Ohio State Basketball: 10 Reasons Buckeye Fans Should Be Excited for Next Season
Depending on your perspective, the 2011-12 Ohio State basketball season ended successfully or in gut-wrenching fashion.
On the one hand, the Buckeyes reached their 11th Final Four, good enough for sixth all-time. But on the other hand, they squandered a double digit lead in the Final Four game against Kansas and left fans hoping for a shot at powerhouse Kentucky wondering what could have been.
With the losses of Jared Sullinger and William Buford, some prognostications do not see the Buckeyes as a top ten team next year. However, even if Ohio State may not appear poised to return to the Final Four, there are plenty of reasons for optimism among Buckeye Nation.
In fact, here are 10 reasons why Buckeye fans should be excited for next season.
Aaron Craft 2.0: The Upperclassman Version
Throw in whatever cliché sports adjective you want—gritty, tough, gamer, on-the-floor coach—Aaron Craft fits the bill. Cliché or not, you would be hard pressed to find a better leader or defender in all of college basketball than the Buckeye point guard.
Craft, behind 2.5 steals per game and an uncanny ability to draw the charge, won the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year Award and spurned the creation of Sports Illustrated’s Aaron Craft Turnometer.
By the way—he did it all with excruciating pain caused by bone spurs floating around and jamming into his tibia all season.
What should excite Ohio State fans the most is that Craft did all this in just his first year as a collegiate starter. After receiving off-season surgery, and with another year of seasoning under his belt, a healthy and upperclassman version of Craft should continue to control the flow of every game Ohio State plays.
If he continues the development on the offensive side of the ball that he hinted at during the NCAA Tournament, he can become one of best Buckeye point guards to ever lace them up in Columbus.
Deshaun Thomas as the Premier Scoring Option
Here’s a question—how many shots a game will Deshaun Thomas average in an offense that does not feature the likes of Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Jon Diebler or even David Lighty?
What about an offense that actually revolves around him?
Sure, Thomas thinks he is open from the second he leaves the locker room, which can be frustrating at times (no more so than in his performance against Kansas), but he is the premier offensive talent on this team.
Thomas, who excelled the majority of the 2011-12 season, saved his best performances for the NCAA Tournament with an 18 point performance against Gonzaga, 24 points against Cincinnati and a spectacular 31 point and 12 rebound showcase versus Loyola.
As Thomas enters the upperclassman realms, he should continue to excel. He can hit the three, crash the offensive glass and is a nightmare matchup for any defense.
If Thomas is ever going to be one of the best players in the Big Ten, this is the year to do it.
The Development of Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Will the real Lenzelle Smith Jr. please stand up?
The shooting guard showed flashes of greatness last year (see his 28 point and seven rebound performance he put up against the Hoosiers) but had the tendency to disappear for long stretches at a time.
However, like Thomas, Smith played some of his best basketball during the Buckeyes’ Final Four run in March. His timely three-point shooting and defensive intensity, especially in victories over Syracuse and Cincinnati, was somewhat of a pleasant surprise for Matta’s squad.
If Smith can build from his postseason performance, he certainly is capable of replacing the (at times) inconsistent production of William Buford.
The Carrier Classic
Ohio State fans have become accustomed to watching both their basketball and football teams begin the season with ‘cupcake’ games in recent years. Not that there is anything wrong with starting the year off on the right foot, but the cupcake recipe can be a bit bland for fans.
Not so this year. While football fans will still have the privilege of watching Urban Meyer annihilate Miami of Ohio in the first game, the hoopsters will be facing a difficult Big East team at the beginning of their slate.
Here’s the fun part—it’s on a boat.
The Buckeyes will be matched up against Marquette on the deck of the USS Yorktown in the Carrier Classic on November 9. Michigan State and North Carolina entertained the nation (and even President Obama) in a similar fashion last year.
