Jared Sullinger is gone. William Buford is gone. And, as Rick Pitino might say, Evan Turner is not walking through the door. Neither is Greg Oden or Mike Conley.
With the departure of Sullinger, the Ohio State basketball program is losing a legitimate collegiate superstar who was a two-time All-American and former Big Ten Freshman of the Year. With the loss of Buford, the Buckeyes will miss one of four players in school history with more than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists.
With a recruiting class that consists of only one, relatively unheralded signee, it would be understandable if some fans may feel a bit uneasy about next season’s prospects. After all, who exactly is going to replace the 32 points per game that Sullinger and Buford gave the scarlet and gray last year anyway?
Realistically, if Thad Matta and company have visions of returning to college basketball’s biggest stage at the Final Four, or even competing for the Big Ten, the remaining players need to assume larger roles.
While some things will be a given in Columbus (Aaron Craft playing suffocating defense, Aaron Craft providing invaluable leadership and some guy named Aaron Craft continuing to win the hearts of Buckeye fans everywhere), four players in particular need to play significant roles for Ohio State in 2012-13.
*All stats are provided by basketball-reference.com.
Typically, stories that revolve around players who will play larger roles in the upcoming season are based on bench players or youngsters stepping into the limelight. However, as far as Ohio State is concerned, the most important development must come from one of its bona fide stars.
The jump Deshaun Thomas made from his shoot-first, ask questions later freshman season to his sophomore year was imperative to the Buckeyes’ Final Four run. Even with a poor showing in the loss to Kansas, the lefty was Ohio State’s most impressive postseason player.
Nevertheless, the presence of Sullinger all but assured Thomas was never the opposing defense’s primary focal point last year. You can bet the house that Ohio State’s only returning double-digit scorer will draw more attention this season.
But the departure of Sullinger also means something else for Thomas. The 6’7” forward, who averaged 5.4 boards a game last campaign, will have to play a more significant role in the rebounding department.
Additionally, since Thomas decided to return to the Big Ten where defense matters and forgo the NBA where it doesn’t, Matta will also need his best scorer to bring more intensity to the other end of the court.
To recap, the best returning offensive player on the Buckeye roster will need to pick up his rebounding, play better defense, continue to score at the same (or better) rate as the opposing defense’s primary concern and perhaps improve on last year’s 34 percent clip from downtown.
To say LaQuinton Ross was a role player last year would be an insult to Shane Battiers and Kyle Korvers everywhere.
The highly-touted Ross missed the first month of the season with academic issues and never climbed out of Matta’s doghouse—essentially closing the book on his season because he didn’t open one in the classroom.
Things should be different this year. After candid conversations with Sullinger and Matta following a frustrated tweet, Ross seemed to grasp the idea that the 2012-13 season would be his opportunity for stardom.
Considering the skill set that Ross brings to the table, it is clear why he was such a highly-regarded recruit. The 6’8” swingman is a formidable ball-handler, has the ability to slash the lane and possesses a lethal stroke from downtown.
The task of replacing the lost production that graduated with William Buford falls on Ross’ shoulders. If he can, he will come a long way from the academically ineligible freshman toiling on the end of the bench.
Rational Buckeye fans do not (and should not) expect Amir Williams to simply slide into Sullinger’s spot and become Ohio State’s next All-American big man.
However, Williams does provide Matta with some enticing abilities. At 6’11”, and with a more athletic frame, Williams should become a much more formidable shot blocker than Sullinger ever was.
In fact, in barely over six minutes a game, Williams finished second on the team in blocks per contest and a mere 0.3 behind Sullinger.
It may be too optimistic to expect Williams to consistently fill up the offensive box score, but the Buckeyes will need the former McDonald’s All-American to be a force on defense and on the boards.
Otherwise, he will quickly discover that the Big Ten has the tendency to chew up and spit out those big men who don’t hold their own in the lane.
Shannon Scott was the primary reason that Thad Matta did not attempt to sign Columbus native Trey Burke. With the dependable Craft already in tow and Scott on his way, there really didn’t appear a need for another point guard.
It is easy to second guess that decision with the always helpful benefit of 20/20 hindsight, but Scott was the more highly regarded prospect. If he is ever going to prove his worth, 2012-13 is the season for the former McDonald’s All-American to live up to the hype.
Scott did not have much of an impact last year, but found himself in the lineup a bit more towards the end of the campaign. Matta experimented with an Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott backcourt at times late in the year, including a critical victory over Cincinnati in the tournament.
Scott needs to play a larger role this season solely because of the potential that this backcourt combination provides. Craft and Scott together give Matta more speed to work with, which can lead to an up-tempo attack, full-court presses and more fast breaks.
In the somewhat monotonous and slow-paced Big Ten, this backcourt could be an ace up Matta’s sleeve—but it is up to Scott to fulfill his potential as one of four Buckeyes that must play a more significant role this season.