Ohio State Basketball: 6 Ways OSU Can Rebound from Losing Sullinger and Buford
Losing two key starters from a Final Four team leaves Ohio State facing a stiff challenge in 2012-13. Departing standouts Jared Sullinger and William Buford combined to account for 32 points a game—or 42.6 percent of the entire Buckeye offense last season.
The burden for replacing that lost scoring will fall largely on the shoulders of combo forward Deshaun Thomas. Already a versatile scorer who finished second on the team with 15.9 points a night, Thomas will need to expand his offensive game in a variety of ways as he becomes The Man in Columbus.
Read on for a look at a key skill Thomas needs to add, along with five other changes that will help the new-look Buckeyes stay in the Big Ten title hunt next season.
6. Extend the Bench
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Thad Matta has often played a very tight bench, and last year was a prime example. No player outside the starting five averaged more than 11.4 minutes or 3.4 points per game.
Although two promising reserves, Jordan Sibert and J.D. Weatherspoon, have opted to transfer rather than stay on that little-used bench, Matta would be well served to give his remaining backups more playing time in 2012-13.
Increasing the offensive contribution from the likes of Sam Thompson or Shannon Scott (not to mention incoming freshman Amedeo Della Valle) would take some of the pressure off a starting lineup that won’t have many go-to options in its own right.
5. Crash the Boards
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The two players likely to see the biggest jump in playing time in Sullinger’s absence are big men Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams.
Ravenel filled in for Sullinger when the latter’s back acted up, while Williams flashed impressive defensive ability in limited minutes.
Neither of those post options is much of a threat to create his own shots, but both are big bodies (6’8”, 260 lbs and 6’11”, 220 lbs respectively) who know how to control the glass.
By hitting the offensive boards hard and often, OSU can put pressure on opponents with players who would otherwise be offensive liabilities next season.
4. Help Aaron Craft Bring out His Inner Gary Payton
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Aaron Craft already has a couple of key points in common with former NBA star Gary Payton. Both are talented distributors (Craft dished out 4.6 assists a night last season) and devastating on-ball defenders (witness Craft’s 2.5 steals per game).
However, where Payton was just as comfortable creating his own jump shot as dishing off to a teammate, Craft—8.8 points on fewer than six shots per game—has rarely looked to score.
He’s actually a fine shooter (.359 from beyond the arc), and the best thing he can do for Ohio State’s offense in 2012-13 is pass a little less and pull up a little more.
3. Work on Deshaun Thomas’ Passing
Deshaun Thomas’ combination of inside and outside scoring punch has already established him as a top-notch offensive weapon.
With Jared Sullinger off to the NBA, though, Thomas will become the focus of opposing defenses, meaning that there will be more pressure on his decision-making than ever before.
In addition to choosing when to spot up and when to drive—a dual threat that many Big Ten forwards have already learned to fear—Thomas needs to learn when to pass the ball after averaging a minuscule 0.9 assists per game in 2011-12.
In a season in which he’ll face a steady diet of double-teams, Thomas will need to dish nearly as often as he drives to keep Ohio State’s offense in top form.
2. Find the Real Lenzelle Smith Jr.
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Heading into the 2010-11 season, Lenzelle Smith Jr. was one of several 4-star recruits in Jared Sullinger’s jaw-dropping freshman class. Two years later, Smith has yet to average more than 6.8 points per game from his shooting guard spot.
The 6'4" Smith is a big-time athlete who has occasionally displayed an impressive shooting stroke (.378 from three-point range last year), but he absolutely must get more aggressive on offense.
In an ideal world, Smith would be the second-leading scorer on the team after Deshaun Thomas, but whether that will come to pass next year is anybody’s guess.
1. Embrace the Defense
Unless several of the players around Deshaun Thomas make enormous leaps in performance for next season, the Buckeye offense is doomed to a certain degree of downturn.
However, it won’t be too hard for Thad Matta’s squad to take the sting out of any offensive struggles by leaning on what’s going to be a lethal defense.
Aaron Craft is one of the biggest game-changers in the country on the perimeter, picking up 2.5 steals a game and forcing a slew of other turnovers on top of that.
Add in Amir Williams—who’s shown flashes of elite shot-blocking ability—and a healthy dose of size and strength around him, and the Buckeyes should have a defense that’s more than capable of carrying a Big Ten title contender next season.