Hopefully it doesn’t rain
Ohio State fans are known for flocking to opposing stadiums and creating a home-like atmosphere for the Buckeyes—in football.
If there was ever a nonconference road trip that Buckeye hoop fans could get fired up about, it is the trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium on the slate for this year. Just like the Carrier Classic, this matchup in one of the game’s most historical venues should give fans a reason to divert their attention from football for 40 minutes in the season’s early months.
And if playing Duke in front of the Cameron Crazies wasn't enough, remember last year? The Buckeyes did not waste much time putting the rest of the nation on alert with an 85-63 throttling of the Dukies on national television.
How much fun would it be to watch a repeat performance at their place this year?
Amir Williams' Chance
Amir Williams, who was virtually invisible to college basketball fans outside of Columbus last year, certainly has the potential to be an all-conference type of player in 2012-13.
With the loss of Jared Sullinger, it is imperative for the only legitimate shot-blocker on Ohio State’s roster to fill the role of productive big man for Matta. Being 6’11” probably won’t hurt his chances.
While nobody will mistake Williams for Greg Oden or Jared Sullinger, the former McDonald’s All-American has the potential to be a much more offensively talented version of Dallas Lauderdale, who was more than serviceable at Ohio State.
Since Williams did not play much last year, it would serve Matta well to make sure the big man receives substantial playing time early on.
More LaQuinton Ross
Speaking of untapped potential, LaQuinton Ross may be the biggest wild card for the Buckeyes in 2012-13. The former 4-star recruit missed a significant portion of the year due to academic ineligibility and never really made it out of Matta’s doghouse after that.
Ross has a deadly three-point shot (or at least he did coming out of high-school, Buckeye fans never really got to see it in action) and can slash with solid ball-handling skills.
The combination of these skills, along with his 6’8” frame, may remind the most optimistic Ohio State loyalists of Evan Turner. It’s probably safe to say Ross won’t match Turner’s numbers this year, but he has the ability to shine alongside Thomas and Craft.
The Sam Thompson Show
The Dayton Air Show, one of the most well-renowned air shows in the country, takes place every summer. But it may not even be the best one in Ohio.
Enter the Sam Thompson aerial show, which will be hitting gymnasiums near you this winter. Thompson can jump out of the building and put on dunking displays that should keep the fans in their seats for the entire 40 minutes during early season blowouts.
The forward also provides good energy off the bench and can help out on defense and rebounding with his size and athleticism. But let’s be honest—we're talking about reasons to get excited for next year, and defense off the bench probably isn’t one of them.
Bring on the dunks.
A Dose of European Flair
The 2012 recruiting class was not exactly one to write home about for Thad Matta. He only signed one player, the unheralded Amedeo Della Valle.
Despite the lack of hype that typically accompanies big name recruits, Della Valle can play a critical role for the scarlet and gray.
The Buckeyes were missing a reliable three-point shooter all year in 2011-12 (Sullinger actually led the team) and still reached the Final Four. If Della Valle can provide the long range touch that he reportedly showed in high-school, the Buckeyes will be much more dangerous on offense.
If nothing else, a reliable three-point shooter will open up much more room to operate for Deshaun Thomas as he looks for his shot (which you know he will).
Admit it, Buckeye fans (and Big Ten fans). It has become somewhat excruciating to watch ESPN’s coverage of the Big Ten's bowl season performance every December and January (of course, Buckeye fans don’t have to worry about this in 2012). Even if perception is perhaps worse than reality, it is no secret that the Big Ten has taken some recent bruises on the gridiron’s big stage.
Come basketball season though, the Big Ten has the chance to sit at the head of the table. Indiana could be ranked No. 1 to start the year, Michigan returns some of its key players (and adds an impressive recruiting class) and Michigan State will always be dangerous under Tom Izzo.
Even if none of the other reasons get you excited for the upcoming basketball season, Buckeye fans should look forward to the opportunity to watch their team play against the game’s best in 2012-13.