickly won the favor of the Ohio State faithful with his defensive pressure and energy, but his offensive deficiencies are too many to overcome. Averaging 1.4 points and 1.1 assists per game, Hill looks like he is playing a jacked-up version of hot potato with the ball.
William Buford (G) and B.J. Mullens (C) have shown improvement, but Ohio State lacks depth in the backcourt behind Jeremie Simmons. In a tough stretch of the Big Ten season, the Buckeyes are forced to find points off the bench from the likes of Nikola Kecman, Kyle Madsen, and Walter Offutt.
3. The Diebler Debacle?
As a senior at Upper Sandusky High School, Jon Diebler led the nation in scoring at 41.2 points per game, grabbed 12.3 rebounds per game, was named Mr. Basketball in Ohio, and finished his career as Ohio’s all-time leading scorer. All of his success has not been able to translate into consistency at the next level.
As a sophomore Diebler is averaging 10.5 points per game and is still struggling to find a role in Thad Matta’s offense. Offensively he lives and dies with the three, and his lack of strength makes him a liability cutting to the basket.
Diebler has a great work ethic, discipline, and a genuine desire to improve. He may turn out to be Matta’s best recruit simply because he may stick around for four years, if the fans are willing to wait.
4. Can B.J. Mullens give the Buckeyes a post presence?
After the exodus of Kosta Koufos, a big man with a pulse would bring a smile to any Buckeye fan. A year of turnovers and outside jumpshots from the big seven-footer left people in Columbus screaming for a big man that can get his hands dirty in the paint.
Thad Matta attempted to ease the freshman center, B.J. Mullens, into the starting lineup, and it has paid dividends. Mullens has okay hands, quick feet, and the ability to score with many different post moves. He still lacks intensity and can sometimes let his emotions get the best of him. Let’s just hope this seven-footer decides to stick around for a second year.
5. Too Young?
Too bad. In an era of college basketball where the NBA has significantly crippled some NCAA programs, Ohio State has fallen victim to the one and done syndrome plaguing many universities.
Year in and year out players come to campus to scrape by, avoid injuries, and prepare for the NBA Draft. Programs are forced to learn how to recruit on the fly as many of their highly touted freshmen opt out for the draft.
Thad Matta has struggled with his recruiting strategy, and although the Buckeyes have the second-youngest team in the Big Ten, they could be even younger next season with the potential of losing sophomore Evan Turner (the team's leading scorer) and freshman center B.J. Mullens.
After three straight seasons of great recruiting classes, next season Thad Matta could be looking for answers from the student body in the form of some walk-ons.