Pick almost any season for the Ohio State basketball program and the goals will probably look about the same—a Big Ten regular season championship, a conference tournament crown, a trip to the Final Four and, ultimately, a national championship.
While only one Buckeye team has ever been able to place a check mark next to each of these goals, the scarlet and gray have recently made a habit out of at least contending for each. The upcoming season should be no different.
However, the only way to accomplish a list of team goals is oftentimes to start at the individual level. Therefore, here is a preview of the primary goal that each member of the Buckeyes’ starting five should have for himself entering the 2012-13 season.
The starting five was taken from my earlier projection of what Thad Matta’s starting lineup will look like.
Stats are courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com.
Aaron Craft plays a variety of roles for the Buckeyes. He is the on-floor coach, the director of the offense, the emotional leader of the squad and the resident heartthrob for many in Buckeye Nation.
Despite the many responsibilities he has, the most important thing Craft brings is his defensive relentlessness. There may not be a better on-ball defender in all of college basketball, and there isn't a single player he won’t jump in front of to draw a charge.
Last season, Craft averaged a Big-Ten leading 2.5 steals per game and visibly frustrated such marquee opponents as Trey Burke, Jordan Taylor and Austin Rivers. He was also second in the nation in total steals (98).
The impressive thing about Craft’s defense was the fact that he was doing it in just his first year as a starter. In 2012-13 Craft will have more experience, and there is no reason to think he will do anything else but aggravate opposing point guards again.
At the very minimum, Craft should aim for a repeat of his Big-Ten steals crown—but he certainly has a chance to lead the entire nation in steals in his first season as an upperclassman.
There’s no other way to put this—if the Buckeyes have any dreams of making a repeat trip to the Final Four, they are going to need more consistent production from Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Coming off the heels of the losses of William Buford and Jared Sullinger, there are more Ohio State question marks than guarantees at this point. As one of three returning players who saw significant minutes last year, Smith needs to be one of the reliable guarantees.
Smith showed flashes of his ability at times last year, especially during the NCAA Tournament. Without double-digit scoring outbursts in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight from Smith, the Buckeyes would have been watching the Final Four at home.
Nevertheless, Smith only averaged 6.8 points a game last year. That wasn’t the end of the world with Sullinger and Buford as primary scoring options, but Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft are going to need more scoring than that from their returning counterpart this year.
A double-digit scoring average would do the trick.
The one thing the Buckeyes were really missing last season was a consistent three-point shooting threat. Gone were the days of Jon Diebler and Michael Redd draining long-range daggers in crucial moments.
Part of the reason Ohio State was missing that three-point shooter was that it was supposed to be LaQuinton Ross’ role to fill. Problem was, he may have spent too much time practicing his jumper and not enough time opening the books.
Ross was academically ineligible for the first month of the season and never saw much of the court after that. Apparently, Thad Matta’s doghouse is not easy to climb out of.
However, if Ross is going to be a primary contributor and starter this season, he is going to have to hit his long-distance shots. The Buckeyes have defensive stoppers, a floor general and rebounders—what they still need is a shooter.
With that in mind, Ross’ goal for the season should be to lead the team in three-point percentage. It’s his best chance at permanently avoiding that doghouse.
When Buckeye fans think of Deshaun Thomas, they probably think of one thing—offense. Thomas loves to shoot, which has drawn some criticism, but he actually led Ohio State starters in field-goal percentage last year.
So let’s work under the assumption that Thomas’ offense will take care of itself. Yes, there is reason to be somewhat concerned that defenses will now focus on Thomas with Sullinger gone, but the scoring should still come.
When Thomas is formulating his individual goals for the upcoming season, he should think about one thing first—defense. In fact, his goal is the only one that is not a statistically-based target on this list.
At times last year, Matta called Thomas ‘Shaun’ because there was no D in his game. While he eventually shed the moniker, the Buckeyes cannot afford one of their two crucial players to be a detriment on the defensive side of the ball.
Part of an improved approach to defense would be more rebounding, especially since Sullinger is now in the NBA. In fact, Thomas averaged only 5.4 rebounds per game last season.
Ohio State is going to need more than that if it hopes to contend in the bruising Big Ten.
If the departure of Sullinger seems like it keeps coming up when discussing concerns for next season, it is not by accident. Despite the health concerns that are accompanying the former Buckeye big man as he enters the professional ranks, he was an invaluable contributor in his two years at Ohio State.
One statistic that Matta could consistently depend on was Sullinger's rebounding. He averaged more than 10 rebounds a game as a freshman and more than nine per game as a sophomore. No other Buckeye averaged more than 5.5 a game over the course of those two seasons.
If Amir Williams is going to fill Sullinger’s shoes, or at least attempt to, it will have to start with rebounding. It may be asking too much for the former McDonald’s All-American to replace Sullinger’s offense right away, but rebounding frequently comes down to effort.
The 6’11” Williams has the height to grab double-digit boards a game, especially as the only true center on the roster. If he brings the desire as well, Buckeye fans should expect nothing less.